Dr. Gerald Deskin, Ph.D.
Just as we all feel anger at our children at some point, we all need to learn to control that anger so that it is not destructive to our children. We need to control our anger for our own sake, as well as to teach our children to learn more constructive behavior. Children are not small adults. They learn concretely by doing more than by verbal comments on our part. As we grow verbal learning becomes a second major way to learn what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Anger interferes with our ability to deal with a child's behavior. There are a number of ways to short-circuit our immediate possibly explosive behavior. For children and parents taking a time out, sometimes, for only a few minutes, allows us to correct the situation. Since anger produces energy, the longer we wait to express it and allow the energy to dissipate, the more rational we can be on how to handle our feelings and thoughts about how to turn the situation into a positive learning experience for a child.
Children who experience parental anger may appear to freeze, or withdraw into themselves as a defense. Under attack they may not be able to listen and/or understand anything other than they were "bad." They may not comprehend why they are being scolded or what they should do in an attempt to avoid it in the future.
Angry criticism may not help a child to learn, but rather engender a poor self-concept. If parents can control their anger by taking time to relax they then may be able to suggest a more positive approach such as encouraging or motivating the child to more a appropriate behavior. Children have not yet mastered the skills an adult has. A parent can be a perfectionist in their own behavior, but not able to instill the same behavior in a child no matter how angry they get.
Children learn by mimicking parental behavior and by doing. If you want your child to learn to handle angry feelings, a parent needs to control their own anger. The child needs to learn to handle age-appropriate situations. Some parents are overprotective and prevent a child from learning how to behave appropriately. For example, if you want your child to learn how to be polite, you must express appreciation at home and encourage your child to do the same. Praising a child not only helps the child continue with the right behavior, but helps him/her to do the same. Rather than criticizing a child, telling of your struggles with the same problem growing up may be a positive experience and bring you both closer.
Frustration leads to anger and is not the best time to teach a lesson. Any upsetting emotion interferes with learning. Whether it is a broken toy or a spilled drink, waiting until the child is more receptive to learning a valuable lesson is a good idea.
Children learn by the consequences of their actions or yours. Rather than be angry, such as when a toy breaks, your sympathetic listening and suggestions of more positive behavior may be the best learning tool. Like us children make mistakes when they are tired, hungry or not feeling well. Allow your children to come to you when they have done something wrong, rather than hide or lie because they are afraid of your anger.
Suggestions for parents:
Taking a time out for a few minutes for either the parent or child will allow a more positive solution to the child's behavior.
Being a child means making mistakes and hopefully learning from them. Don't demand behavior from your child that he/she is not ready for.
If you have difficulty controlling your anger, recognize the signal that you are ready to explode. Take a deep breath before you say anything.