What if you’re angry at your child?

screamThis is part of a week-long series on Parental Anger.

People often tell me that when they get angry at their kids, they feel like bad parents.

It’s important for parents to realize: It’s normal and OK for you to sometimes get mad at almost anyone – and especially at people who you spend many hours a week with and who often make unreasonable demands of you!

Here are some things to think about when you find yourself angry at your child:

  • Are your expectations appropriate? If you find yourself saying “Kids your age are supposed to do X. Why don’t you?” or “no matter how hard I try, I can’t make my kid do Y…” that shows you have an assumption about what they’re developmentally capable of. Check resources on child development to make sure you’re right and not holding them to an impossible standard.
    • For example, the leading trigger for child abuse is potty training accidents. Parents often think their child should be potty trained much younger than they are really developmentally capable. The average child doesn’t potty train till around 30 months, yet every year there are many reports of toileting related abuse at 20 – 24 months. It’s unfair to expect more out of a child than they’re capable of!
    • Also know that children’s developmental capabilities regress when they’re upset. Although your three year old might normally understand language quite well and might normally be capable of making a choice between 3 options, you may find that when they’re in the middle of an emotional meltdown, they can’t understand words and they can’t make choices.
  • Is this a phase? There are predictable periods in children’s lives where they are going through lots of developmental changes – called “periods of disequilibrium”. They tend to be pretty hard to live with at these times. Seek extra support to help you through this rough patch.
  • Are they testing you? It’s normal for all kids, especially toddlers and teenagers, to test their limits. It’s how they learn the rules. But it can be exhausting and infuriating when they do the same thing over and over even when “they know it’s wrong”. Over-reacting to this testing and getting angry may make the testing worse, as they discover they have power over you and can make you lose your cool. Instead, calmly and consistently reinforce limits. Describe the consequences they will face if the behavior repeats, and then follow through.
  • What’s your attitude toward discipline? If you think it’s about making the child do whatever you tell them to do, you’re setting yourself up for some battles of will. If you think of it as guiding your child to behave as well as possible, and having high expectations, but also knowing that some days they won’t meet them, you may be more successful.
  • Is your child just trying to get your attention? How does your child feel right now? Are they angry themselves? Scared? Lonely? Try to empathize with what the need.
  • Are you really angry at your child or are you angry at someone / something else? We sometimes have “spill over” anger. We’re mad at our partners, or mad about something at work, or mad that we’re late due to a traffic jam. And our child does something minor that makes us explode and take out our anger on them. Try to catch this when it’s happening, and if you can’t, go back to your child later and apologize to them.

If you have let your anger out and yelled at your child, there’s some healing and resolution to do. Check out this post.

Learn more about handling anger at a child: http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/handling-anger

Photo: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/579286

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