It’s natural, normal and healthy for kids to know when they feel angry. If they believe their parents believe this, they will be forthcoming with their emotions. To allow themselves these feelings they need to have somehow understood that their parents can tolerate and even appreciate these emotions in their children and teens. If they don’t get this impression from their parents, their anger goes underground and seeps out either in actions and behaviors that aren’t well-received or the child may withdraw in despair and not know why they feel so inhibited.
Early on parents can teach their children feeling language such as happy, sad, glad, and mad. Then as they grow older they can learn the nuances of angry feelings such as annoyed, frustrated, irritated, livid, heated, and enraged. This vocabulary is important if the child is to assess how angry they actually feel and why.
The key to expressing emotions to parents, especially anger, is a child’s belief that their parents can tolerate these feelings without getting angry in response or trying to dissuade their child from even having these feelings. It’s certainly more difficult when the angry feelings are directed at the parent. No one likes their child or teen to be mad at them. But if the child experiences that their feelings won’t cause their parents to become unstable, they won’t feel their feelings are too powerful for an adult who loves them to bear and endure. This is an essential point to keep in mind. If kids feel their anger will knock their parents’ socks off, they will be reluctant to share these emotions. If they feel they will be judged as being a bad person for having anger, they again will be reluctant to share these feelings.
To reiterate, if we want our kids to share these emotions so they don’t go underground and end up seeping out in untoward behavior or withdrawing in despair without even knowing why they feel so inhibited, parents need to say out loud, “It’s okay to feel angry. Tell me more about it, so I can understand where you’re coming from.” This sentence is so relieving to a child or teen. It’s a response by the parent that can calm the child down all by itself.
To help kids internalize an ability to regulate their emotions, they need to witness their parents doing the same. This means they watch their parents like hawks when they know they are in a situation that causes them anger. They observe their parent at best delaying, waiting, and assessing the situation before determining what to say, when to say it, and to whom. Kids learn by the example their parents set.
Here are a few parenting tips of what not to do:
1.Don’t yell at a yelling child.
2.Don’t walk away abruptly from an angry child.
3.Don’t make fun of your child’s anger even if it’s an overreaction.
4.Don’t put in your two cents before you really hear your kid out. This means delaying your reactions until the child seems finished with what’s on their mind.
5.Don’t say, “I can’t listen to this now!” without setting a time when you can and do listen.
Parents aren’t perfect as we all know so well. We make mistakes, get out of control, lose our tempers, and regret things we’ve said. This is inevitable, but not without remedy. It’s valuable to tell your child you reacted too quickly and wish you had responded in a different way. Tell them your preferred response and go on from there. Let them know and feel you really want to get it from their point of view before pushing your vantage point on them. When a child or teen feels heard, then they are able and willing to listen as well.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on amazon and wherever books are sold. She is now writing a new book, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anger in Children and Teens: A Parental Intelligence Approach. Visit her website to gain more guidance and insight: http://lauriehollmanphd.com.