Yelling isn’t Necessary – But Firmness Is

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

Some parents believe that the only way to be firm is to be harsh. But firmness and harshness are very different.

Firmness says that a boundary is secure and won’t be crossed without a consequence. Harshness, on the other hand, uses angry words and emotional intensity to make children believe that parents mean what they say. Ask yourself an important question about your own parenting. What cues do you give your kids that you mean business? Is it anger or is it firmness? If you find yourself being harsh, take time to reevaluate your response. More action and less yelling can go a long way to bring about significant change.

For some, this is such a new concept that they have trouble grabbing onto it. One mom said, “The thought of separating firmness from harshness is like listening to a foreign language-it sounds nice but doesn’t make any sense.”

Two Starting Points

How do you make the change to using firmness without harshness? Two things will help you remove harshness from your interaction with your children: Dialogue less and show less emotion. Don’t misunderstand; talking to your kids is good most of the time because it strengthens relational bonds between parent and child. And of course showing emotion is helpful because it can communicate empathy.

However, in an attempt to build relationship, some parents spend too much time dialoguing about instructions. They try to defend their words, persuade their children to do what they’re told, or logically explain the value of obeying.

This is often counterproductive and teaches children how to resist more. Parents then resort to anger to end the discussion, complicating matters further.

“But,” one mom said, “I thought talking and showing emotion are signs of a healthy family, leading to closeness in family life.” And that is true when they’re used in the right way. Unfortunately, when added to the instruction process, these two ingredients often confuse children and don’t give them the clear boundaries they need. These are two good things, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yes, it is true that anger works. It quiets children, moves them toward the car when it’s time to go, and motivates them to clean their rooms. But anger and harshness have a downside. They build walls of resistance in children, and over years contribute to distance in relationships.

Son, You Have a Problem

A good correction routine, for example, teaches children that they must change. Their current course of action won’t work. It’s unacceptable and needs adjusting. Unfortunately, the clear message that the child has a problem and needs to work on it is sometimes missed because of parental anger. A parent’s harshness can confuse the learning process. Instead of thinking, “I’m here taking a Break because I did something wrong,” the child thinks, “I’m here taking a Break because I made Mom mad.”

The child’s focus changes from correcting what he or she did wrong to avoiding parental anger. It’s important to remember that your anger is helpful for identifying problems but not good for solving them. When you’re tempted to respond harshly, be careful to take a moment and think about what you’re trying to teach in the situation. It’s easy to react with anger when your kids do the wrong thing, but it’s more helpful to move into a constructive correction routine.

Firmness requires action, not anger. Having a toolbox of consequences is important to help move children along in life. It’s not optional. Some parents use anger as their consequence. These parents need more tools that will help their children make lasting changes. In fact, we would suggest that parents who don’t have tools and who don’t have a plan use anger to solve problems.

Responding with anger is often a form of revenge, whereas firmness lends itself well to teaching children what to do right and motivating them to do it. Harshness gives a wrong message to kids. For example, Dad yells, “I’ve had it! I called you five times and you didn’t come, so I’m not taking you to the party!”

Mixed Signals Slow Down Change

The child gets a mixed signal. Is missing the party the consequence for not coming when called, or is it the consequence for making Dad angry? Children who grow up with explosive parents learn to focus more on pleasing people than on living with convictions about right and wrong. Instead of asking the question, “What is the right thing to do here?” they ask the question, “How can I maneuver through this situation without making anyone upset?” They may learn to make changes in life, but not because they’re determined to do what’s right. Rather, they make changes to avoid upsetting people; they become people pleasers or just plain sneaky. Kids then believe that what they did was okay as long as Mom or Dad didn’t find out. As long as no one got angry, then there’s no problem.

When you make a mistake and correct in anger, it’s important to come back to your child and talk about it afterwards. Clarify what was wrong, why the consequence was given, and apologize for your harshness.

Proverbs 14:1 gives an insightful proverb. It says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Obviously the tearing down of a house can happen by a father or a mother. The inner strength of emotional control not only guides children and builds them up in a positive direction, but it creates greater closeness in relationships.

Proverbs 15:1 is also helpful when it says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Keep in mind that harshness gets in the way of the growth you want to see in your children and in your relationships.

Children need firmness, direction, limit-setting, instruction, and correction. But don’t forget, they also need a lot of love. See Dr. Turansky’s blog here on How to Love your Kids when they need correction

The Seven Parenting Tools

There are seven tools in the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program used to bring about major changes in children. Each parent needs to adjust the recipe using the seven tools in order to reach a child’s heart. Seasoned and trained coaches are standing by to help you develop that recipe and implement it with your unique child. The second tool is FIRMNESS. The others are RELATIONSHIP, VISIONING, PRAYER, COACHING, TEACHING, and TRANSFERRING RESPONSIBILITY. Learn more about the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program HERE.

Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN teach live parenting seminars around the country. They have written 15 books on parenting and have created five video training programs for parents. You may learn more at http://www.biblicalparenting.org. or www.thrivingkidsconnection.com

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5 Comments
  • Avatar
    Dixie Patrick
    Posted at 10:23h, 30 March Reply

    You hit the nail on the head. I’ve been praying about this and have been making a concerted effort not to get inflamed and yell, because I’ve seen both of my sons respond better and with conviction. Your explanation really separates and clarifies firmness and harshness for me, and with the Lord’s help, we’re aimed in the right direction and will keep improving. Thank you for these valuable emails!

    • scott turansky
      scott turansky
      Posted at 07:30h, 01 April Reply

      Thank you Dixie for your encouragement. I find that parents who have a plan are less likely to use anger to solve problems. We’re all about being very practical and building that plan. Have a blessed day!

  • Avatar
    Francesca Schroer
    Posted at 21:05h, 31 March Reply

    What you guys do for us parents is tremendous! I know God is working in your ministry! Thank you for the weekly encouragement that helps us be better for our children. I turn to your books often for answers and I love that you include Biblical texts to prove your point. Thank you!!!

    • scott turansky
      scott turansky
      Posted at 07:35h, 01 April Reply

      Thank you Francesca for your kind words, I have a couple of summary infographs I’ve recently created on how and what a Biblical approach to parenting is, all with biblical references. It’s a working document now, but someday it will be made public. I’d like for some people to evaluate it and give me some feedback. If you (or anyone else) is reading this and they’d like to have it, just send me an email at scott@biblicalparenting.org and ask for the Biblical Parenting Summary Worksheet.

  • Avatar
    Gwenyth Eyler
    Posted at 21:40h, 02 April Reply

    My sweet Mennonite grandmother was known for saying, “Firmness with kindness will win the day.”
    This memory has been a blessing to me many times in the nitty gritty of raising six children. 🙂

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