It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Anger

What is the most troublesome parenting concern? What is the aspect of parenting that effects discipline issues, self-esteem issues, child-control issues, tantrums, whining, family dynamics… you name it?

tantrumAnger.

It affects:
- how you feel when you are angry with your child
- how you respond when you are angry with your child
- how you respond when your child is angry with you
- how you respond when your child is angry with/about anything else

In short, there isn’t one aspect of interacting with your child that isn’t affected by your attitude to and response to that most troublesome of emotions.

And if you haven’t got your own anger (and your attitudes to it) sorted out for yourself in a useful, constructive way, you are going to have no end of trouble with anger as it arises during child-rearing.

If you’re sitting there saying, “Well. This doesn’t apply to me. I’m never angry with my little darling. Sometimes I’m disappointed or sad, but never angry”… if that’s your attitude, you have some SERIOUS denial issues. Everyone gets angry. Everyone.

But that attitude and its close relation, “Anger is bad and I shouldn’t feel it” cause more parenting problems than I can count.

Let’s clear something up right away: Anger is not bad. It is not wrong. It is not a sign of a weak personality. It does not make you a bad parent.

Anger is simply and emotion, and (say it with me, people) emotions are neither right nor wrong. They just are. Where the rightness and wrongness comes in is in the expression of the emotion. But here we must clarify still further. Expressing anger is not wrong. Necessarily. What matters is how you express it.

“Easy for you. You never get angry, not really angry.” These words were spoken by an abusive man to a woman I know. Why did he believe that, when it was patently false? Because she never went into frothing, out-of-control rages. If she really felt anger, he reasoned, if she really got angry (like he did), then she, too, would go into wild, manic rages. He figured that because she didn’t become abusive when angry, she couldn’t really be angry.

Whether we agree with his reasoning consciously or not, a lot of us base our responses to anger on those same assumptions. That is our fear: Anger = Danger, Mayhem, Violence.

Which it does — in toddlers. The thing is, by the time we achieve adulthood, we should have developed the control over our anger such that we can be angry — really and truly furious — without losing control. You can be angry without screaming and hitting and biting and spitting and throwing things. A young toddler can’t. An older toddler can, mostly. (Yes, they can.) And an adult? Of course you can.

Not only is anger not necessarily destructive, anger can be actively constructive. So few people understand this. Anger can be the catalyst for change, the motivation to take brave steps, the fuel for justice, pushing us those one or two steps further than we would normally go. Anger is a tremendous motivator, applied properly.

Yet we have this tremendous fear of anger. A fear so strong that we can’t allow ourselves to be angry in our children’s presence. We can’t allow ourselves to let our children know that we are angry with them. We cower from our own anger, and thus deny our children invaluable lessons of our good emotional modelling. And when our children are angry, we tend either to cower from it — cave into any and all demands just to appease it and make it go away… either that, or disallow it entirely. Neither are helpful, healthy, or effective, for you, for the child, or for your relationship with the child.

We have to get past this. We have to learn to deal with anger in a useful, constructive way. So that we can parent our children effectively. So that our children can learn to manage their anger by seeing us do it, by being allowed to be angry, by being taught to manage theirs as we manage ours. We need to learn to be angry, properly, constructively.

So we can all be happier!

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May 27, 2009 - Posted by | aggression, manners, parenting | , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Comments »

  1. Great post, Mary. I grew up never being allowed to be angry (because my mother’s father was verbally abusive, she fears anger). Soooo my unhealthy approach was to try to repress anger until–I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and it exploded.

    I think saying to your child, “I am REALLY ANGRY right now” is so much better than freezing up and withdrawing emotionally, which is what my mother did. Little kids fear losing your love, and neither rages nor the silent treatment are good for their emotional development.

    Bottling it and blowing up is one unhealthy way. Freezing out is another. Expressing it verbally, in a firm (unshouting) voice is better. Allowing some physical expression: anger in the face, slightly jerky motions (but not swinging arms that threaten to hit something/someone) are also all right. The point is that you control your anger; your anger doesn’t control you.

    Comment by Alison @ hairlinefracture | May 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. So well said.

    I think our society equates anger with abuse and that’s why so many parents have a problem even constructively expressing their anger.

    But I so agree, anger can be an excellent motivator if used to propel you to positive action. There’s nothing wrong with being angry, even with your kids, it’s how you handle it that decides the outcome.

    Great post.

    “There’s nothing wrong with being angry, even with your kids, it’s how you handle it”. That’s my attitude to all emotions. A certain emotional response can be more or less helpful, but at base what really matters is not how you’re feeling but what you do with those feelings. How you handle them, how you channel them.

