Desperately Seeking Peace and Quiet

From the "Desperate Housewives" on the infamous Wisteria Lane to Main Street, U.S.A., virtually every family has to deal with kids driving their parents crazy.

For many families, that means yelling at their kids when they get out of hand.

That's what Steve and Patti Simme of Buffalo, N.Y., find themselves doing. They say they're desperate because they're constantly yelling at their four kids, Spencer, Rachel, Lexie and Gary. Patti and Steve say they hate yelling, but can't stop.

"Yelling is pretty much the normal tone, when you're talking to them," Patti says. "What else can I do to make them listen to me?"

"We fight to eat breakfast, we fight to brush our teeth, we fight to comb our hair," Patti says.

"You go to bed at night, and you think, 'so what did we accomplish with the kids today?' Absolutely nothing, because I got home and I started yelling the minute I walked in the door," she says.

And since the kids still don't obey, she says yelling becomes screaming.

Yelling at Kids Teaches Them to Yell Back

This is bad news, say experts. Yelling at kids teaches them that yelling is a good way to communicate and that can contribute to a lifetime of troubled relationships.

The Simmes let "20/20" put tiny cameras in their home so parenting educator Barbara Coloroso could watch the yelling and offer advice.

Until she watched herself on tape, Patti says she didn't realize how much she was yelling.

"I look psychotic. You know, I wouldn't want to live there," she says. Patti says she'd love to get her kids to behave without having to yell at them.

Hal Abrahm and Jenny Lowry say they yell at their kids too, though they're less worried about it.

"Would I prefer that I didn't yell as much? Yes. Do I think they're being traumatized and they're going to be in therapy the rest of their lives? No," she says.

Jenny says when she was younger, her parents yelled at her. Now, she's the one yelling at her own three children, Ike, Lilah and Cindy.

Still, while she doesn't feel good afterward Jenny says she does feel a release. "Anger builds, what can you do? You have to release it somehow."

But parents shouldn't release that anger in front of the kids, Coloroso says. She has some advice for when parents lose their cool: "Pull back and say, 'I've lost it. Give me a few moments to pull myself back together, and come up with something that makes sense, and I will."

It's important that parents stop yelling, she says, because -- as our tapes show -- the kids start to yell back at their parents.

And that upsets Jenny. Now her kids say things to challenge her like, "You're not the boss of me," or "I don't have to do what you tell me."

Coloroso says kids also get accustomed to the yelling. "Kids begin to realize that I don't have to pay attention 'til mom's voice gets to [the yelling level]," she says. Often they don't pay attention to any commands.

At the Simme house, Patti yells loudly at the kids, but they still don't pick up their toys.

Coloroso points out to Patti, "You're yelling from across the room and constantly watching the TV. You haven't taken your eyes off the TV other than to scream at the child." Patti needs to get down to Spencer's level and talk to him, she says.

Having a Backbone vs. Being a 'Brick Wall'

In her book, "Kids Are Worth It," Coloroso offers more tips on getting kids to listen without yelling.

Coloroso calls parents who yell all the time "brick wall" parents. These moms and dads take the "my way or the highway" attitude with their kids.

Brick wall parents constantly say no to their kids, Coloroso says, but they often use it without meaning to enforce it. When the parents fail to enforce the "no" and give in, their kids learn that they'll get their way if they nag or whine enough.

Coloroso says the first step for parents is to say "no" less.

For example, when a child asks for a cookie. The parent should say, "Yes, later" rather than no right away.

Coloroso also tells parents to avoid too many rules. She suggests saving the word "no" for serious issues like safety. Parents should strive to be what she calls a "backbone" parent -- one who has some strict rules, but not too many and who is reasonable when a child misbehaves.

If one sibling hits the other, instead of screaming, use it as a teaching moment, Coloroso says. A brick wall parent would say, "Don't you ever hit your brother anymore." But a backbone parent would look at the child and say, "It's all right to be angry. It's not all right to hit your brother."

Coloroso also recommends parents set a few clear and understandable limits and be prepared to enforce them. Instead of yelling at the kids to get ready in the morning, a backbone parent simply says we're leaving in 20 minutes. "Set the stove timer for 10 minutes before it's time to go out the door, and then go about doing what you need to do to get ready, and say to the kids, 'When that timer goes off, we only have 10 more minutes to get out the door," she says. "If the kids aren't dressed, put them on the school bus in their pajamas."

With reasonable rules, kids learn to be responsible, according to Coloroso. They'll have fewer discipline problems, and that will mean fewer opportunities you need to scream.

New Patterns and Less Yelling

Both families left the interview hopeful that Coloroso's advice would work. Two months later "20/20" checked back and found it had.

Jenny says she now takes that step back and asks herself a few questions before yelling at her kids. "Is this really worth it? Do I really need to be yelling? Is it that big of a deal?"

There's less screaming in the Simme household, too. "I stop and think what it looked like to watch myself," Patti said. She sets the stove timer in the morning as Coloroso suggested and she says that has helped too.

"It's put the pressure on them. The responsibility is now on them."