As my kids get older, I'm realizing the ongoing need to parent them through difficult emotions, especially anger. It takes great effort and insight into helping them develop productive ways to express themselves. It's easy to miss some of those teachable moments, in the hurried hectic lives we lead. We must realize these little people are learning how to navigate some powerful emotions and they need our nurturing support. I know I have missed the mark through countless opportunities I could have done better, was rushed, or honestly needed my authority in tact for prideful and selfish reasons.
These are the challenging parts of parenting. The times when we want to be right and in charge, although the best thing we can do is step down off our platform of being the "boss" and allow our kids to express themselves, have a voice, and ultimately teach them how to handle frustration and anger. It takes effort and intention, to see when these opportunities arise. It takes patience and perseverance in watching the fruits of our labor grow. If we really think about our "end game" having our children learn how to navigate their decisions and emotions and take responsibility for both, then we must allow the course of our parenting to take a turn toward empowerment and independence. It's hard when the moment is heated and we find ourselves angry and simply want to shut down the interaction. It happens to the best of us.
I am working on the following two ways I can help my children grow in expressing themselves when they are angry. It takes a deep breath and a steady hand of authority, as I stop myself from slamming on the breaks and sending those marching orders in the heat of the moment. I'm finding these two things simply must take place for my children to understand and communicate their anger properly.
1. Allow your child to have a voice.
There is a fine line between giving our children the freedom and power to say anything they want and allowing them to express their opinions and feelings without letting them free-fall into selfish entitlement. When our children feel "wronged," they lash out. How many times do we battle through the 'That's not fair!" or the "Why can't I!?" or better yet, "You are wrong!" with our own weapons of "Because I said so!" or dishing out the consequence or punishment with a heavy hand of "We are done!"
I have found that the greatest battles that happen with my children are not caused by the actual injustice they feel they have been given, but the frustration they feel in not being heard. I am finding that although the consequence may stay the same, if I allow them to express their view on the matter in a controlled and mature way, the situation simmers down and I sense them feeling validated as a person with a voice that is worthy of my attention.
I have caught myself many times in the throws of a meltdown, and I calmly say, "You can tell me how you feel, if you are not yelling." They immediately start to share their lamentations about the particular circumstance and I nod and make it known that I do in fact care about the way they feel. The interaction shifts as they often show relief of being heard, whether or not anything changes in the outcome.
They may still be upset and angry, but they were able to say why. Don't we all want to have our own voice heard when we are upset or angry? I believe this is one way we can love our kids through the act of allowing them to express themselves, even in the midst of those emotion fueled moments. This takes ongoing practice for them, as they are given the chance to say how they feel. It may escalate over and over again, as you teach them how to control their voice and only allow them to use it when they are able to express themselves in an appropriate manner.
2. Let them be angry.
I think too often, we don't allow our kids to express their anger because we are disciplining them and their outbursts of frustration escalate with our intervention. We need to not send them an ongoing message that they aren't allowed to be angry when something doesn't go their way. Don't we, in fact get angry when things don't go our way? Anger is a natural and justified feeling, and if we ignore or punish them for having it, how does that help them learn how to express this tricky emotion? We need to teach our kids how to express anger in an appropriate way, and the only way we can do that is to let them be angry and show them how to articulate those feelings around anger in a productive way.
By no means should this undermine your authority or allow your child to overpower your relationship. Instead, this will establish a relationship where your child will learn to trust that you value his/her feelings and honor his/her worth. By respecting your child's emotions, you are teaching him/her how to respect other people's emotions too.
I've seen so many parents immediately punish their kids for showing anger, thereby sending them the message that anger is wrong and unacceptable, when really it's their behavior that is bad, not the feeling. We can discipline the behavior, but we need to also parent the emotion behind that behavior. If we don't address that anger, where does it go?
Kids need to learn the healthy way to release their anger and how to appropriately seek validation in expressing such a critical and sensitive emotion. Anger leads to poor decision-making and negative behaviors if it doesn't get addressed. If we are able to dive in during those hot moments and teach our children how to work through such powerful emotions, they will be better able to manage those eruptions and develop a skill set they will need for life.
This post was previously published over at TheMomCafe.com.