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I've Been Caught Yelling At My Kids. Have You?

By Stephanie Precourt |

I must say that after over ten years of parenting, I’ve got a pretty good record for keeping my cool in public with my kids.

Maybe I overcompensate because I have four children and feel like people are watching me extra-closely, just waiting for me to mess up.


I tend to never  let anyone see me flustered- that’s for in private (or Mom-speak-through-gritted-teeth for “when we get in the car.”)

However, I am ashamed to admit there exists a situation in the Starbuck’s drive thru a few weeks ago. I lost it on one of my sons after he spilled his entire drink in the car just seconds after I handed it to him. I basically shouted in the most awful, shrill voice, “ARE YOU FRICKING KIDDING ME?!

And maybe I said a few more things until I realized my window was still down and I was also driving ever so slowly past the outdoor seating area filled with people. Who all had their attention on me.

I was so embarrassed. And then I drove off as fast as I could.

I did find a spot to pull over and cleaned up the mess: I apologized to my son and I really hoped he understood. It wasn’t even as bad of a spill as he had let on. But the damage- my damage- was done.

Honestly, even weeks later I still feel horrible because really? Starbucks? That is so not worth making my kid feel like crap. My car is trashed anyway; a grande iced soy chai isn’t going to hurt anything. But also, as unfair as it may seem, I instantly longed for mercy from that listening crowd. (Mercy I should have shown my child in the first place.) I rationalized their judgment – hoping they assumed I had my reasons for being at my breaking point that day. I was ordering my kids each a Starbucks so I must have been pretty desperate. Did they see the four kids in the car? Had they noticed my tired eyes and exhausted posture? Could they tell I’d pulled an all-nighter because the only time I can work is when they are asleep?

But I wonder if I hadn’t been caught if I would feel this bad. I kinda have a feeling that I would have stayed in a horrible mood until I chilled out later in the day. Who knows what else I would have said (and then regretted.)

I mean, I carry my fair share of Mom-guilt daily, but knowing that other people saw and heard me yell at my child made me really view it from their perspective. Did they think I am a horrible mother? Am I a horrible mother? I have a hard time dismissing those thoughts. There have definitely been occasions where I’ve snapped at home and then worried that the neighbors might have heard. And then there was just the other morning that by 9 a.m. my throat hurt from a louder-than-necessary verbal scolding. Surely I am not the only mom who has ever done this. Yes, I know that doesn’t make it okay, but still. I’m hyper-aware of it now, and I am trying to use a much kinder, gentler voice, even if no one else is watching.

Please tell me I’m not alone and share your story, too? Have you ever been caught losing your cool with your kids?

Worried your kids will see you fighting with your partner? Don’t worry — as long as you handle it right.

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About Stephanie Precourt


Stephanie Precourt

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39 thoughts on “I've Been Caught Yelling At My Kids. Have You?

  1. IzzyMm says:

    I’m sure this has happened to me but I probably blocked it out. I’m not saying it’s okay and I’m not saying it isn’t okay—just that you are not alone. We’re human. We all lose our cool with our kids sometimes.

  2. Alexandra says:

    You and I both know everyone yells.

    You and I both know it’s not OK.

    You and I both know we’ve all been caught doing it.

    Yes, it’s embarrassing, and when it happened to me I felt the burning shame.

    All over a bottle of orange spilled gatorade.

  3. Desiree Fawn says:

    Oh lordy, you’re not alone. I’ve done it to Gretchen… more than once. And every single time I feel awful, and I take a moment to snuggle and apologize. And she hugs me back and says “sorry” too, which adds to my heartbreak.
    We all snap, and I think I beat myself up about it more than necessary, but don’t we all?
    Thanks for writing this one Steph <3

  4. Krista says:

    You are not alone! I catch myself all the time telling my kids to “just STOP whining!!”, all the while I am shouting or using a very loud mean/stern voice. Just like I don’t like to hear whining, I would bet anything they don’t like to hear yelling. Sigh. I too am very aware of it and trying to stop. I actually have made deals with my 4 year old that today I will work on not yelling at all and he will work on not whining at all. Then, when he does whine, instead of flipping out I just say “remember our deal?” And if I yell he says “remember what you said mommy?”. Wow, talk about humbling to have your 4 yr old point out stuff like that, but I need it.

