Being angry is not being rude. Anger is an emotion. Rudeness is intentional offence. Disagreeing with what you say is not “giving attitude.” It is a difference of opinion.
Children have as much right to their feelings and opinions as we do.
Sometimes we accept our own anger and opinions as legitimate and shut down our children’s. We come to believe that unquestioning obedience is a virtue. We may have learned this from our family of origin. We certainly learned it at school where unquestioning obedience to authority is totally expected.
We want to raise children who are capable of expressing their feelings and opinions. Unquestioning obedience is not good for one’s personal development nor for a democratic society. We need people who have the courage to talk back and say what they really think and feel – in healthy, constructive ways. Anger can be a motivator for personal change and social change.
Feelings can be messy. That’s OK.
We are comfortable with the light end of the emotional spectrum, but we often have a problem with the “dark” end. We deny difficult feelings like anger – both in ourselves and in our children. Repressed anger will come out in other ways. In males it comes out as emotional numbing, addiction and high-risk behaviour. In females, it comes out as depression. Boys act out. Girls act in.
We need to listen to our own anger and that of our children. Anger is a message from the soul: A boundary has been violated. An expectation has not been met. Something needs to change. Children learn how to deal with anger by watching us deal with ours.
3 Questions to ask yourself about your own anger:
- Do I express my feelings in healthy ways? Remember the “Don’t freak out rule.” When you freak out, you send a message to your children – don’t bring me your “stuff” because I won’t be able to handle it. I will freak out and make the situation worse.
- Am I aware of my own emotional state? Do I let my feelings about something else (my boss, my job, my life) affect my functioning with my children? Do I let my child’s anger trigger my own repressed anger?
- Is this the best time to talk about this? Is my best self going to come out right now or am I likely to say something hurtful? Children hear with their hearts. “Mom’s mad. I’m bad.” Take a time out and come back to it later.
Anger can lead people to say rude things and do things that hurt others. The freedom to express your anger ends where the rights of others begins. Say what you feel. Control what you do. You can’t hit your little brother. You can’t call me names.
10 Ways to help you and your child express their anger in healthy ways:
- Use “I messages.” Talk about how you feel. Don’t attack the other person.
- Cry (especially relevant for older boys)
- Hit something (not a person and don’t break things)
- Move (walk, run, ride your bike, play basketball)
- Express yourself through art: draw, play an instrument, write
- Listen to music
- Count to 10 (out loud so people know to stand back)
- Walk away
- Take a time out and come back to the topic when you’re not angry
Finally, at the end of a bad day, rebuild the interpersonal bridge by making nurturing contact with your child. The next day, push the reset button. No grudges or references to the past.
Anger is like a storm that passes. A storm can nourish life or it can be destructive. Which one it will be depends on how we respond.