It’s Not All Mary Poppins

From the Archives: Anger

There is one parenting concern that effects almost every parent out there. This aspect of parenting effects discipline issues, self-esteem issues, child-control issues, tantrums, whining, family dynamics… you name it. You can be almost 100% sure that when you’re in a conflict with your child, or some other negative loop, this issue is playing a part.

What is it?

tantrumAnger. Or, more accurately, how you feel about anger, and how you respond to it.

Anger affects:
– how you feel about yourself and your parenting 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, every aspect of interacting with your child is affected by your attitude to and response to that most troublesome of emotions.

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.

That attitude stems from the root belief that “Anger is bad and I shouldn’t feel it”, and it causes 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 an 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.” An abusive man once said that 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 mostly 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 (which, of course, only encourages poor expression of anger) — either that, or disallow it entirely (and thus create another generation of repressed adults). 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!

August 30, 2011 Posted by | parenting | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why I love dads

A while back, Noah started showing some reluctance at drop-off. It doesn’t matter that he’d been coming for well over a year and has been just fine for all but the first month. No, there’s no reason for it. It’s just one of those two-year-old things.

There probably was a reason, initially. Maybe he’d had a bad dream just before waking. Maybe he was coming down with a cold, or had had a squabble with a fellow-toddler, or was sprouting yet another tooth, or hadn’t eaten breakfast, or was under-rested, or, or, or…

There are any number of reasons for a sudden change of attitude, and you know what? Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t matter what the reason might be. One time in ten, it does: on that occasion, you deal with the issue — maybe another child is routinely picking on the reluctant one, maybe the parents are too often fighting in his presence on the way to daycare, maybe a child is chronically under-rested. All those things can be dealt with direct, but generally the adults involved do the figuring. We grown-ups put our heads together to see if there’s a preciptating cause, and, if so, to see if there’s something we can do to eliminate it.

There is almost no point at all in asking a two-year-old “Why are you sad?” They don’t know. They just are. If you press them, they get confused, and it makes the anxiety worse. If you try to help them out by making suggestions, they’ll either just wail harder, or latch onto something at random. “Yes! I’m sad because gramma went home! Yes!”

Is that really it? Who knows?

And really, it rarely matters. What always matters is how you respond.

And Noah’s dad, GOD BLESS HIM, responds well. So well. This guy is a master of managing the drop-off uncertainty that Noah was evidencing for a bit there.

After getting his customary good-bye hug, Noah was not trotting off to see what the others are up to — which used to be customary. Now he was turning back to daddy.

“Nuther hug,” he said, a tremor of anxiety in his voice.

“I get ANOTHER hug?!?” daddy exclaims, with great enthusiasm. “Boy, am I lucky!” And he would scoop his son up into a wild and happy embrace, swinging Noah’s wee body from one side to the other, laughing all the while. And Noah laughs, too. How could he not, with dad injecting such positivity and fun into the proceedings?

And then, when dad set Noah down the second time, he cheerfully announced “Have fun today!” — and left. Immediately. He didn’t wait to see what Noah does next, he didn’t make eye contact, he didn’t linger to see Noah settled. He just left.

And Noah? Noah was now in my arms, off to get a book. Which we read on the couch, and by the time the book is done — and it always involves at least three enthusiastic verses of Old MacDonald — Noah has made his transition. He is here, and he is happy.

In fact, the second hug/book/sing-song has become such happy part of our morning ritual that I’d forgotten it orginated in drop-off anxiety. It’s just what we do. Noah hasn’t shown any concern for several weeks, but he’s still getting that second, swooping, laughing hug. It’s just adorable.

And then, today, Mummy did the drop-off.

And when Noah evidenced that tiny smidge of anxiety, which hadn’t been obvious for five weeks or more, mummy squatted down and made eye contact, stroking her son’s shoulder, calming him.

“It’s okay, Noah. You know you have fun at Mary’s.”

Whimper.

“It’s okay to be sad, sweetie, but I know you’ll have a good day.”

Whimper, sniffle.

“Oh, honey. Come and give mummy a big hug, and then try to smile, okay?”

And the dam bursts. There are tears everywhere. He is clinging to mummy, wailing. She is patting and soothing.

And I am wishing Daddy had done the drop-off this morning…

February 23, 2010 Posted by | daycare, Noah, parenting, parents | , , , , , | 9 Comments