  5. Sybil says:

    I don’t know if “caught” is the right word, but I definitely have been guilty of doing this. I remember one particularily awful trip to the grocery store with both of my girls acting as terribly as humanly possible. I think I went through the self-checkout practically dragging my four year old because she wouldn’t stand up and I was practically yelling “knock it off! stand up!” I am guessing people were watching, but I just kept my head down and dragged (quite literally) my kids out of the store.

  6. kate says:

    I so get it. And I hate it about myself too. And my excuses are endless, my husband works 70 hrs a week & i’m by myself…… but there’s 4 of them!….wait till they have teenagers….

  7. Jenna says:

    Any parent who says they haven’t been there is lying.

  8. The Mommy says:

    I’ve yelled, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been caught by anyone except myself. It suddenly becomes so wrong when you know someone else is listening, doesn’t it? I apologize. A lot.

  9. Bridget says:

    Just yesterday I was *that*mom* that lost it at the grocery store. I had three of the four with me. I’d forgotten my sling and so I left the baby in her infant carrier and then put it in the cart and then there was no room for the food. It was hot and close to lunch time. And the 4 and 2 year olds were purposely hitting each other in the head. I’d had it. And I scolded them and then that set the baby off and she was screaming like a banshee and I may have cried while standing between the bread and the peanut butter. And as soon as I flipped out, I felt horrible and then realized that most of the chaos could been prevented if I hadn’t a)forgotten the sling, b)come at lunch time when everybody was hungry and c)stayed up so late the night before. Ugh. But today is better. Today is good. And on bad days I have to remind myself that most days are really kinda awesome.

  10. Megan says:

    Any mom who hasn’t yelled is either in a comma or had her voice box surgically removed. When we yell, it’s not our shining moment, and the regret we feel afterward is, at times, overwhelming. But, don’t try and make excuses; cut yourself some slack and move on. Children understand a simple “I’m sorry.”

  11. Angela says:

    I’ve been there and always feel horrible too. But I have also known a couple people from families who never, ever lost their tempers and yelled. I’m not sure that’s any better because now that they’re adults they freak out if they witness the least bit of conflict. I think there may be something to be said for kids learning that sometimes people get mad but then they work it out and everything’s ok. Even so, if I could find a way to stop myself from ever doing it again I would.

  12. Nancy says:

    Oh Steph, if every mom is honest with herself, she’d tell that this has happened to her. We are all human and we all lose it sometimes. It isn’t going to scar your children for life. It’s not like you do this many times a day, day in and day out. You are a very good mom Steph. Don’t let this get you down. Shake it off and move on. XOXO

  13. Heather says:

    Love Jenna’s comment…we’ve all lost it with our kids at some point! And when I do I just do my best to take a breath and talk to my son (daughter is just turning 1 and doesn’t get it) about why Mama got mad and how sorry I am and that I need him to work on whatever it was that caused the issue right away and I need to work on not getting so upset about it. Love Krista’s idea too…might have to start doing that!

  14. Fiona (@nlpmum) says:

    Yep, been there, done that. I don’t think it’s any worse for being in public, it just highlights that you know you shouldn’t be doing it. Still, whatever the reason, sometimes we all have our bad days and it does add an embarassment factor when it’s in public.

  15. Rosemary says:

    I’ve only been a mom for 8 months & I’ve already blown it. A few times. Thankfully, my daughter thinks I’m playing when I raise my voice & she just grins at me. It helps me have perspective on the situation. I’m NOT looking forward to the day when her little heart is hurt because I lost my cool.

    I think the most important thing is going back & making it right. We will never be perfect. But being able to go back, ask forgiveness, repair; that’s what makes an impact. It allows them to make mistakes too & sets an example for how they can operate when they mess up right along with us. :)

  16. Elaine says:

    Every time I see a mother do something in public that she may not be proud of, I try to put myself in her shoes. I’m hoping that’s what the people did who may have heard you. We are ALL only human. I try to remember that.

    I AM sorry you were embarrassed. I know the feeling.

  17. Carrie says:

    I’ve never been caught yelling at my kids, but I’ve done it!
    Also, I’m pretty sure my 13 year old heard me mutter “a$$hole” under my breath to a rude guy at Barnes and Noble earlier. LOL!

