I remember going to a mother’s group back when my firstborn child was around 2 years old and asking “What do I do with my anger?”
Because I got angry sometimes. When I did I yelled, stomped around, said bad words and/or cruel things. Even when my anger was addressed at inanimate objects, this behavior was upsetting to my daughter.
I don’t recall receiving any helpful advice to my question back in that group. Over the years I learned a few things about managing anger—and sometimes was able to put them into practice! I’m still working on it.
Managing anger is hard. Managing anger at young children or even in the presence of young children is even harder.
One thing I tried was ignoring my feelings. I forced myself to stay calm and tried to be accepting and accommodating. Bad idea. I recall an incident with my second daughter who was in the midst of a tantrum. I was trying hard not to scream at her. I said something like “You are upset about having to leave now.” I was trying to be empathetic but she yelled back at me “Why are you so happy?” All my energy had gone into trying to be calm—and that interfered with my being truly empathetic. My calmness made it appear to her that I didn’t understand her feelings at all. And I wasn’t dealing with my own legitimate feelings.
Forced calmness often led to an even stronger outburst later on my part. I call it snapback—I was like a rubber band that got stretched too far and then broke with a snap.
What helped? Awareness about the factors that contributed to my anger. One big one was neglecting my needs in my efforts to be a “good” self-sacrificing mother. Being tired, hungry, stressed, feeling put upon, not having time or opportunities for doing things I enjoyed . . . all those contributed to the likelihood I would get angry and to the force of my anger.
I did get better at taking care of myself. I learned that the self-sacrificing mother ideal is nonsense. Like athletes, mothers need to take excellent care of themselves or they won’t be able to do their jobs—and the same is true for all parents and people in helping professions. Other things can be sacrificed –not you.
An important part of self-care is paying attention to feelings. Feelings can serve as warning lights reminding us that some need we have requires attention. Anger is a secondary emotion—we feel scared or frustrated or hurt and then we get angry. Karen Young from HeySigmund.com writes that anger “exists to block other more difficult emotions from rising to the surface.” Our mind is trying to protect us from those feelings we don’t know how to handle. For many of us recognizing emotions may need to be learned and may require professional help—and that’s okay.
Even with the best self-care parents will get angry. And that anger should be acknowledged –in ways that don’t hurt or scare others. In order to do that successfully we first need to recognize the physical signs that indicate we are getting angry. If we’ve never thought about anger in this way, identifying what led up to an outburst (or to a cold simmer, or a stone-faced withdrawal) may take some reflection. Authors Susan Beekman and Jeanne Holmes [Battles, Hassles, Tantrums & Tears] recommend looking back at a recent incident and remembering where, what, and particularly when you started to lose it.
A lot of times parents tell their children, “use your words,“ but words may not be adequate to manage the physical sensations of anger. (Not to mention that the words that come to mind may be ones you don’t want your children repeating.)
Taking deep breaths, briefly walking away, and counting to ten are some things that can help us calm down enough to use appropriate words. Doing something physical but safe—my son recommends hurling ice-cubes into the shower stall—is another approach.
Then simply saying “I’m angry” is a good place to start. Describing what triggered your anger in non-accusatory language can be helpful as well: “When we are late for an appointment, I get frustrated because I like to be on time.”
Nancy Samalin, author of Love and Anger (yes, I stole that title) also suggests: Avoid physical force and threats; Keep it short and to the point; Put it in writing; Focus on the essentials.
And finally, apologize for any hurtful words or actions. This can be a good time to reflect on what triggered you and make plans for handling future situations.
April 8, 2019 published on ParentingSuccessNetwork
Saying “no” is a challenging part of parenting (and grandparenting). Here are some ideas that may help
When you have to stop an action about to happen or already in progress:
- “STOP” or “Danger” “Hot” “Hold it” “It is prohibited” “Access denied” or other phrases besides “no”. With toddlers say “Not for [child’s name]”
- If at all possible, be physically present to block, catch, grab, etc.—especially with toddlers.
- Reserve yelling for when it is really needed—dangerous situations. A stern look, frown or headshake can get your point across.
- Refer to the rule or ask the child what the rule is. “The rule in our family is no hitting.”
- Tell the child what he or she CAN do. Teach and practice with your child the safe/respectful/socially acceptable way to do things.
- Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings as you act on the “no”—often without actually saying the word. “You want your ball back. I will help you when it is safe to go get it.”
- Give information or describe the problem. This gives the reason for the “no” without needing to use the word. “Those cookies are for the party” “The problem is I don’t have any money for toys today. We’ll have to put that back on the shelf.”
