The subject of today’s blog is angry children saying and doing things that in turn anger their parents which in turn “makes” their parents say and do things that further anger or alienate their children in their well-intentioned effort to show them that they will not tolerate rude behavior. Not after all of the things I do for you!
In other words: Fun stuff!
So let’s get this party started.
The life of a child, just like the life of an adult, is full of disappointments, slights, frustrations, annoyances and the like. It doesn’t matter if we think what our children are upset about is something that warrants their anger because feelings have nothing to do with logic. What matters is that our children are indeed upset about something and they need help managing and expressing their feelings and dealing with the situation.
Because children aren’t born knowing how to deal with anger. And once they do start to learn, they need practice. In a safe environment. And they need parents who model it beautifully day in and day out.
Which leads me to ask: How perfectly do you handle things when a car cuts you off? Or a friend doesn’t invite you to a party that everyone else is invited to? Or you lost a lot of money in the market? Or you didn’t get the job you want? Or your client is angry at you for making a mistake? Or your husband isn’t helping? Or your wife doesn’t get it, still! Or a co-worker stole your idea? Or someone didn’t show up for work and you had to do everything for them?
Do you always set aside time with that person to tell them how you feel in a calm way? Do you always look to see your part in it?
Are you quick to blame? Do you yell at somone? Or get in a fight? Or pick a fight about something else? Or ignore the person you’re mad at? Or not return their emails? Or pout? Or withdraw? Or gossip about them? Have you ever said something like, “You’re an asshole?” or “He’s such an asshole.” or “She’s such a bitch.” Or “Fuck-off!” either under your breath or to someone’s face?
In other words, do you handle your anger, disappointment and hurt feelings in the exact way that you want your kids to?
If so, congratulations! This doesn’t mean your kids will follow suit right away, but it means they’ll have a hell of a lot better chance of being able to channel their upset because they have someone who shows them day in and day out how to handle tough situations.
If not, read on!
Unfortunately, adults getting mad at children because of the way they’ve expressed their anger is more of a distraction than anything. It takes the attention away from the reason their child is upset and focuses on how they are showing their upset. It convolutes the situation and often the original upset never gets the time of day. It just festers. Your child never gets heard or understood. They don’t get an empathetic ear, they get punished. And they feel badly about themselves. They feel wrong. And rude. And bad. And angrier! Because usually the way parents deal with a child’s “inappropriate” way of showing their anger is not only distracting and not helpful, but it’s also wounding.
What kind of things am I talking about? Do any of these things kids do all the time sound familiar?
They spit. They may even spit at you!
They growl. They may even growl at you!
They call their friends stupid. Or they call you stupid.
They say that they don’t want to be friends with their best friend anymore.
They say they’re not going to invite their friend to their birthday.
They say “You’re yucky! Go away!”
They cover their ears and say, “I’m not listening to you.”
They may swipe at you.
They may hit.
They may fall to the floor and kick and scream.
What are the usual ways parents respond to these expressions of anger?
“If you continue with this behavior, you will not get _______” fill in the blank with a treat, or a bedtime story or tv time or the privilege of going to a party or the beach or wherever.
“Stop that right now!”
Some ISOLATE, as in sending them to their room or giving them a time out where they are supposed to really think about what they’ve done wrong.
Some HIT their kids.
Some ABANDON as in, I’m not going to be around you when you behave like this.
These are all TRAGIC responses to an angry child.
Why? Because they don’t illuminate, they don’t support, they don’t educate.
Not one of these responses will help a child learn a better way to express their feelings or even understand why they are so upset in the first place. It may (likely) scare them so much that they’ll no longer express their feelings to you, but it will not teach them how to manage and deal with uncomfortable, hard feelings. You may be able control their behavior by instilling fear but you cannot control their feelings. They will still flood your children’s brains and bodies. And those feelings will ultimately make their way out of their body somehow.
Thinking about this makes me wonder if kids who bully do so because threatening weaker kids, lets them do to others what has been done to them in some way.
The message that threatening, yelling, isolating, hitting and abandoning gives is this: You are only loveable when you are behaving properly. If you can’t control yourself, I will treat you poorly, often equally as poorly as you are treating me or worse. You dare to spit at me? I’ll humiliate you in front of everyone in the parking lot and drag your rude ass to the car. Et cet era.
(Really, who is the bully now?)
Yes, you may be meting out your disapproval in kinder and gentler ways, perhaps you are only taking away a beloved toy, but you aren’t helping. And if you start with a toy with a four year old, you’ll have to continually escalate the punishment for it to have an impact. (Picture your teenager grounded every weekend.) Also, you’re ONLY telling them what they are doing wrong but not how to do it right.
If your child is well-fed and not tired, there and then might be the best time to handle things (after they’ve calmed down enough to hear you):
“I’m hearing some rough language. Sara, you seem angry. And Wendy, did Sara hurt your feelings? Can you both please come on over and sit down. Let’s talk about this. I know you both have feelings about what has happened and I want to listen to both of you. Let’s first listen to Wendy. Then Sara, you’ll have a chance to talk. I want us all to hear each other.”
Of course different situations require different ways of handling it. And I’d love to hear your thoughts. But sometimes, it’s best not to say anything at all….right away that is:
Last night, about fifteen minutes after her usual bedtime, after a long weekend my daughter called me stupid. She told me to go away. She covered her ears. She said I was stupid again. Then she said I was yucky. Then she came over to me, got my hand and walked me into a different room. Boy did she want space.
