TalkBack To Vicki Jardine

A TalkBack on Parenting Issues

The ‘Up-Side’ of Anger January 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — vickijardine @ 8:41 am

Anger can be a good thing. 

Turn this emotion into a learning experience? How?

Just imagine if you never experienced anger.  What would you really be like as a person if anger was not in the human experience?

Perhaps you would have trouble defending your personal boundaries.  You may not recognize when you feel discriminated against, or betrayed or…worse.

You would have no outlet for the emotions of outrage and injustice. 

What would motivate you to stand against things that are not right in your eyes?

What would cause you to defend someone (or a group, principle or nation) who otherwise would go undefended and unprotected from the harmful, opportunistic domination of less than benevolent predators or abusers?

So, when it comes to our children, perhaps it is an emotion that bears thinking about in more depth.  Perhaps anger is actually a ‘good thing’.

You know the scenario:  screaming, angry child throws an enormous tantrum.  An entire family held in the grasp of one small being who is completely out of control.

Oh, wait a minute.  Aren’t all small beings pretty much out of control of themselves?

Isn’t that the point of ‘having a childhood’?  Imagine being born already mature in your emotions, intellect and outlook, while your body needs time to grow and mature. 

Sometimes we forget that childhood is that precious time when we get to learn about life by living it.  It is a time when a fully cognitive parent will understand the emotional and intellectual needs of their child and turn seemingly negative experiences into life’s most valuable lessons.  Hey, I know it sounds very ‘Brady Bunch’ but I keep asking the question: What if? 

What if parents can positively influence their child’s personality development, by helping the child process their emotions, mentally?

It is a rhetorical question, obviously. 

Parents, this is essentially the most important part of your role as a parent.  It is not merely a matter of providing food, clothing and shelter for your children.  Naturally, those things are necessities.  But the sad thing is that in the pursuit of providing physical needs, parents forget or become distracted from providing the mental, emotional and spiritual help that their children need so desperately so that they can understand themselves and the world around them.

The idea is that maturity becomes more a function of a person’s understanding of themselves and others and the world at large, having developed a perspective and awareness of their relationship to others and their own potential as a human being, rather than a chronological measure of physical development.

(Just think of how many immature adults you know….I rest my case!)

Now if that is true, then the role of parenting is so important because a parent with vision will understand and perceive the many and varied learning experiences that their child faces every day. 

A parent with this understanding will have not only the motivation to assist their child appropriately and will take the time to find out how to do so, if they are not sure. 

This parent will also have a high level of compassion for their child as they negotiate a myriad of learning experiences each and every day.

This parent will see beyond the tantrum, to what is really going on.

This parent will understand that ‘ANGER’ is a ‘GOOD THING’.

This parent will help their child understand their anger and will teach them how to ‘choose’ their reactions to things that happen to outrage them.

Let’s look at some of the things that could be angering your child:

  1. He/she does not have the words to express what they are feeling
  2. Something has been perceived as unfair
  3. There is a need not being met
  4. The inconsistencies the child faces are frustrating them
  5. He/she feels ignored, insignificant or invisible

Perhaps there are other causes of anger, but let’s just look at how these basic causes of the emotion of anger become translated into behaviors that we all recognize as ‘anger’ and let’s also look at some ‘positive’ responses a visionary parent might give.

He/she does not have the words to express what they are feeling

  • When a child is hungry, tired or frustrated they don’t necessarily know it.  All they know is they don’t feel good.  You know yourself how it goes.  If you get tired AND hungry, what is your temper like?  It is only because you have developed self-control that you don’t bite everyone’s head off!  Or do you?
  • When your child is throwing what looks like a tantrum, just stop and check if tired or hungry.  But don’t just figure it out for them and then solve it for them. 
  • Help them understand what they are going through.  Psychologists call it ‘meta-cognition’.  Help your child understand their own mind, their thought processes.  Help them see why they are crying and what they are feeling.

