Moms and Dads – you know better than anyone how your kids can be sweet as honey one minute, and then driving you to the edge of insanity in the next. It is vital for parents to remember that their responsibility is to raise their kids to be productive, contributing members of society. So, when we get angry at our kids, even when it is justified, we have to be careful that we don’t say or do something that we will regret, or worse – could scar our kids for life. Here are five tips on what we as parents should NEVER do when we get angry at our kids.
Never compare your kids to their siblings or worse yet, the neighbours’ kids. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Perhaps a phrase similar to this runs through your memory from time to time. Children want to know that they are loved and accepted for who they are. Being compared to someone who is smarter, more punctual, better behaved, thinner, more athletic, or better-looking does nothing for your child’s self-esteem. The underlying message that you will be sending is, “You’re not good enough the way you are.” Instead, identify the behaviour that your child is displaying, and explain how it is unacceptable. Children need to know that they are loved and accepted. At the same time, they need to be clear on what they did that was not acceptable, and what they can do differently. (See tip Number 5 for more on this concept).
Never use physical or any other form of “punishment”. Now I grew up in a day and age when corporal punishment was accepted and promoted in society. My, how things have changed. There is a common belief in Western society that spanking can be psychologically damaging to children, and the debate about spanking will I’m sure, rage on between liberal and conservative camps indefinitely. Recent studies show that children who are spanked tend to be more anxious and aggressive than those who aren't, but this is less true in cultures where physical punishment is common. Researcher Jennifer Lansford, PhD, and colleagues conclude that the impact of spanking seems to depend, at least in part, on the child's view of whether the practice represents good or bad parenting. More frequent use of physical discipline was less strongly associated with child aggression and anxiety when it was perceived as being more culturally accepted. The findings are published in the November/December issue of the journal Child Development. This point is not so much about whether or not physical punishment or discipline is acceptable – but rather, whether or not it is acceptable when a parent is feeling anger or rage. And in the case of a parent feeling any intense emotion, that is not the right time to administer discipline. Because of how anger affects the body and the brain, if we act before thinking our responses through, we will 9/10 times do something we’ll regret later. When an adult acts in anger, what is remembered is the parent’s anger, and the fearful emotions of the child in relation to the anger. The child will not learn what s/he did wrong, or how to correct that behaviour. All s/he will learn is that s/he shouldn’t get Daddy or Mommy mad.
Never yell at your kids, spouse, or partner in front of others. Using verbal aggression or abuse, especially in front of an audience is particularly damaging to a child’s self-esteem. Verbal aggression is defined as “a verbal attack that attempts to inflict psychological pain, thereby resulting in the [other’s] feeling less favorable about self, i.e., suffering self-concept damage” (Cahn & Lloyd, 1996, p. 86). Studies have shown that verbal aggression towards children causes them to perceive themselves as less competent, less comfortable with their own behavior, and less worthy. Studies also show that the more verbal aggression parents showed towards their children, the more they reported their family communication was less open. Whenever you feel the urge to yell or to use verbal aggression as a way to vent your anger, let the other party know that you are feeling very angry and need to walk away or take a break before you say something that you will be sorry for later. Then, when the heat of your anger has burned off, sit down and explain to the child why you felt angry and ask for help in ensuring that this situation doesn’t repeat itself. Be sure to allow your child to share his/her feelings as well, and to apologize for his/her role in the situation. This teaches your children that you can control your responses, and you are modeling appropriate behaviour for them. By refraining from yelling at your spouse in front of the kids, it again models appropriate interactions between couples.
Never withdraw love/approval/acceptance as a form of punishment. In my very first point, I stated that children need to feel loved and accepted. Let me stretch that a bit: they need to feel loved and accepted for who they are – not what they have done. When a child receives praise and positive regard only when s/he gets 100% on a test, or scores perfectly in the swimming competition, s/he will begin to feel that in order to be loved, s/he must be perfect all the time. This is a standard that no child – in fact no person can reach. If you think hard enough, you can identify someone in your circle of influence who has this type of thought process – they have to be right all the time; they have to be perfect at everything – if they can’t do it right, they won’t do it at all. Love is something that your child deserves just because s/he is your child. When s/he does something that is unacceptable, it is better to say, “I love you so much and that will never change; but I’m very disappointed in what you have done.” Rather than withdraw love, physical touch, or affection, withdraw privileges like access to the Internet, video games, television, or movies. Take away the wallet so you can monitor their spending. Limit their drive time if they won’t drive responsibly – but don’t take away your love.
Never send kids away to think about “what they’ve done”. This could be one of the least recognized mistakes of parenting. We all think we’re so smart when we send our kids off to their rooms to “think about what they did…” But here’s the thing: how will thinking about what they have already done, help them to problem solve, or formulate better alternatives to their behaviour? Answer: It won’t. All we are asking our kids to do is to replay in their minds the thing they got in trouble for. We are not encouraging them to seek alternatives. So rather than asking them to think about what they did, ask them to spend some time thinking about what they could have done differently – to get a more positive outcome. Lets say little Jimmy was suspended for fighting at school. Thinking about what he did won’t get him far. Thinking about what he could do differently might get him considering how he could have beaten up Johnny and not got caught. What Jimmy needs to do is think about why he wanted to fight Johnny in the first place, and what he hoped he would achieve by fighting. Then encourage him to think about other ways he could have achieved his desired positive outcome without engaging in aggressive behaviour. This approach will get Jimmy thinking about how to solve problems constructively, and how to make choices that will get him what he wants without having to sit in his room for an hour as a side effect.
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