Parents & Children: Dealing with Parental Anger
Parents & Children
Dealing with Parental Anger
by Sheila O'Connor
"Sometimes my 2 1/2 year old makes me just want to scream!" says Anna, an at-home mother. "He either doesn't listen to a word I say or he answers me back. And usually his answer is no!"
What parent has never gotten angry with their child? Probably nobody. And in fact any parent who hasn't ever "lost it" with regard to their child's behavior is one who should be worried. It's normal that at times we get mad at our children. Just realizing this can be a source of comfort-you are normal after all!
"For me, it's the screaming and the tantrums, especially in public places", says Dorothy, of her two year old. Other ways our children make us angry include whining, dawdling when we're in a hurry and fighting with their siblings.
"During the ages of 2-4 most of these things are common. Later on the behaviors change and more often than not they lead to respect and friendship," says Gabie Berliner Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker.
But why do these behaviors have to happen in the first place? Understanding the reasons behind them can help parents deal with the problems and not take them personally.
Separation is usually the first thing that's going on with this age group. Young children want to take control of their lives and are in the process of figuring out how to do this. This can lead to temper tantrums and exhaustion when everything gets overwhelming for them. Parents need to understand that little children don't have the coping skills that adults do.
"Every developmental leap also has a downside. The child loses something," says Berliner. "When the child walks, the world opens up to them, but then he or she doesn't get carried any more, so they miss that nurturing." This may lead to a child being more whiney or clingy.
In addition, this age doesn't have the words to express their feelings, so they act out. It helps to realize they're not doing it deliberately to upset you.
Temperament can also be a factor in causing a conflict situation. If you're a fast-paced individual and your child is slow and deliberate, that could set the scene for clashes.
Despite all the reasons for your child acting in a way that provokes your anger, it's important to realize all your child really wants in the end is your love.
"A child wants a positive relationship and love from the parent," states Berliner. "When they're driving you up the wall, it's hard to imagine that's the same child who just wants you to love them. It's as if they need to know at what point your love stops. So they do the opposite of what you'd expect from someone trying to win your love-they act out. They're doing this simply because they don't understand the strong feelings going on inside them, like their hunger for love and their need for your approval.
Understanding why the maddening behaviors happen must be accompanied by knowing when it is you're most likely to get angry. Some mothers experience feelings of anger at particular times-when they're trying to leave the house or are in a hurry (in this case allow extra time); when they're under stress or tired (try to schedule a rest time or swap a few hours of babysitting with another mom); when their spouse is not doing their share of parenting (come to an agreement on this), when their expectations are too high (lower them), when they feel frustrated because they're trying to get something else done (it might be easier to drop the idea or do it at another time, perhaps when your child is napping) or when you're on the phone.
The phone problem is a very common one and it's often an issue because your child sees you as giving someone else attention. Some parents get over this by having a special box of "favorite" toys close by that comes out only when they have to be on the phone.
Above all, take heart then in knowing that there are strategies you can use that will help. The first thing to do is recognize when you're tired or stressed or in a hurry. If you get to the boiling point, it's a good idea to express your feelings ("Mommy is really mad right now and I have to have a time out"). Then go into another room. The bathroom is usually the best because you can lock the door, splash water on your face, even take a shower-the noise of the water will cover any noise going on outside until you can compose yourself.
Distraction is also good, whether that means turning on the music, or everyone leaving the house for another activity (go feed the ducks or the birds in the park--the change of scene will likely calm you both down).
Of course it you can prevent the anger situation in the first place, all the better, and this is ultimately the best solution. Or try asking yourself, "Why is this making me angry. What is the real issue here?" (for instance in a busy supermarket, you might feel that YOU are under scrutiny from other adults. If this is the case, know that most parents have been through the same thing and will sympathize).
And don't forget the importance of picking the battles you fight over. Berliner advises "List all the things that make you mad, then choose the two worst ones. Cross everything else out and tell yourself that are the only things you'll get mad about. Ask yourself if you really want to spend all your time battling over every little detail."
When we learn to stop wanting ourselves or our youngsters to live up to some "ideal", we learn to stop getting angry at the things that shouldn't matter. And that can only be good news for our children and ourselves.