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?
– 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!