Here’s what you can say if you suspect your child is getting tired or hungry:

  • ‘Hey, you know what buddy, maybe you’re feeling so frustrated because you’re hungry.  What say we go get something to eat?  Let’s see if you feel better.  I feel so cranky when I get hungry.’
  • ‘Oh sweetie, maybe you feel so upset because you are tired.  I feel like crying when I am tired too.  Why don’t I help you with that so it’s not so hard for you.’
  • ‘You’re usually such a helpful boy.  Are you feeling tired today?  When I feel tired, I get grumpy and everything seems harder.  Tell me…do you just want to put your head on my shoulder right now?  Maybe you will feel better.’
  • ‘Oh hey there, do you remember the last time you felt like this?  You were just really tired, remember?  Maybe you will feel better after you have a lie down.’
  • Naturally, you do not want to allow a child who is tired to carry on with an escalating tantrum.  Sometimes you as the adult, do need to just take charge and make sure the child gets some rest.
  • Do not wait until the child is tired out of their brain to try and ‘teach them how to handle their anger’.

Start noticing your child’s behaviors before they escalate.  Help the notice when their mood is in the process of changing.  Help them to recognize their own triggers and then help them to learn how to regulate themselves.  Even a young child of two can begin to recognize their feelings.  Just keep talking to them and using words so that as their language develops, they will be able to express their feelings.

Something has been perceived as unfair

OK, so you may be thinking that young, young children will not be able to perceive justice and injustice.  But this is not so.  Again, they simply won’t be able to express it maturely.  Does this mean that you cannot help them with it?  Should you wait until they are mature and then expect them to ‘learn’ about it automatically.

Not at all.  Help them process injustice throughout their young childhood.  Help them learn appropriate ways to express their outrage against injustice. 

Here are some examples of how you can help:

  • ‘I see you’re upset because you feel it is unfair.  Can you tell me what you would like to have happen instead?’
  • ‘Your team lost?  It’s not fair?  Tell me what happened to make it not fair, I really want to understand.  Sometimes I feel angry when things are not fair, too.’

With this one, be prepared to keep asking the same question.  When your child begins to tell you what happened, it will not be a full explanation.  It is like peeling the old proverbial onion.  There will be several layers to the story.

To show you are listening and that you care, simply re-state what your child has told you and then ask the same question.  For example:

  • Oh so the other team cheated.  What happened when they cheated?
  • Oh so when the referee/umpire did that, what happened?
  • Oh so you think the umpire was unfair to your team?
  • Oh, has he/she ever been unfair to the other team? 

You see, what you are wanting is for your child to process in their mind, what happened and draw different conclusions possibly.  Or if it is completely true that the event was indeed unfair, then you want your child to have the opportunity to express it in a healthy way.  You want to give them a voice to express it, and an audience to express it to.

And then you will want to validate their ‘feeling’ of anger at the injustice.  You can make it ‘ok to feel anger’.

Here’s some ideas:

  • ‘I agree, that was totally unfair.  I am so proud of you for the way you have handled that.  Some people might have lost their temper.’
  • ‘Wow, it must have been difficult to control yourself when that happened.  I am glad you didn’t say anything rude even though you were angry.  I am so proud of how you didn’t throw a tantrum.  You behaved so sensibly.’

This approach reinforces to the child, the expectation that even though they are experiencing anger, they can still control how they choose to react to it.

Please note, it is of no consequence if the child’s perception is correct or incorrect.  We are not talking about teaching the child to perceive things appropriately.  We are discussing how we can help a child handle their anger, whether justified or not, makes no difference at all.   You can still validate the child’s feelings whether the offense is real or perceived.  It is very important to remember that. 

A person’s feelings are real (and therefore valid), even if the event is not.

There is a need not being met

Now this is one of the easiest to deal with as a parent.  But it involves being fairly proactive.

You know your child’s needs mostly.  But as they grow and mature, those needs do change and as a parent you need to stay ahead of the game, or at least anticipate the changes and prepare for them.

