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Psychologist urges parents to speak softly
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Psychologist urges parents to speak softly

When a parent yells at a child, both the child and the parent are harmed, says Toronto-based psychologist Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Emphasizing that a non-yelling environment can help increase a child’s emotional intelligence, support effective discipline techniques, and build self-esteem, the Orthodox Radcliffe, author of Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice, suggests this is part of “the Jewish secret to a peaceful, healthy, and happy home.”

Coming to Monmouth County for the first time on Feb. 6, the psychologist will share her message and her methods with an audience at the Preschool of the Arts at Chabad of the Shore.

According to Radcliffe, children who are yelled at display “more misbehavior at home and at school; more nervous habits, such as bedwetting and thumb-sucking; more physical ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, and even colds; and more academic and social problems.”

Adults don’t go unscathed either, Radcliffe said in a phone interview. They encounter more problems with mental and physical health, marriage and parenting relationships, and added difficulties at work. Sometimes, there are also social or criminal issues.

Parents who yell frequently may also be jeopardizing their chance for a healthy relationship once the youngsters reach their teen years and adulthood. “Some people don’t ever talk to their parents again or have minimal contact, cutting their parents off from their own children; thus, yelling parents may lose the opportunity to have a close relationship with their grandchildren,” said Radcliffe.

In order to stop yelling, the psychologist said, parents must “interrupt the neural pathway in their brain that draws a bridge between a provocative child and the parental urge to scream.”

This requires consequences for yelling. For example, she said, if the child provokes and the parent yells, then the parent must add a step — possibly to write out two pages of lines bearing a message like this: “I always speak softly, including those times when I feel very frustrated.”

Acknowledging that only a rare individual will be able to change his or her behavior after a single incident, Radcliffe said, “The trick is to increase the negative consequence for each episode of yelling or for each week of yelling. That is, raise the assignment to three pages, then four, then five, and keep going as necessary until all yelling has stopped. It will stop, of course, because no one has time to write so many pages after each yelling episode.”

While it is a good first step, the cessation of yelling does not in itself constitute good parenting, said the psychologist. In her book, Radcliffe offers the following five skills that “can completely remove the need to resort to anger in parenting.”

• Adopt the 80-20 Rule, making certain that 80 percent of parental communication feels good to the child.

• Help children to name and understand their own feelings so that they may better appreciate the feelings of others.

• Approach discipline in a way that capitalizes on a child’s positive tendencies.

• Never ask a child to do anything more than two times. When children don’t comply the first time, give them the choice of complying or “paying the price” of “mild negative consequences.”

• Insist on respectful communication in the home from both parents and children. It helps the entire family manage angry feelings appropriately and keeps the family emotionally safe.

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