Dr Justin Coulson on How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids

By: Ben McEachen

Getting caught in the “Screaming Spiral” may be a constant and worrying part of your home life.

Try as you might, you have not found a way to prevent this noisy, unhelpful eruption.

Psychologist Justin Coulson is a family expert, well-known for his insights on TV series Parental Guidance.

Ahead of his “Screaming Spiral” seminar, Justin shared in an interview about this relational issue and what we all can do to combat it.

What is the ‘Screaming Spiral’?

“The ‘Screaming Spiral’ is that cycle we get into with our children when we make a demand of them, and they respond with the same amount of energy – if not more – that we went to them with,” Dr Justin said.

During this exchange of “energy”, your child refuses to do the thing being asked of them.

“What happens then is the ‘Screaming Spiral’ just continues upwards” as adults and children match, or raise, each other in a noisy argument. Voices get louder, angrier or more hostile. From both sides. “Screaming Spiral” sets in. Before we realise, all involved are sucked into a vortex of shouting.

Such a common situation in our households can feel like a predictable pattern that’s impossible to break.

How we can stop it?

The antidote to the “Screaming Spiral” is to “start soft”.

Dr Justin reminded us that a key psychological principle is that “harsh start-ups tend to lead to harsh returns”.

“We have to fight against our natural response to ‘hit whatever hit us as hard, if not harder than it hit us’ – whether psychologically, emotionally or verbally,” he said. “Our job when our children are heightened, is to come in under, not over, from a [perspective of] emotional volume, velocity or energy.”

Fantastic theory. Excellent emotional approach. But, come on. What about…

Catch calm, not crazy

You are probably thinking about all the times and ways which mean your household situations make the “start soft” approach seem totally unachievable.

Dr Justin gets that.

His experience with all sorts of family dynamics and individual circumstances means he understands the complexities and challenges. So many things can appear to stack up against the gentler beginning to an argumentative interaction.

What Dr Justin is calling upon parents and caregivers to do is get ready for the “Screaming Spiral” before we get stuck in it again.

“It’s about having a pre-prepared response,” Dr Justin said.  “It’s about having the self-awareness to recognise when our children are escalating, or when things aren’t going the way we need them to… that we have got to do something different. The best way to do that is take a beat, take a moment, and think: ‘What do I want the outcome of this moment to be?’”

In certain everyday incidents, what is required is a quick, decisive result.

Often, though, the moment is more nuanced, and your longer-term relationship is being forged by how you interact.

“If we step in with soft eyes and a low tone, we are usually going to get a better result or response,” Dr Justin said to parents and caregivers.

“Sometimes [it] won’t, but almost every time. Our children, instead of catching our chaos, our cranky, our crazy, they will catch our calm.”


Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

Feature image: Canva Pro

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