  18. Erin says:

    I’m not there yet as my baby isn’t quite 3 months old yet, but thank you for helping me stay out of the stupid “I could never..” mentality when I catch other moms. It’s only through grace that I’ll avoid it, and I am sure I will slip someday and feel just as rotten as you did.

  19. tracey - justanothermommy says:

    Oh girl. ALL THE TIME. They may not even have been judging you, but rather glad that it was YOU that got caught yelling and not THEM, you know? I always hate it when I forget that the windows are open and realize that an entire day of my yelling has been witnessed by the neighborhood…

  20. domestic extraordinaire says:

    I remember screeching at my then 4 year old because she was whining at me and I just.couldn’t.take.another.minute. When I looked up I saw my husband home from work with new friends that were supposed to come over for dinner. They left, my husband was furious, and I felt like a heel.

    You are not alone.

  21. Kate says:

    Been there, screamed that. Our house is kinda loud on a regular basis (two boys, a baby, two dogs and one very loud husband), so raised voices and yelling is the norm for the day. However, there is a difference in being loud and being mean and loud. And the kids know the difference. I’ve taught them the difference. And I hate it. Thankfully, like most, it’s not often, and it’s usually after my patience has been tried to the breaking point and I have nothing left. Not even an extra 10 seconds to calm myself down and not be mean and loud. So, I tell them I’m sorry, that even adults make mistakes or let their emotions get away from them. It’s good your kids know you’re not perfect, right?

  22. Idaho Jill says:

    I’ve lost it in a restaurant before – and I only have one kid :) – so no, you KNOW you are not alone! I actually find myself getting more frustrated lately – at home mostly, but still…so I checked out screamfree parenting from the library & it’s pretty interesting. I also checked out kid cooperation, but haven’t gotten to crack it open yet. The thing is, I know what a good kid I have – we are so lucky. But, there are always those times when I cannot listen to one more mommy! mommy! without going OFF! :)

  23. Kandice Larson says:

    Of course! We are only human, and everyone has their opinions and judgments, really! I think the greater tragedy is the amount of people that possibly cast their jugments of the situation with no context of you or your parenting. A society without grace is a pretty close depiction of hell. If we have no grace for ourselves or allow societal pressure to weigh us down, that is pretty close to hell too, isn’t it?

    The fact that you pulled over and immediately apologized, the fact that you care, shows you are a great parent! Children are so quick to forgive, after all tantrums are their language. The paramount issue is that we are fully engaging with them and they know they are accepted and loved.

    We all screw up, but how many of us are truly living with passion?


  24. Morgan says:

    Oh Steph, I wish I could say that I couldn’t relate to this, but I most definitely can. I think all moms have done something like this at sometime. I can’t think of any specifics- I think I’ve blocked them all out! :)

  25. Megan at SortaCrunchy says:

    It wasn’t yelling, but it was speaking VERY unkindly and unlovingly, and it was at the grocery store, and it was my pastor we bumped into. I wanted to die. We live in a small, small town, and honestly? It keeps me honest.

    Mama, we’ve ALL been there. If my children had a quarter for every time I’ve said, “Mama messed up. That was wrong. Will you forgive me?” – their college savings plans would be fully funded.

  26. Kaycee says:

    I think if we are honest we all have at some point. I try to keep it to very serious things because I dont think it’s all bad for kids to hear you raise your voice sometimes – es

  27. Kaycee says:

    (whoops! Hit publish before I was done)

    Especially if ts something that puts then in danger and they need to understand it’s my safe to do it again. Unfortunately I have also yelled over markers and spills and silly things that really aren’t a big deal. I have been trying to behave as if someone is always watching and it has helped – why are we so much better when they are?

  28. Nancy says:

    We are all less than perfect parents because we are human. When we make a mistake, we can apologize to our children, make a plan for what to do next time, forgive ourselves, and do the best we can.

  29. Ella says:

    you needed your coffee! it happens.

  30. Sara says:

    This one really hit home with me. You are definitely not alone. I experienced it recently outside our home, getting into the car. I lost it and at just that moment one of our neighbours walked past. And to make it even worse, she is the kind of mother who never looses her cool even with three kids.
    And another thing: Even reading this blog, and all the coments, I am still convinced that I yell louder than anyone else, that I am a little bit worse than the rest of you:-).

