I just read a magazine article and a young mother says "I never knew I could get so angry until I had kids." Anger and parenting.
This mother could not believe all the yelling she was doing on a daily basis. The kids are pushing her buttons. When we are growing up we are rarely given the skills on how to express our anger in a healthy way. I am not talking about suppressing our anger so that we don't lose our temper. Sometimes counting to ten does help us calm down and not do something we may regret later. I am talking about giving ourselves the freedom to express ourselves "I am so angry right now." "I am frustrated. I expect some changes around here."
Then we pass it on to the next generation....this inability for children to express their anger in healthy ways. Instead of viewing our children's anger as an OPPORTUNITY to teach them how to express their anger we try to bottle it up. We say things like "Calm down, why are you getting so angry? It's only a game." Or worse when we get angry at our kids we think it's ok to give them a little slap or spanking.
I'm thinking about a client I had who spent the first few months of our sessions together trying to convince me it's ok for parents to hit their children. Not a hard spanking, but a spanking nevertheless. He was raised this way and he thought it teaches children a lesson to respect their parents. I asked him for an example of when he has hit one of his children.
"My 7 year old son was being annoying at the dinner table. He was standing on his chair when he's suppose to be sitting. I gave him warning after warning and he was just not listening. When he began to tease his little sister, I smacked him on his bottom. He started to cry. I removed him from the room. He came in a few minutes later. He was quiet. He learned his lesson and the meal continued."
I asked "Is it safe to say you were angry when you spanked him?"
"Yes. I had had it."
"Did you plan on spanking him? Did you thing it through? Did you think about your options in this situation?"
"No. I was just so angry."
"What lesson did your son learn?"
"He learned that he has to listen to his father."
"Hmm. Interesting. See, I think he learned when a person is angry he is allowed to hit another person."
These types of discussions were the norm for our meetings. We did spend time working on skills,like acknowledging feelings. For this father it was easier for him to acknowledge sadness then anger and both parents did grow closer to their children by really listening to them when they were sad or hurt or upset. Then came his lightbulb moment. He was alone with the children and putting them to bed. The son was having a good time building with Lego and did not want to go to bed. Little sister came along and, by accident, broke one of his Lego towers. Exasperated dad said "See? If you had moved your tower to a safe place and gone to bed like I asked you to, this wouldn't have happened." His furious son ran to his father and began flailing his arms and hitting his father's legs. Dad said he had never seen his son so angry. He said to me "He learned to hit when he's angry from me, right? That's what you have been saying?"
It was a great moment. Now Dad was ready to look at alternatives to punishment. He learned how to express his own anger in healthy ways. