A recent LinkedIn Post highlighted the following post “Tips for Parenting an Angry Child” .
The Philippi Center website recommends to parents who are attempting to deal with an angry child to 1. Take a break, 2.Model appropriate expressions of anger, 3. Practice empathy and 4. Get help.
While these suggestions are good, the Emotions as Tools Model and Anger Mastery Approach add additional information that can help frustrated parents master their own and their children’s anger.
Take a Break
As I discuss in my book Beyond Anger Management:Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, once you become aware of your anger and how you are about to react, your best option is to manage your anger by creating some “space” between you and your angry child. You do this by taking a step back from your child (create physical space) and taking a deep breath to lower your arousal level (create psychological space). Physical space prevents from doing something you later regret and psychological space enables you to assess what is actually going on between you and your child.
Practice Anger Mastery
When you “practice anger mastery”, you are “model(ling) appropriate expressions of anger and “practic(ing) empathy”. I am just going into more detail and coming at the topic from a different point of view.
Using the space you created by managing your anger, your next steps in mastering your anger are to assess the nature of the perceived threat and choose a response.
There are two perceived threats in your interaction with your child.
The first is the threat that you perceive in your child directing all this anger at you.
It is important to acknowledge that you may react with your own anger to an angry child.
The threat you might perceive could be to some goal you are trying to accomplish that is being impeded by your angry child, your belief (conscious or unconscious) that your child’s anger is challenging your authority as the parent, your sense of vulnerability because you are not sure how to deal with the child’s anger or calm your child down and so forth.
The second is the threat that the child perceives in the situation that is eliciting (not causing) his (or her) anger.
Remember that the message of anger is that a threat is perceived that the anger person believes they can eliminate by throwing enough force at it. While this is easier to see in an adult, your child’s crying, yelling, fussing, or throwing a tantrum (or something else) is a show of force. He may not think about overpowering you but he is upset that something he thinks should be happening is not happening and his anger is his attempt to show his frustration and change the situation. Whether he is aware of this is not the issue at this point.
The response you choose should match the nature of the threat.
In the case of your own anger, your response should be to validate your own anger by acknowledging your anger and the “threat” that you perceive and then switch your attention from yourself to the child.
This does not mean that you ignore your anger. It only means that your child needs some adult attention right now and you are the parent. You can attend to your needs later.
This where your “empathy” comes in.
Remember that the anger you see is your child’s best attempt to resolve his discontent, discomfort or disbelief. It is not the best that can be done in the situation…. Only, his best.
So, talk to him and try to find out what the issue is for him that is eliciting the anger.
Note: Ask him “You look angry. What are you angry about?” Do not ask him “Why are you angry?” Please click on over to September 2016 archives for my post talking about the difference between “What”and “Why” questions.
Once you have a good idea of the issue, you can choose a response including (when appropriate):
- Resolving the issue by giving in.
- Distracting his attention away from the specific issue
- Helping him to gain an understanding (at his level) of what is going on
- Giving him a hug and comfort him
- Ignoring his anger and maintaining the status quo
- Seeking help from someone with more experience than you have.
When you have mastered your own anger and attempted to help your child with his (or her) anger, you have done the best you can do. Later, you can reflect back and assess whether the action you took was effective or not and learn from your experience what to do next time.
I can assure you that there will be a “next time”.
I welcome your comments.