  31. Delia Lloyd says:

    I had a friend who was traveling in Sweden and her kid knocked over his dinner plate (deliberately) onto the floor. She got up and spanked him. Within seconds, a crowd formed around her and began telling her that she would be arrested. (It is illegal to spank in Sweden). She freaked out and started crying and was only reassured when a waitress took her aside and told her that she shouldn’t do that again as it was illegal. However you feel about spanking kids (I’m against) it was a traumatic moment of “public” shaming. She has yet to recover.

    Delia Lloyd

  32. Brandy says:

    I think there’s two sides to this. Yes, it’s horrible to scream at our kids (I’ve done it!!) but at the same time, there has to be some discipline. I’m sure people look at me like I’m high when I take my screaming two year old out of the back of the cart and put him in the front seat, but he has to learn that he can’t sit in the back if he’s going to throw things or not sit like I had asked him to. I have no problem dragging him, kicking and screaming from a store, or asking him in a loud stern voice to behave. I know he knows better. If he’s hungry and we’re at Target, I’ll grab him a pretzel or some pita chips. He knows that he only gets the free cookie if he sits and behaves, and if he won’t, then no cookie. Or if he’s already got it and thinks he’s in the clear, I’ll take it away. The last thing I want is to be that dismissive parent that lets her child get away with murder just to avoid a fight or a tantrum. If he yells while in the front seat, I’ll distract him by letting him “read” labels or pull a board book out of my purse. If I really have to, and I have a friend with me (I usually do), I will ask them to push the cart while I count to ten an aisle away.
    Most days are awesome, I can’t lie. But every so often, we have to remember that we’re all human: us, our kids, and the others around us. =D

  33. Paula says:

    Well, not yet… I actually hate yelling (childhood traumas), so I try not to yell when we are alone also and I really don’t like it when my husband yells at my son. But I can’t say I’ve ever been in your shoes. I have only one 2yo son, who so far has never threw a tantrum in public. I know that if I had seen you yelling, I wouldn’t have judged. I for one don’t even have the courage to have another child, you have 4. I really admire you and I am sure it isn’t easy!

  34. Tricia says:

    I lose it on a daily basis with my trio, and I know it’s not because I am expecting another one soon. I know I am teaching them how to have a short fuse, but I just reach a limit, and it is usually early in the morning! I need to start apologizing. My six yr old and I have talked about his whining and my yelling, but we both revert back to it. I feel bad later in the day and often wonder why I stay home at all, like I am this awful person who can’t handle my situation. I think I need to check out that book someone mentioned, scream free parenting!

  35. kyara says:

    I yelled at my 5 year old son once, it wasnt a bad yell, but he calmly replied with “you just broke my heart” thats worse than anyone seeing it.

  36. MamaLuvins says:

    Hey, at least you felt some shame! I’m certain there are mothers out there who yell and never feel any regret, whether they are “caught” or not. I hate screaming at my three kids – HATE IT – but we’re all opinionated and fiery, so it happens. I also apologize when I’ve been overreacting, especially when there is the inevitable spill at the dinner table. I read a good piece of advice: you would never yell at your pastor is they spilled their drink, even if they did it every time they ate with you, so why yell at the ones you love most in the world? Good advice that I’m not always able to implement, but recognizing and admitting that we shouldn’t yell is a step in the right direction!

  37. Shelly says:

    Where I live, the neighbors’ houses are really close. And especially in the summer, when everyone’s windows are open, I always worry if the neighbors hear me when I reach my limits on patience.

    It gets to the point of paranoia: if the wonderful neighbor to our left doesn’t smile at me so earnestly, I am convinced she heard me yell and thinks I am a horrible parent.

    It happens to all of us. *hugs*

  38. Mrs_JennyK says:

    Confession: Sometimes when I’m holding one of my infant twins (who of course is screaming) and the other one is screaming as well, I gently hold and sway, singing a soft lullaby in which the only words are “shut up, shut up, shut up” repeated over and over.

  39. kaylen says:

    Just give an “I’m sorry and I love you” and a big hug, and your kid will understand. Make it genuine, make them smile and let them know you love them. Let them know adults make mistakes sometimes too.

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