Are you comfortable when your kids are angry with you?
4 Benefits That May Surprise You
It is inevitable that your kids will become angry with you at some point, and they probably already have. Numerous times most likely.
So how comfortable are you with this experience? Some parents are fine with it, but many are quite uncomfortable and work hard to avoid it. Maybe understanding the positive side will help.
First thing to know is that it is absolutely necessary and healthy for kids to get angry with their parents.
How it is expressed is the thing you want to work on, and I’ll give you some ideas of how to do that after I talk about what those positive factors are.
Positive #1 - Getting angry creates distance.
When you get angry with someone, you automatically create some emotional distance between yourself and the other person. Same goes for kids. When they are angry with a parent, they are creating emotional distance.
That distance is a necessary experience for a child during the course of psychological development. It allows her to gain some independence, autonomy, and a sense of separateness from you.
Think back to when you were angry with a one of your parents. You felt more powerful, at least temporarily, and you felt a surge of independence. You had a thought or a feeling that was different from your parent’s.
Once the angry feeling has run its course, kids usually become uncomfortable with the distance, and will do what is necessary to make up. That’s all fine, but by having the experience, a small step forward takes place in helping a child get a sense of individuality.
Positive #2 - Learn that negative feelings don’t destroy a good relationship.
Having the experience of getting angry with someone important or close to you without destroying the relationship is really powerful.
You have a strong disagreement, get outwardly angry, and maybe even forcefully express your feelings, but the relationship remains intact. You both get over it, the problem is resolved, and the connection is not broken. The love is still there.
All healthy relationships incorporate both negative and positive feelings, and to understand that this is necessary is important. The earlier it’s learned, the better.
Positive #3 -Negative feelings have a place and need to be felt.
This one goes along with the one above. Negative feelings are a part of life. You can’t have only positive feelings. The two are tied together. If you are always suppressing your negative feelings, it is likely that you are also not having the full experience of your positive feelings.
The goal is to be able to feel the full range and variety of your feelings, and learn how to make them work for you. Personal growth, clear thinking, and emotional depth all require the experience of all of our emotions, both positive and negative.
Teaching your kids not to suppress anger, but rather to feel it and learn how to handle it also teaches them that (1) they can handle anger and it won’t destroy them, and (2) it is simply normal.
The earlier kids learn to work with anger the better. Kids who learn how to suppress anger often have huge bursts of anger later on as adults. That can feel overwhelming, and if explosive, can be destructive. Better to get practice early on.
Positive #4 - You have to oppose your kids sometimes for their benefit.
There is no way kids can be happy all the time, and there is also no way that you can avoid upsetting or opposing them. In fact, parents who are too focused on their kids’ minute-to-minute happiness are doing them a disservice. Life is not happy all the time, and to think otherwise, is to set a child up for failure in the adult world.
Real growth often occurs when there is a problem, a failure, a disappointment, or a conflict. It is the discomfort that allows you to stretch your mind to find solutions, or learn lessons that are valuable.
When your kids are teetering off the right path, it is your job to pull them back, even if they put up a big opposition. They will undoubtedly be angry sometimes when you do this. So be it. That’s what they need to do. It forces them to think about what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, and how they feel. They have to search, broaden their perspective, and consider ideas contrary to what they want.
The worst thing you can do as a parent is to allow your kids to become overly entitled, and to think and demand that they should be happy at every moment. Kids like that grow into adults that run over other people’s feelings. They are also not emotionally resilient, they seek out caretakers to cater to their every whim, and they have a difficult time with responsibility.
Let your kids balk at your lessons. Let them be angry, disappointed, and upset. Those are the feelings that will help them keep their ego in check, grow responsibility, and become truly independent.
Now for the How Tos
Now that you know anger is a necessary and positive experience for your kids, you need to know how to facilitate the right expression of it. You may already be very adept at that, and if so, kudos! To simplify, here are some quick guidelines:
1. Move from acting out to verbalizing.
Help your kids move from acting out anger to verbalizing it. Younger kids often cry, scream, throw things, or in general have tantrums. Older kids can have tantrums too, and the teen tantrum is really no fun at all.
Start early with verbalizing feelings. Give your kids a wide array of words to express feelings. Get as exact as you can so they learn to discriminate between all of the shades of feeling. Instead of your child saying, “I’m mad,” they might use words like disappointed, frustrated, irritated, overwhelmed, furious, etc.
Use words that fit the developmental age, but go for a big grab bag of words. Choosing the right words can totally change the feel of an interaction, and can even help a child (or adult) calm down or diffuse the feeling.
2. Never allow aggression.
Under no circumstances should you ever allow aggression, either physical or verbal. That means no personal digs or insults. No hitting, kicking, or other physical assaults. Goes without saying that this rule goes both ways.
3. Allow a cool-down period.
Allow kids time to cool down. Sometimes kids not only need emotional distance, they need a little physical distance too. So if your daughter gets furious and stomps out of the room, allow her some time to be apart from you until she is ready to come back and talk. Don’t follow her, start talking at her, or step into the fire and get angry yourself. Allow the distance.
4. Watch your own emotions.
Control your own anger. This is really important. If the interaction is so hot that you feel your anger rising, then by all means take a break. Say it. “I’m too angry to talk about this right now. I need to take a break.” Walk out of the room, or remain quiet. The goal with kids is to keep your cool in the face of their anger. You are modeling for them.
5. Help diffuse the anger before talking.
There is no point in trying to solve a problem when anger is running high. That goes for adult disputes as well.
Sometimes a child, and especially a younger child needs some help diffusing his anger. He is overwhelmed. You can ask him directly if he would like help calming down. You usually get a cue that let’s you know he’s ready. If so, you can soothe him until his emotional equilibrium is restored. You’ll get to the lesson later.
6. Listen, don’t talk at.
If your child is in the place to talk about what’s making her angry, then get in the listening mode. That mean’s ask just the minimum of questions to find out what is bothering her. Don’t interrupt, don’t correct, and don’t take over the conversation.
Even if she is angry because she can’t do or have something she wants, you can still just hear her feelings without giving all the reasons and explanations of why you’ve made the decision you have. Just allowing her to verbalize her feelings will diffuse them.
7. Problem solve at the right time.
Once the anger is diffused and your child has had a chance to verbalize his feelings, then you can work on a solution if there is a problem, or explain whatever you think needs to be heard in terms of the lesson or situation. At this point, what you have to say will go in, but not before.
One final note. If you do not have a strong connection with your child, then you may experience excessive bouts of anger. This may indicate that you need to work on the bond between you. Read Repairing the Parent-Child Relationship for some help with this process.
As always, I’m interested in your experiences. How do you deal with your child’s anger, and what things work for you? What doesn’t?