Anger poses a common but potentially lethal challenge to effective parenting.
Like other emotions, anger is a God-given gift, a signal that something needs attending to.
It's like the buzzer on the stove telling you that the cake is done. Anger "buzzes" to let you know that someone is crossing your borders and violating you in some way. The "buzz" directs you to do something about it, to fix the situation.
Someone parks right in front of you, blocking your exit and you feel the anger rising. Your freedom of movement has been encroached upon. The anger signals you to go into problem-solving mode to try to remedy the situation.
The problem is that we don't always use anger as a signal –- we often use it as a tool.
The problem is that instead of using anger as a signal –- we often use it as a tool. We start to scream to get the car or the kids to move.
Instead of thinking about how to best solve our problem, we use the anger itself to solve it.
ANGER WORKS ... TEMPORARILY
And it seems to work! The kids often start doing what they're supposed to be doing. Yell loud enough and everyone hops!
However, there are a few negative side-effects to using anger as a tool. When used frequently it tends to destroy relationships, including marriages, business relationships, friendships and, parent-child relationships.
Generally speaking, children do not deserve your anger. For run-of-the-mill misbehavior and non-compliance, anger is not only out of place, it can cause real psychological harm. Furthermore, excessive anger can lead to increased noncompliance in children, as they become more negativistic and rebellious in response to it.
From the Torah point of view, in one explosive moment you are likely to transgress many commandments:
- hurting other people's feelings.
- behaving arrogantly.
- using bad language.
- becoming violent.
So, this is one character trait to be avoided.
START WITH YOURSELF
Before we can teach our children, we have to learn to manage our own anger.
Once the anger alarm has sounded, we must learn how to turn it off and begin the problem-solving process. Anger at our children signals that a corrective action is required.
Perhaps our children need education or help or discipline. As parents, we are primarily educators. Our job is not to punish children when they annoy us; rather, it is to teach them right from wrong when they behave inappropriately.
Effective teaching requires a thought-out plan of action, not an impulsive, fly-by-the-seats-of-our-pants approach. Such plans for corrective action require a clear, calm mind.
When we're in an angry state, we can't and shouldn't attempt to carry out disciplinary actions.
When we're in an angry state, we cannot and should not attempt to make parenting plans or carry out disciplinary actions. It's important to wait until we've calmed down before we begin to address the problem.
Anger management courses, parenting courses and stress-management courses may be helpful in decreasing the tension.
Once we've got a handle on our own anger, we must teach our children how to soothe themselves and express their needs in non-aggressive ways. Teaching our children the healthy management of their angry feelings gives them a gift for life and adds peace to ours!
1. Show children how to manage their anger by managing yours in provocative situations.
When the children are "driving you nuts," tell them that you are beginning to get irritated. It's important to say this up front, at the beginning of the anger response when anger is easiest to turn off. Refrain from using the word "mad" or "angry" to describe your emotion. These words may make the child feel that your emotion is his fault, since "mad" implies "at you" as does "angry."
Don't blame the child for your irritation. Although he seems to be provoking our discomfort, it could be that the real culprit is lack of sleep or stress. Ultimately we are the cause of our emotional reactions. We also don't want to model blaming for the child; he'll out-do us any day if he gets started on this one: "He made me hit him because he took my toy!" Children are the master blamers.
2. After announcing your feeling, tell the children what you're going to do about it.
You might say: "I'm just going to sit down and breathe slowly and think about what I need to do." Sitting down reduces the adrenaline rush of anger. Breathing slowly also returns oxygen to the brain, turns off the emergency response in the body and facilitates clear thinking. Thinking gives you a chance to come up with a creative parenting intervention designed to address the immediate problem.
Remember to speak slowly and in a quiet tone of voice during the entire process. "Slow and low" should be your motto. Maimonides points out that this is one sure-fire way to minimize anger.
3. Insist that your children speak in a quiet and respectful tone to you when they're feeling upset or frustrated.
Tell them that they aren't allowed to yell at you or insult you; they must find respectful ways to express themselves. If you insist on this when they're young, they won't be cursing you out when they're teenagers. If they're already teenagers with bad tempers, tell them that you're changing the rules! Do not accept verbal abuse from anyone –- especially your own kids. Of course, this means that you can't dish it out either!
4. Always accept your children's angry feelings, but show them how to express their feelings appropriately.
If your child is having a fit because you said he can't sleep over at his friend's house, first acknowledge and accept his feeling. You can say, "I know how disappointed you are. I know this is upsetting." This step is essential.
Discounting, invalidating or ignoring feelings can cause serious mental health problems in children. After acknowledging the feeling, use the opportunity to educate the child. "Even though you're disappointed, it's not acceptable to be screaming at me right now. I'm leaving the room. When you want to discuss this in a calm and respectful way, you can find me in the kitchen."
Make sure that after you acknowledge the child's feelings, you end the sentence. Do not start the next phrase with the word "but." Do not say: "I know you're disappointed but it's not okay to scream..." This removes all the benefit of your acknowledgement.
5. If necessary, use negative consequences to help the children remember not be behave abusively in rage.
For example, you can tell him: "From now on, when you raise your voice to me (swear, hit, etc.), you will have to write out a page on the importance of speaking respectfully (or some other negative consequence)."