I've been thinking lately about anger & how it affects children. And parents.
As parents, so much of our time is spent with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers (and children and tweens and teens, I can only imagine) trying to teach them how to control (suppress) their anger: We don't hit! No biting! Quiet voices inside! Use nice words! And meanwhile, try to control (suppress) our own anger, in an effort to be a peaceful (good) parent.
Really, I think we don’t want our children to be angry. Or, when they are angry (as people will be, of course), we want them to figure out how to get it under control. Like, NOW. And, in a way that socially acceptable (and doesn’t hurt my ears or other parts of my body, or embarrass you or me, thank you very much). We don’t like the way it makes them feel, makes us feel, or the aftermath of said anger – theirs, or ours. I think we’d rather avoid it altogether.
I’m a believer of teaching children through example - SHOWING our children how to behave more than telling them. Children do learn more by what they see played out and work out themselves, rather than what they hear.
So, I try to be gentle. (Oftentimes feeling not all that gentle.)
I try to be quiet and measured with my voice. (Though sometimes all I want to do is yell!)
I try to give my children words to describe their feelings. (Nice words, when I can think of them.)
I tell and show my children that sometimes we DON'T feel good, but even when you feel that way, you still need to act with kindness, patience, and peacefulness. (Oh, that sounds good, doesn’t it?)
But I often find, that in my effort to teach anger management and keep a peaceful household, I get so wrapped up in the, “what can I do to not mess up my kids by getting angry with them” mode of thinking that I think I often miss the actual hearing what they are angry about and helping them work through it in a meaningful (though maybe not ideal) way. In the striving to be perfect in my management of anger (rarely happens), I get so darned frustrated, I miss opportunities to stop, say what I’m feeling, and act it out myself in a acceptable way. I think this comes in part from my upbringing - my parents were not ones to withhold the anger (um, read: rage); and it didn't need to have reason. Screaming was just the method of communication in my household. So I know now as a parent myself, I try desperately to avoid that at all costs. Because I don't want to be a (the) YELLING MOM. But in trying to restrict the rage, I disregard my early signals of anger, and miss opportunities to share with my kids, in reasonable tones, "Hey, I'm feeling irritable right now. I need a break.", and instead, tend to bottle it until it blows.
Case in point: I will repeat ad nauseum "be kind/gentle to your siblings" & "please stop fighting", with increased frequency and urgency but then lose my temper (because my 5 year old has the third tantrum of the day, I haven't had my coffee, I need to pay the bills, go grocery shopping, vaccuum, do the dishes, and have a deadline to meet at work…) and end up yelling, "I've had enough!" and slamming a door to give myself (a much needed, but could have been otherwise more peacefully acheived) time out (right after telling my 3 year old not to slam doors)!
Which make me wonder: does that very real action negate the message I’m trying to send my kids about anger? Because, I’m really not that good at managing my own anger all the time. I can get so frustrated that I yell (and apologize) or slam doors (and say I shouldn’t have done that) or make stupid threats like, “we’re never coming back to the playground!” (and then admit, no that’s ridiculous, of course we are, I was just feeling frustrated with your behavior and I lost my temper). And then I feel plagued with guilt at not being in control of my anger. And guilt at not being able to teach my kids to control their anger. I’m supposed to be teaching life-long lessons here, right?
But then, that makes me wonder: is it even ideal to BE peaceful/even-keeled/NOT angry/in control all the time?
Kids and adults naturally feel anger as one of their emotions, and bottling that up isn't healthy. So, maybe what I need most to be striving for (and worrying about) isn't how to control and stifle anger (mine or theirs), but how to accept anger as a natural emotion, and learn how better to express anger in a healthy acceptable way. To stop worrying so much about keeping anger in check (so much so that I end up getting super-frustrated with myself, and thus the kids, & completely lose my temper), but instead show my children not that I’m impenetrable by anger. That I can be, in fact, very touched by anger and frustration and irritation and annoyance, and that’s okay. Maybe if I accept anger, as I feel it coming on, and express it (not smother it) through words like, “Hey, kids, right now I’m starting to feel angry because you’re not listening to what I’m saying to you”, I might be better able to release it before it builds up. And in this way be teaching them through example, that saying, “I’m angry with you”, is really okay. Far better than bottling it up and releasing it all at once by yelling or door slamming.
So how do YOU control your anger? Or do you? How do you teach your kids to express themselves when they’re angry?