When your child resists doing something that he/she has to do:
- Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings as you act on the “no”–without actually saying the word. Example: “You’ve really liked playing at the park. We’ve had a good time (while taking the child’s hand to leave). Should we come again tomorrow?”
- Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings and grant them in fantasy. “You’ve really liked playing at the park. You wish you could play here for another hour—for the whole day—you wish you could live at the park!” “You don’t like being in your car seat. You wish you could fly to the store.”
- State what needs to happen. Stay calm and wait quietly nearby for the child to cooperate.
When your child asks ahead of time:
- “Yes, later” or yes with a condition. Barbara Coloroso points out that if you say “Yes, later” “later” can be 10 seconds from now—it’s still more effective than saying no and then changing your mind. Examples: “Can I go to Sally’s house?” “Yes, as soon as your room is picked up.”
- Give yourself time to think—either don’t respond right away or say, “Let me think about it.”
It helps to be clear on what you really want and why—when you know that, it is easier to set a limit and stick with it.
- “Convince me.” This makes the child do all the talking and thinking.
- Let the environment say no by childproofing and avoiding tempting situations. Use the clock or a timer to signal when to stop an activity or leave a location.
- Go over the rules ahead of time.
- Nobody likes to hear No. Accept that your child will probably be mad at you. Try to stay calm and confident yourself. Remind yourself of the need to set limits and protect your child and others.
- Learning can’t take place when child is upset or in the midst of a tantrum. Later, you can explore ways to help prevent future problems.
- Notice cooperative behavior and thank your child
Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork May 8, 2013http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2013/when-no-is-necessary/
Children get upset.
It takes experience and maturity to realize that Dad will be back at suppertime or that that really wanting a cookie does not create cookies in the cupboard (adults tend to get upset by that harsh fact as well).
Children also get mad.
So many things they want to do are out of their control.
Children usually let their parents (and sometimes the whole neighborhood) know that they are upset and angry.
How can you stay calm or calm down when your child is upset—without adding to your child’s distress?
The first thing is to accept that strong emotions are part of life. It’s okay that your child gets upset at times. It does not mean that you are a bad parent. It does not mean your child is a spoiled brat.
It often helps to acknowledge the emotion and identify it. Tentative identification is best—“wow, you sound really angry.” Say it with meaning and respect.
Dismissing your child’s reaction (“it’s nothing to get upset about”) or completely ignoring it can upset your child further.
Remain available and empathetic. If no one is getting hurt or unduly disturbed by the noise you may want let the storm rage. A dramatic (but safe) release of energy can actually aid everyone.
If you were raised in an environment where any strong emotion was repressed or expressed in dangerous and hurtful ways you may benefit from some professional help to learn and be comfortable with safe ways to express emotion.
It’s disturbing when your child is upset. Frequently, you are the cause of the upset. You said “No,” or “It’s bedtime.” You stopped your toddler from sticking a key into an electrical outlet.
Nobody likes being yelled at—especially not for doing the right thing! Here you are being a loving, responsible parent—and your child does not appreciate it!
Getting yelled at for our responsible parental actions can lead us into irresponsible behavior—we may become unduly harsh with the child or we may back off and allow the child to go on misbehaving. Both are completely understandable but not advisable.
Full disclosure: yes, I have done both, and the results were not pretty.
How can you respond?
- Give yourself empathy—silently or out loud. “Wow, it hurts to be yelled at for trying to protect you.”
- Remember you are the adult and the parent in the situation. This is part of the job. Helpful phrases from author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka include: “I do not fear your anger.” “I will help you follow the rule.”
- Let your child know that feelings are acceptable but that actions may not be. “You are angry with your sister. It is NOT okay to hit her.”
- Offer an acceptable action: “You may punch the couch cushion.”
by Esther Schiedel
Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.27.12
12 powerful parenting phrases that make talking to kids easier
by Amanda Morgan
Several years ago researchers Alison Gropnik, Andrew Meltzoff, and Patricia Kuhl wrote The Scientist in the Crib: What early learning tells us about the mind. In it, they examine and explain how children develop their understanding of the world from birth through the preschool years. Babies, they explain, act like scientists: they observe, investigate, form hypothesis, and test them. And, like good scientists, they try to replicate the results of their tests. Simply put: babies learn from everything that happens and from everything they make happen. Baby throws food on the floor and learns about gravity (and, in some cases, that dogs like to eat some kinds of people food). Baby also learns whether Dad finds this behavior amusing or annoying or doesn’t notice it. Baby repeats the experiment—are the results the same? What if I try it tomorrow? What if I try it with Mom? The experiments and the learning go on and on and on.