Because I was super calmly trying to discuss how angry she was at her brother Hudson who didn’t want to let her borrow his new book for special reading time alone with her father. Hudson either wanted the book back or wanted to be able to read it with them. Perhaps the book was his bargaining tool for getting in on some special time with Dad and Sister.
She didn’t care what he wanted. She was furious at him for interrupting her special time with her father. And she was furious at me for trying to talk to her about it.
I didn’t take it personally!
I know I’m not yucky. Or stupid. And I know my child loves me and doesn’t really mean that. What she likely meant was something like:
I’m upset. Let me be upset. Don’t try to fix the situation. I’m not ready to “talk” about it yet. I don’t want you! I want some space. And then I want Dad! To myself.
I mean, many a parent, might think, “No child of mine is going to talk to me like that. I don’t care how late it is. First and foremost that is not a way to talk to a parent! EVER!!!”
And relax, I’m not going to let my child walk all over me!
Believe me, she knows I don’t like her to call me or anyone else, “stupid”. That’s why she was saying it. She was angry. And she needed me to know how angry she really was.
She was happy, warm and comfortable reading a book with her Daddy when her little brother had swung open her door and demanded his book back. Her bubble of peace and comfort had been abruptly punctured. It sucked!
So what happened?
My husband John continued to lie in her bed. Hudson climbed in next to him. Hudson didn’t say anything. John didn’t say anything and I stopped saying anything. She kept crying. We all heard her. She was upset. After a couple of beats, Hudson pointed to a picture and asked John a question about it.
This piqued Jules interest.
“What’s he pointing at?” Jules asked as if she hadn’t just been totally hysterical moments before.
“Well it looks like…” John answered. Jules then climbed in bed on the other side of John and he proceeded to read the book to both of them. They both cuddled up to their Dad and listened intently.
John didn’t use the opportunity to say, “I don’t like it when…”
It was late. She’d exploded. No one gave into her demands. She got to say them. No one took it personally. We’d revisit it. Later. When the issue wasn’t so hot and it wasn’t so late. They all finished the book together and John and Hudson left and went into Hudson’s room.
And then I asked, “Do you want to go to the bathroom before bedtime?”
“Are you sure?…I’m going to go right now.”
“When was the last time you went?”
“At the party.”
“Well that was at least two hours ago. Maybe just try?”
“You’re stupid mommy. Well not stupid but you’re yucky.” she said. This was her attempt at an apology for calling me stupid before. She knew it wasn’t right and she was sorry she’d done it.
From the toilet I calmly said, “Jules, I know that I’m not yucky. And I know that I’m not stupid. The reason you say those things to me is because you’re five and you don’t yet know how to express yourself when you’re angry and that’s what Dad and I are here to help you with.”
“I’m angry!” she then yelled from her bed.
“Are you angry because I recommended you try to go the bathroom more than once and you felt like I didn’t trust that you know your own body?”
“I’m sorry Jules. I know that you know your body and can take care of it.”
“If I have to go, I will.”
“Great, thank you for reminding me. Let’s read one more story.”
We read one more story. She wanted me to lay with her for a little extra. I did. And she went to sleep.
Are you at all convinced? Have I given you pause?
In your post, you wrote that you apologized to Jules for recommending more than once that she use the bathroom. You had asked her, “Do you want to go to the bathroom before bedtime?” and when she said, “No,” you followed up with, “Are you sure?” and “Maybe just try?” When Jules became angry, you said, ”I’m sorry, Jules. I know that you know your body and can take care of it.”
I appreciate the instinct to let a 5-year-old take charge of her body and not to pressure her to use the toilet. But the reality is, 5-year-olds don’t know their bodies and need their parents to make sure they use the toilet before bed, first thing in the morning and approximately every two hours during the day. It’s a matter of health. Just as you wouldn’t say to preschooler or kindergartener, “Are you sure you don’t want to brush your teeth” or “You can decide whether you need to wear sunscreen,” it’s important not to leave toileting decisions up to young kids.What’s the big deal? That’s what IT’S NO ACCIDENT is all about, but in short: Virtually all toilet-trained kids hold pee or poop or both — kids will deny it, but it is a fact. And this behavior — mostly undetected by parents and unmentioned by pediatricians — can be extremely damaging to young children’s bladders. Holding is the cause of millions of cases of accidents, bedwetting, urinary tract infections, urinary frequency and other toileting problems each year. When a kid consistently delays peeing, her bladder wall becomes thicker and more muscular, which decreases her bladder capacity and causes the bladder to contract more forcefully (that’s what’s happening when your child makes a mad dash to the bathroom). Over time, the child’s bladder can go haywire. Holding poop, which more than one-third of kids do to a severe extent, contributes to accidents, bedwetting and UTIs even more than holding pee. Basically, when poop gets backed up, it presses against the child’s bladder, messing with the nerves that feed the bladder.
It’s not normal (or healthy) for toilet-trained kids to have accidents. It’s not “kids being kids.” It’s a sign of a holding problem. In 90 percent of cases, the cause of accidents is holding poop, pee or both, yet few parents realize this, and they continue to let their kids decide when to go to the bathroom.I realize this is totally off the point of Jen’s post, but I had to weigh in! It’s critical for parents to keep track of when their children last went to the bathroom and to instruct them to do it. So rather than ask “Do you want to go?” “Are you sure?” try, “It’s time to go to the bathroom!” If your child resists, use whatever approach you use when it’s time for her to brush her teeth or wear sunscreen. The healthiest thing for a child’s bladder growth is to have her pee BEFORE she feels the urge.