July 18, 2010

To Get Angry or Not To Get Angry (Part Two)

Let's look at additional instances when anger will not be sufficient to improve a child's behavior. If a child is having difficulty making a change, despite motivation to do so, a parent may feel helpless to make an impact. This frustration can lead to anger. The child may respond to this anger by becoming increasingly self-critical in a way that lowers self-worth. The focus should remain the behavior, not the child's sense of being a valued person.

There can be multiple reasons why a child may have difficulty changing behavior. Anxiety, for example, can lead a child to engage in habits or have reactions that seem irrational. Children who have certain learning disabilities may lack specific skills and behave inappropriately in social situations. Others with attention deficit issues may have good intentions but lack the impulse control to avoid behaviors that are problematic.

In these cases, and others like them, a parent's anger will be unlikely to improve the situation. In fact, children may eventually lose motivation to work on the behavior if they feel that, despite their efforts, the parent continues to be angry. Understanding a child's difficulties, in these situations, enables the parent to feel more empathy and patience.

If a child cannot meet our expectations, it's important to re-examine the expectations. Sometimes, they be can recast as goals to work toward rather than expected, immediate outcomes. Working with your child to help him/her meet these goals can both increase motivation and enhance the parent-child relationship.

To Get Angry or Not To Get Angry (Part One)

One of the prime triggers of parental guilt or self-doubt is anger. We may wonder if we become angry too quickly or too vehemently. We may question whether we should have more patience or whether we should express anger at all. We may wonder how we become so angry, particularly if we realize that our children have "pushed our buttons."

Certainly, if physical, verbal or emotional abuse accompanies anger, professional intervention is needed. In this entry, I will address anger that does not fall into this category. For all of us, there are times when our frustration outweighs our patience. We're human. Here's the good news: Not all anger is bad for our children. In fact, there are times that a parent's controlled expression of anger or displeasure teaches something valuable.

Let's look at some examples. When young children repeatedly grab things, push or hit others, a parent's anger may show children that they've crossed a line. Calmly explaining that these behaviors are not acceptable is a great approach if these behaviors are new, or if a young child is in a new stage of development. But, if no change follows, expressing anger in a firm tone of voice lets children know that their action causes a reaction. Saying "no hitting" with an angry look accomplishes this as well.

Conveying anger differs significantly from exploding with rage; screaming signal a loss of parental self-control. I'm a firm believer in apologizing to children as a way to model handling mistakes. If you lose control of your anger often, seek help.

There are times when anger, while inevitable, may be neither helpful nor instructive. Anger is typically ineffective when we want our kids to do something like clean a room or spend time on homework. Even if our frustration is justified and follows repeated requests, our child is unlikely to be motivated to increase cooperation in the future in the face of our anger alone. In these situations, the preferred strategy is to intervene early before our frustration spills over. After a first or second request is ignored, the parent can calmly set a limit, such as no computer time until the room is cleaned. Our anger often follows instances when we are trying too hard to be patient and give too many chances, Inadverntently, we create too many opportunities for our own frustration to build.