The experimentation doesn’t end in preschool, it continues—potentially throughout our lives. The drive to learn and figure out how the world works is powerful. And when we figure something out for ourselves—what a rush!
The other day I reflected on a child’s innate need to learn while watching a seven-year old riding his bike. He was with his younger brother, a friend and some neighbors. He was meeting lots of needs: exercise, fun, socialization. He was experimenting with what he could do with his body while riding a bike and learning about physics. He also conducted another experiment by riding off briefly with one of the neighbors without checking with his mother (or his friend) first. An experiment in social relationships and impulsive actions.
When he returned, his mother reminded him of the ground rules for bike riding, redirected him to some other activities for a while, and explained that he would not be able to ride his bike if he didn’t follow the rules. She also pointed out that riding off with the neighbor was rude to his friend.
She didn’t over-react to the incident (he is a sensitive, conscientious child, and lives in a safe neighborhood).
She didn’t embarrass him.
But she didn’t ignore it, either—she gave him information that would help him to learn.
That’s another great thing about babies (and all of us)–we can learn from other people. We don’t need to experience everything ourselves.
Many parenting advisers talk about kids testing the limits of parental rules. Unfortunately, this is often phrased in terms of “parents vs kids” or “you have to show them who’s boss.” But, most of the time, kids are not challenging parental power or out to annoy their parents—they are experimenting with how things work. They are trying to learn.
All of us learn best when we respect and trust the people who teach us. We learn best when our teachers have confidence in our ability to learn—when they don’t over-react to our mistakes or embarrass us. We learn best when our teachers have patience and treat us with respect.
Children need parents for guidance and protection and limits and supervision–and yes, they annoy us a lot and we often do over-react. We’re experimenting, too. And learning, and learning, and learning.
In many parenting books and articles, I’ve come across the statement “you are not your child’s friend.” It always makes me wonder what the author’s definition of “friend” is. Because I do consider—and have almost from the moment they were born—my children as my friends. Why? Here is how I define friendship:
A friend is someone who I know and who knows me
A friend is someone I’ve experienced events or activities with
A friend is someone I can have fun with
A friend is someone I have common interests with
A friend is someone who I help and who helps me
A friend is someone I can share joys and sorrows with
A friend is someone I can trust
Here are some of the definitions of “friend” in the dictionary:
- a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
- a person who gives assistance; supporter
- a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile:
- a member of the same nation, party, etc.
So why would some parenting experts advise against friendship? I assume it is because some friendships are unhealthy; and because friends often play a role (such as a confidant) that would be inappropriate in a parent-child relationship.
Examples of unhealthy “friendships” include:
- “Friendships” in which the fear of losing affection overrides concern for the safety or well-being of the other person or for yourself.
- Inappropriately exclusive and/or controlling “friendships.”
- “Friendships” where the needs of one person dominate, to the detriment of the other person.
These “Friendships” are familiar; most of us have been involved in one or more of them, particularly as we were growing up and experimenting with how to be in a relationship with another person. These mistakes helped us learn what not to do as a friend. Sometimes relationships survived these mistakes and became healthy friendships, other times we were able to form healthy friendships with new people.
What helped us to learn what to do as a friend? It’s not enough to learn what not to do. Parents who have healthy friendships with other adults provide a model for their children. I believe that having a healthy friendship with your child also helps him or her to learn about friendship.
So what is a healthy parent-child friendship?
- There are appropriate boundaries—the parent is still the parent and provides protection and guidance.
- The child is allowed to be a child, not forced into an adult role.
- The parent has adult friends and healthy relationships with them.
- The parent encourages and facilitates the child’s contact with and friendship with other children (and with other adults when appropriate).
My friendship with my children evolved as they grew into adults. There are still boundaries I’ve set, and additional boundaries they have set. I still have the urge to provide protection and guidance to them— they usually tolerate this, sometimes gently reprimand me about it, and occasionally request it. Our friendship will evolve still further as I age. I have good memories of times of fun and friendship with my own parents before their deaths. I hope one day my children will have similar memories of our friendship.
Originally published 3/3/15 on Parenting Success Network
Ask, Don’t Tell
Asking questions can help parents establish good communication with their children. Questions can help children develop life skills. But some questions may make a child reluctant to answer—or to answer truthfully. Here are some pointers for using questions effectively.
Questions can help a child to:
Think: “Why do you think the sky is blue?”
Be creative: “What would you make for dinner?”