    Comment by Zayna | May 27, 2009 | Reply

  3. Good post.
    I think so many of us don’t deal well ourselves as adults so we fear teaching the wrong thing to our children.
    I’ve had the same discussion with my family concerning being sad or upset. They’re opinion is that you should be happy ALL the time. This is unrealistic and unhelpful. Sometimes you just have bad days, some times you can be just sad.
    Emotions just are. Everyone has them and we should all do a better job at teaching our children that it’s okay to experience and learn to control them.

    Sometimes being sad or angry is the appropriate response. There are times when we should be sad, there are things that should provoke anger. If we deny ourselves and our children the right to these emotions at all, we are denying a significant part of what it is to be fully human and fully adult.

    Emotions can be signposts. If I’m feeling sad, it could be as simple as I need more sleep. It could be a sign of something much more significant. You note the feeling, you learn what there is to learn from it. You don’t wallow in it to the point that you’re not functional (if you can’t function, despite your efforts, you’re not ‘sad’, you’re depressed), but you don’t deny it, either. You attend to it, and respond to it as appropriate.

    Comment by Dani | May 27, 2009 | Reply

  4. AMEN! What a GREAT post!

    Thank you!

    Comment by Carolie | May 28, 2009 | Reply

  5. I love this post. But I found myself reading and then surprised at the end! Constructive ideas on how to deal best when toddlers are angry, please?? Or, better yet, how to model anger best for little toddlers? I’m trying to find the best way with my little guy, but am still trying to find the best way with myself, honestly. Grew up in the “I’m angry and will now ignore you” kind of family. Not really constructive at all. Am learning and trying a better path.

    You’ve anticipated my intentions. This is going to be the first of a series. There is so much to be said on the subject, it couldn’t be all in one post, so I decided this post would simply lay the philosophical groundwork for the kind of information you’re looking for. Don’t worry, it’s coming!

    Comment by elisa | May 29, 2009 | Reply

  6. Yay! You rock!!

    I mean, ahem, I’m very excited about beginning what sounds like a fabulous and knowledge-filled series. I’ll be sure to tell all my mommy friends.

    Comment by elisa | May 29, 2009 | Reply

  7. “Emotions can be signposts. If I’m feeling sad, it could be as simple as I need more sleep. It could be a sign of something much more significant. You note the feeling, you learn what there is to learn from it. You don’t wallow in it to the point that you’re not functional (if you can’t function, despite your efforts, you’re not ’sad’, you’re depressed), but you don’t deny it, either. You attend to it, and respond to it as appropriate.”

    I wish my parents had been able to teach this even a little bit. I encountered it finally in learning to live with low blood sugar. These emotions I am feeling, they are just information telling me something is wrong. Period.

    Often anger, especially toward my children, is telling me that I need to adjust my parenting, their routines, the time lapse between action and consequence, etc. If it’s gone as far as me being angry, there is something that needs fixing, often.

    Comment by carrien (she laughs at the days) | May 29, 2009 | Reply

  8. what a wonderful post!

    I really struggle with dealing with my anger constructively as I try to *unlearn* the whole anger is bad, “good girls” aren’t supposed to get angry lessons I grew up with. For me it meant being a doormat for *far* too long.

    Fortunately, I grew a backbone eventually but find I tip the *other* way into shouting and losing my cool with my kiddo more than I’d like. :( It’s something I’m working on, so I’m looking forward to seeing some more thoughts on this!

    Comment by bluebunny | June 1, 2009 | Reply

  9. [...] post of MaryP’s came to mind as I dealt with a particularly angering situation with my now “adult” [...]

    Pingback by As Long As You’re Under My Roof! « Zayna’s Garden | June 3, 2009 | Reply

  10. such comforting words!
    I am a normally placid person – then my toddler turned 4 and all hell is breaking loose! He gets SO angry at me for stopping his playtime for bath, supper etc. He also sometimes gets a “cross face” on for no reason I can fathom and his eyebrows are so low that you cant see his eyes. He knows just how to push my buttons, and I dont remain calm at all I am ashamed to say. I never knew i had such a short fuse until I had a child. the anger in me simmers for ages after he’s forgotten all about it. its exhausting me.

    Comment by jenny | June 15, 2009 | Reply

  11. [...] old mantra: “You may be angry, but you may not [insert anti-social behaviour here],” which I start when they’re about [...]

    Pingback by It’s not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | January 5, 2010 | Reply


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