Looking back it seems like a trivial thing to lose my cool over. However, I remember hitting full volume over my children losing the caps to a brand-new new pack of markers. They were oblivious to the importance of placing caps on them to keep them from drying out. The uncovered markers were bleeding their colors into my children’s clothes as well as the carpet under their feet. I did not correct them firmly with authority, I just yelled and exploded out of anger. I recall the fear in my children’s eyes as I lost my cool. Seeing their frightened faces, I knew that my unrestrained volume had crossed a line. What had caused me to lose it?
Not all parents have had healthy models of communication modeled for them. Some have experienced poor examples of parenting where yelling was constant. We naturally default back to whatever was modeled for us—it’s our “normal.” If we had adults in our life who were quick with angry rebukes, we tend to emulate that behavior unless we learn differently.
Some parents yell because they see it as their right as the parent. The grocery store always seems to have a shining example of this parenting approach. These parents consider it as a part of their role as parent to raise their voice in anger. They demonstrate their authority by modulating their voice to whatever volume gains the obedience of their child. Yelling can become a habit even if it is not yielding helpful results.
Sometimes we yell as a release of emotions. When I responded by yelling at my kids, I was operating in a reactive way out of sheer anger. Clothes and carpet were getting damaged and I was furious. It seemed disrespectful that my children were being negligent with the gift that I had given to them. I was angry, and I wasn’t shy about venting that rage at my children.
Sometimes our selfishness gets the best of us. My angry outburst got me thinking about why I responded with such anger. I questioned why I had given myself permission to raise my voice to that volume. I had to be honest that choosing to yell was an act of selfishness. It was a release of my emotions without regard for the discipling, much less the feelings of, the children under my care. Sometimes out of exhaustion and frustration, our selfish nature wins out--but that doesn’t make it right.
Shouting in scripture is often associated with praise and not rage. It’s “Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth,” not “shout with rage at all the earth”! Shouting affirmed in scripture is generally related to thanksgiving and worship, as in Psalm 47: “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” There certainly are instances of someone giving another a deserved sharp rebuke, but yelling at one another is not a practice that receives any blessing from God. Scripture more often commands us to demonstrate love to one another.
In Matthew 15, Jesus warns about harboring and venting anger, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Our tongues can be dangerous if they are unchecked.
Scripture does not even give us permission to respond to anger with anger. Scripture encourages us to love those who hurt us and to pray for those who mistreat us. As much as it depends on us, we are called to live in peace (Romans 12). God does not give us permission to respond with hostility, but instead we are called to show love even to those whose behavior disappoints us. Matthew 5 makes it clear that we are not to retaliate, but instead go the extra mile in demonstrating grace.
The recommended default volume in scripture is a quiet or soft answer. Proverbs 15:1 suggests “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Having a calm answer requires that we respond thoughtfully instead of simply reacting in the moment. Scripture allows for anger—some injustices deserve our anger—but God instructs us to not sin when we get angry (Ephesians 4:26). Anger can easily lead us into trouble if we let it go unchecked.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
Self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit which God longs to see cultivated in our lives; it is the opposite of short-temperedness. Further, we are warned in James 4 about the damage that the tongue is capable of inflicting when used in anger. This warning should make us pause and think so we can respond wisely rather than merely reacting out of our emotions.
My children deserved to have their behavior reigned in, but I had chosen an ineffective way to redirect their behavior. I made them afraid, which did not help them find the marker caps or help them understand why the importance of caring for their things. Scripture tells parents not to exasperate their children but to bring them up in the fear of the Lord. I am sure that my anger exasperated my children that day as much as their behavior exasperated me. Yelling erodes relations by placing fear rather than love as the central emotion. Relationships can’t thrive on a foundation of fear and anger. Love in contrast builds a solid foundation for the future. When yelling is common it loses its effectiveness.
Don’t think that giving up yelling means you have to be passive or timid in your parenting. Any episode of the “Supernanny” TV show will point out the importance of being clear and direct with our children and following through with decisions. Parents are given authority by God to speak into their children’s lives and guide them to wise decisions. We speak the truth that our children need to hear within the context of love (Ephesians 4:15), and in the context of love, our words can actually be heard and understood. We all have days where we lose it and fall short of the grace that calls us to live. Out of exhaustion and exasperation we lose self-control. God forgives us when we fall short and his spirit equips us to start again.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster