More on the trials and tribulations of parenting. But first, a story. One spring day in New York, a gunman walked into a Jewish community center day camp and shot five people, including three young boys. Jimmy, a 3 year-old boy, was at the day care center and witnessed the shooting. Afterward, The New York Times reported that the child told a reporter, "The bad monster ran away. " Clinging to his mother, he asked her what the wounded children had done wrong. HAD DONE WRONG!! This is a poignant example of children's need to blame themselves. It’s up to us as parents to help our kids redirect blame outward and protect them from becoming self-attacking adults.
We can do this by applying some analytic understanding to our parenting. We can help our child feel OK about his angry feelings, and use the anger for his benefit rather than for self-defeat. This is not easy, because our children are going to open up our own unresolved wounds. But if we’re reasonably OK with our own feelings, and can not get too overwhelmed by or censor our kids’ intense feelings, we can help. And the result will be a child who loves and appreciates himself with all his feelings.
Most of us regard anger as scary and bad, because our parents thought it was scary and bad. The result is that when our kid is angry with us, she cannot direct the anger outward, because it is not acceptable us, through no fault of our own.
The best-case scenario is when, even if feeling angry ourselves, we can respond to our child empathically and non-punitively often enough to be constructive. Of course, sometimes we will have our own meltdown, but when we do, we can still pick up the pieces.
Here are some examples of responses to angry kids that let them feel accepted. Some of us may have felt uncomfortable and counterintuitive responding like this, but have also found that it was truly relieving to the child and allowed him ultimately to feel good about himself and his feelings. Of course, specific responses have to be modified to the specific child.
Angela: Mommy, I hate you!
Mother (who is taking child off the playground against her wishes; uses same intensity as child): I know! I’m being a mean mom right now! Or: You’re right! Because it’s time to go home and you were having so much fun today!
Tommy: You let me fall off my bike!
Mother (is blameless actually, but accepts the blame): How could I let that happen to you!
Charlotte: Brian (the younger sibling) bit me!
Mother: I will have to have a little talk with Brian. Let’s see that bite.
It takes some self-acceptance on our part to accept these feelings, and it’s hard, no question about it. It’s a learning curve for most of us because we’re probably dealing with our kids very differently from the way we were raised, but it is well worth the work. Yes, we have to deal with being yelled at, but in the long run, it’s going to help produce a kid with self-confidence who can make her way in the world. What could be better than that?!!