Shouting won’t help your child to learn

shouting dad shouts at son

Many parents find themselves in a daily battle with their little ones over reading and writing homework. It seems like no matter how much you try to correct your kids they just don’t seem to be improving and they don’t appear to want to learn. Homework often ends up in a screaming match or at least a battle of wills.

Let me tell you about a research study that I read recently. It was about kids with really bad handwriting. They took a group of kids with terrible writing and divided them into two groups – one group got the usual teacher feedback of red lines through their work, admonitions, and please  try harder. With the other group, the teachers were told to ONLY focus on what the kids did right – so to underline their good words and praise them for these, to point out what they had done well – even if all they could find was one letter that was formed nicely the teacher would tell the child – look at that “a” over there, now that is a beautiful “a”. They were not to comment AT ALL on their poor performance. Within two weeks the group with positive feedback had improved by 100% and the other group had degenerated.

So the moral of the story is this… Kids cannot learn under stressful situations (involving a shouting or disapproving parent for example). When we are stressed, the blood vessels to our prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain used for thinking, problem solving and learning) constrict and all the blood is redirected to our hindbrains (which are purely for fight and flight reflexes). So a child who is shouted at literally CANNOT learn. It is impossible. They don’t even have enough blood in the part of their brain necessary for learning. In order for your kids to improve in reading and writing what they need most is not extra practice or more instruction or help, but a better learning environment. 90% of reading ability is not skill but confidence. The kids who read and write well are the ones who believe that they can.

As a parent, you need to focus on the relationship with your child

– on who your child is as a person, not on what he/she can do. We will all have areas of strength and weakness, but what everyone wants most is to be heard and understood.

So next time you sit down with your little one to work on homework, think about what he/she might be going through. Homework may have become something that their brain automatically associates with stress and so they’re stressed before you even get going which makes them more likely to get it wrong. Discuss this with your children. Tell them that you realise they must be stressed about it and it isn’t easy to learn to read and write, particularly at a young age. Apologise for shouting in the past and let them know that you’re human and also lose your temper and get frustrated, but that you’re going to try to do better, just like them.

Then take some time for both of you to do some stress-relieving exercises –do some breathing or visualisation, go for a short walk, have a cup of chamomile tea, and make sure you’re both feeling relaxed to start.

Your child WILL learn to read and write regardless, but at what cost? Let them learn a little more slowly if necessary, in their own time, and focus on caring about your child and what he/she is going through. Studies show that whether a child learns to read at age 4 or age 9, their reading and comprehension levels by age 11 are exactly the same. There really is no rush, other than the unnecessary pressure that the school may be putting on them. A child who learns slowly, but with love, care and confidence will go on to become an adult who loves reading. One who learns under stress will always associate reading with pain and this is much more likely to squash their overall educational achievements in the long run.

And be gentle and kind to yourself too

– new parenting doesn’t happen overnight and you will find times when you have other things on your mind and your stress levels are higher, you might crack. This is normal. Stop. Take a few deep breaths. Apologise. Children learn a lot from our mistakes and how we handle them!

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Mia Von Scha

Mia Von Scha

Mia Von Scha, Transformational Coach, motivational speaker, children’s author, student to two Zen Masters (aka kids), avid cloud watcher and lover of life.

24 Responses

  1. Hi Mia. Just what i neeeded to read. Having such a hard time n stressful time with my 6yr old n homework n complaints from his teacher. He zones out in class. She says he knows his work but does not want to apply it onto paper. I will try this from today. He does not complete his work at school n gets demerits n detention. But i know my child he is very intellegant. His teacher says he knows all his work n she first can’t explain why he does not complete his work. Any advice plz. Plz help.

    1. Hi Freda. Is your son possibly bored in class? Or is there a possibility that he actually struggles with writing? I came across this article the other day that deals specifically with intelligent kids who hate to write – there may be some good tips in there for you too – definitely worth trying! It can also help to find out what he really loves doing most and then show him how learning to write will help him to achieve that. It is difficult to know what is going on without more information, but I hope that this article will at least give you some pointers to get started. Good luck!

      1. thank you so so much Mia.
        this information has really helped me to not stress and feel like I’m in this alone.
        do you know of any where local that I could buy the videos and books from please?

        1. Hi Freda. I think you would need to contact the author – perhaps she has an ebook version or could post to you here in SA.

  2. Thank you. This is the advice I really needed. My 3 year old is driving my crazy with her homework. Will implement what you have said today.

    1. Thanks Pravitha! I would also question why a 3 year old has homework in the first place. Keep in mind that in Finland, which has arguably the best education system in the world, children are not given homework until they are in high school. There is good reason for this. 3 year old’s should be playing – that is their work!

  3. This doesn’t only apply to little kids. Even Grade 5, 6 or 7’s don’t respond well to shouting either and it took me way too long to realise that.
    Shouting is just a way of sending the message ” I’m really really annoyed with you / what you’re doing / not doing, can you notice that ?”.

    If you are within a meter or so of the recipient, rather than on the other side of a rugby field, the extra volume isn’t needed or helpful.

    Sometimes the child might burst into tears or be scared and then we feel that we got the message through at last, but we actually didn’t.

    The other downside is that the shouter moves one step closer to an attack of some sort.

    Strange that it becomes so difficult to find the good and so easy to find the bad.

    1. Hi. I agree with the advice above. The other helpful thing for parents to do is set an example. If parents read for pleasure, kids might do so too. If parents write old fashioned letters or journals, kids might be inclined to try it too. But if parents are stuck to their screens, it will be very hard to convince kids to read & write.

  4. Wow! Thank you wonderful parents for your feedback. I wish you all success as you connect and learn on a deeper level with your children.

  5. thank you so much. i will start using this method going forward. just last night we had discussion with not paying attention when doing homework

  6. What a brilliant article. Thank you so much Mia and may God bless you, tenfold. I’m a single, full-time, foster dad of two boys aged 8 and 10 years. Being a parent is fun, challenging and rewarding at the same time. A full-time job, especially if you’re doing it all alone, with a demanding job and also studying.

  7. Wow what a lovely article…very inspiring. My husband and I will definetly try this method with our little ones. Thank you for sharing with us.

  8. wow this article mmmmh. I will start implementing this method effectively on the next study time

  9. Thanks Ann, Sarika and Semone for your feedback. May your homework time with your kids be filled with love and laughter!!

    1. So yesterday after reading this article I was very eager to get home and practise what I had read. The result I got from my little boy last night was amazing. I followed your advise and started out with an apology which immediately changed his mood and I have never seen my little champ so excited about doing his homework he even went over and above what was required from him. I cannot thank you enough for this article which has literally changed my life at home

  10. This is so helping, my boy is 9 going on 10years, i battle with this everyday and i would love to improve and not shout at him, i will practise exactly what is on this article

  11. this article could not have come at a better time…..
    this is exactly what I have been battling with , with my 6 year old son.
    thanks to this article I will be making improvements to the way I handle homework time at home.

    thank you

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