Consider consequences: “What do you think will happen if you leave your ice cream on the floor?”
Problem solve: “You both want to mop the floor, but there is only one mop. How can you solve this problem?” (No kidding, my grandsons were fighting about this yesterday and solved it peacefully. Unfortunately, they later came to blows over the only tennis racquet before I asked a useful question.)
You can also use questions to help your child learn rules and routines:
“What is the rule about hitting?” “What do you do after you brush your teeth?”
Jean Illsley Clarke writes in Time In: When Time Out Doesn’t Work.
“First ask yourself, ‘What lesson does this child need to learn?’ Then ask yourself, ‘Is there a question that will help this child discover for herself what she needs to learn?’ ”
Other hints for using questions effectively:
Include some detail in your questions that will guide your child in answering:
“What was first thing that you did in school today?” rather than “What did you do in school today?”
Offer a few acceptable options: “I can play Legos or Uno—which would you prefer?” You may be open to other suggestions, but offering specific ideas can make it easier for your child to come up with suggestions.
Be patient—some children need more time to consider their responses. Be prepared to listen.
Thank and praise children for honesty and telling you important things. This doesn’t mean that there will not be consequences for misdeeds.
Asking permission if you aren’t going to accept No for an answer. Ending a statement with “Okay?” implies that you are asking for the child’s approval. A clearer wording might be “Do you understand?”
Questions that imply a choice when there really isn’t one: “Are you ready to go to bed now?” Instead you can use a question to draw attention to what you want the child to focus on: “Are you going to wear your blue PJs tonight or your red PJs?”
Asking questions that are really threats or warnings: “Do you want me to stop the car?” Try stating a consequence: “If the fighting doesn’t stop, I am going to pull over.”
Asking too many questions at once. Be patient.
Interrogating or asking questions when you already know the answer (or think you do). Instead you can state your assumption about the situation and move ahead to problem solving and/or listening: “I see the window is broken, did anyone get hurt? We need to clean this up carefully and then talk about how to fix it.” “I’m concerned because you seem upset, do you want to talk about it?” As author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka puts it, you want to “Listen for understanding, not for weakness.”
When you need to know more:
There will be times when you need to get information to help you figure out how handle a problem or find out there is a problem. Honesty about the seriousness of the situation, expressions of your love for your child, and respectful questions will help. Then be patient and ready to listen. What you hear may be painful—but thank your child answering.
Don’t always tell your child things. Ask questions that show your love, your interest in the child’s opinions, and your respect for his or her intelligence.
Esther Schiedel 7/17/14
Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork
What do you want to hear?
In a recent talk with a group of parents I asked the question, “What do you want to hear from your children?” Answers were: “Thank you.” “Whatever you say, Mom.” “I’d love to clean my room.”
We all laughed. Then I rephrased the question to “What do we want our children to be able to tell us?”
Their answers included: Their real opinions. When they are in trouble. Their angst. When we are wrong about something. What they are excited about and passionate about. Their anxieties. Their relationships with others. When they feel unsafe. What they admire about us. Their reactions to body changes; their body images. Who they are or aren’t.
Some of these things we love to hear about. But many are things that are difficult and painful to hear. There may be information that worries us or frightens us; that makes us angry or sad. Information that makes us feel powerless. Those feelings can be hard for us to deal with in everyday situations. When confronted with them as parent interacting with a child, the challenge is even greater.
I (and I suspect most parents) secretly believed that if I did my job right, my children weren’t going to have problems that I couldn’t fix. I wanted to make things better. I wanted to kiss the sore spot and make the pain go away. It was hard to accept the truth that I couldn’t fix everything. (My children are adults now and it is still hard!)
Unfortunately, that hard truth and that feeling of powerlessness interfered with my ability to listen to those things I wanted my children to be able to tell me. It wasn’t easy, and I messed up a lot, but here are some things that helped me to listen then (and still help me now).
- Giving myself empathy—acknowledging how painful and difficult it is to hear some things.
- Focusing my attention on listening and observing. Letting my child know I am listening—through touch, attentive silence, or short phrases like “I hear you” or “Oh.”
- Accepting disappointment, sadness, fear, grief and other emotions as real, natural and legitimate feelings that don’t need to be brushed aside or gotten over right away.
- Trusting that my child has many strengths, abilities, and resources to cope with challenges.
- Knowing that I have access to resources—people I trust that I can talk to and professional help if needed.
- My religious faith is also a resource.
- Trusting that really listening to someone is valuable.
I can’t fix everything—but I can listen.
Originally published March 5, 2014 on Parenting Success Network