Atlanta Magazine - August 2010 - ScreamFree Parenting
August 2010: Test Drive

Anger Management

Parenting guru urges us to turn down the volume
By Mary Jo DiLonardo

Scott Garrett
I have one kid and he’s a good one. But combine a preteen boy who knows everything and a mom with an Italian temper, and there’s some yelling at our house. I try to stop, I swear. But when I can’t hear myself over his music, my vocal cords become my survival tool of choice.

I’m hardly alone. Shouting, reports the New York Times, is the new spanking. A whole generation of parents who wouldn’t dream of swatting their offspring has no qualms about yelling at them—loudly—when parents just can’t take it anymore.

To give my family a break, I signed up for a four-week ScreamFree Parenting course. ScreamFree is the brainchild of Atlanta marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, a bestselling author, popular speaker, and a regular on the Today show. With trained therapists all over the country preaching his ScreamFree gospel, surely he had the secret to domestic peace.

With two friends in tow, I took Runkel’s seminar, led by Roswell therapist Miriam Bellamy. In essence, said Bellamy, the solution is to stop trying to change our children and to focus on ourselves instead. The issue is not forcing kids to behave. It’s about gaining control of our reactions. It’s about being more mature.

It’s easy to see how things get out of hand. My son loses his homework. I get mad. He doesn’t seem to care. I start threatening all sorts of dire consequences. Nobody wins except maybe my cardiologist.

Instead, the ScreamFree way is to let him realize the cost of his own actions. Let his teacher (not me) get angry. Let him (not me) freak out when he gets a zero.

Runkel’s philosophy sounds appealing, and it was reassuring to commiserate with other parents facing the same dilemmas. But I could’ve used more practical advice on how to turn down the volume. After all, reacting calmly requires a major attitude adjustment.

The best thing I learned was Bellamy’s tip for “drive-by parenting.” To avoid full-fledged verbal warfare, drop by your child’s room, quietly share your concern and the potential consequence, then remove yourself from the situation before the volleys fly.

There were a few other tips I’ve found useful:

• Forget “picking your battles,” because that assumes you’re fighting a war.

• “I told you so” are the four most damaging words in a relationship.

• Close your eyes in the midst of a heated discussion to take the focus off your anger.

So these days I at least think before I scream. Hopefully, I’m screaming less, or maybe the radio is just turned up louder.

Get ScreamFree
Hal Runkel led his first ScreamFree seminar at a Methodist church in Lawrenceville in 2000. It was an instant hit. His self-published book sold more than 20,000 copies before Random House picked it up. ScreamFree seminars range from four to six weeks. Come ready to share your personal frustrations with the group. The seminar I took with Miriam Bellamy offers four ninety-minute classes for $175, which includes the ScreamFree Parenting book and workbook. To register for Bellamy’s seminar, visit or call 404-932-9320. To find another counselor, visit