  • For instance:

Your child used to ‘need’ you to do everything for them, including doing up buttons on shirts.  However there does come a time when a child can physically manage to do up their own buttons.  It is not a skill that is acquired all at once though and there will be some frustration involved…anger even!

When this frustration/anger occurs, you would not be totally surprised would you?  And wouldn’t you agree that it is necessary for the child to have to persevere with the task in order to succeed at it?  And wouldn’t you also agree that without the frustration/anger involved in learning how to conquer button-doing-up, your child might not experience the elation and overwhelming sense of achievement and self-pride when they do finally conquer this skill?

The same is true for other less menial achievements that occur as a result of overcoming frustration.  Achievements such as learning to hit a ball, ride a bike, read a book, sing, dance, do math and to master one’s own temper.

The inconsistencies the child faces are frustrating them

Inconsistencies can be very frustrating for adults.  So imagine being a child and dealing with them all day long.  Here are some examples:

  • Inconsistencies between mother and father: 

Try to develop consistency between you.  Even if you don’t agree on how to do something, agree that it is important to agree and find a solution so your child does not have to deal with the frustration. 

  • Inconsistencies between you, as parents and your friends as parents:

Your child will have friends who are ‘allowed’ to do this and ‘allowed’ to do that.  So make sure you are communicating with your friends who are also parents.  Ask them if it is true that they allow this or that, because all too often it is not actually true.  But if it is true, then think about if this inconsistency is ‘worth it’, or is it something you can compromise on.  If you are finding the inconsistencies are too numerous and varied, it probably means that you do not have a lot in common with your friends and perhaps you should spend more time with people who have similar values to you…at least in terms of when you are ‘visiting’ with children.

  • Inconsistencies between home and school:

Actually, this is a BIG one.  Probably because your child will spend about 5 hours a day at school and because it is the only other place that continually affects your child’s development, both emotionally and academically.

Try to develop consistency with the school.  Many people have nothing but criticism for schools and how things are conducted in schools.  But what positive result comes from being critical.  Get involved.  Get to know the teachers, the administration and the other children and families.  Find out what limitations the school must operate within.  Get to know what help the school needs or wants from it’s parent-body.

The more you know what your child’s teachers are saying and doing, the more you can help your child.

He/she feels ignored, insignificant or invisible

This one is personal.  Only you can make a difference to this situation if it exists.

Are you prepared to put yourself in your child’s shoes and see what it truly ‘feels’ like?

Your child might be experiencing a sense of being insignificant, even though from your perspective you are doing everything ‘for’ them.

Never forget that the most valuable thing you can give your child is your ‘time’.  They value your time, more than anything else.  It is a commodity, and every child knows it.

Another thing every child knows although they would not be able to put it in words most likely, is that:

EVERYONE HAS TIME FOR THAT WHICH IS IMPORTANT TO THEM.

So, in a child’s uncomplicated view of the world, it follows that if you do not have time for me then I must not be important to you.

Can you see how that perception will undermine all your other work to build up your child’s self-esteem, self-belief and their ability to develop their innate potential.

So here’s what you can do:

  • SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CHILD.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD.
  • LAUGH WITH YOUR CHILD.
  • CRY WITH YOUR CHILD.
  • PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD.
  • EAT WITH YOUR CHILD.
  • READ WITH YOUR CHILD.
  • TALK WITH YOUR CHILD.

And last, but not least….

BE ANGRY WITH YOUR CHILD (NOT ‘AT’ YOUR CHILD!)

Be Angry Along With Your Child, I mean!!!

Share their angry feelings.  Let them see you feeling anger.  Identify with your child’s angry feelings and show them an alternative way of handling that feeling.

Let them see you ACT….NOT RE-ACT.

This is how you teach your child to control themselves and to choose their behaviors, rather than being a slave to powerful emotions that have the potential to ruin their opportunities in life.

TalkBack to me on this topic.  I am sure other parents would love to hear what you have to say.  We all learn from one another.  Leave a comment and have your say.

Warmest wishes,

Vicki Jardine

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