Marriage and Family Therapist
Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross is a licensed psychotherapist with almost twenty years of clinical experience in the fields of clinical psychology and organizational management. She has worked extensively with a wide variety of…
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Angry Voices and Yelling Affect Infants and Children, Even When Asleep
Posted in Parenting Newbo... by Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on Apr 05, 2013
Today I asked a couple I was seeing, “how do you think your kids would describe your relationship?” Later on I read a post from a friend on Facebook that said she had made a pledge to not yell at her children for 365 days. You can only imagine the responses she received to that pronouncement. Following these 2 events I read a study that confirmed that infants have a response to angry voices, even when they are sleeping.

As I have said many times in the past, your kids are watching and listening-- and what they hear and see on a regular basis will have a lasting effect on them. The study, which will be published in the journal of Psychological Science used MRI technology to look at the brain activity of sleeping infants. The infants were exposed to nonsense sentences spoken by a male voice that was angry, moderately angry, happy, or neutral. The results confirmed what researchers from the University of Oregon had already suspected, which is that these different emotional voice tones have a direct effect on brain activity in certain areas of the brains of infants.

So often parents are under the misconception that their precious sleeping infant is oblivious to the sounds of their exhausted and frustrated selves. This study found that those children from high stress homes showed a greater reactivity to angry voice tones in the regions of the brain that are associated with stress and the regulation of emotions. For parents of newborns this news should, at the very least, get them to take their conflict somewhere out of earshot of their seemingly soundly sleeping baby.

It is acceptable, even preferable for kids to witness small resolvable arguments between their parents. This is how they learn that people who love each other sometimes disagree and that those disagreements can be managed. So often couples in distress become oblivious to the fact that their kids are present. The unkind words that are exchanged between them do, in fact, leave a mark.

Obviously a pledge to not raise your voice to your children for 365 days, while a lofty goal, is probably a bit unrealistic. How often we yell and for what reasons does bear close examination. Parents may find yelling to be cathartic and momentarily effective but all evidence points to the fact that it doesn’t work to create long term change. Kids who come from homes in which yelling is the norm often have trouble forming healthy relationships later in life and can become desensitized to emotional fluctuations in others. Depending upon the degree and frequency of the yelling there is a great deal of evidence that kids from high conflict homes suffer from low self-esteem among other psychological issues.

No one can be completely Zen all of the time but considering how your tone of voice sounds as it is directed towards your children and your mate is a worthy endeavor. Learn to give yourself time outs before exploding and practice taking a beat or letting some time pass before storming in to execute your parental agenda. By all means consider, on a regular basis, how your kids see and experience the relationship between you and your mate and if you would want them to emulate it when they chose a life partner.

- Cyndi

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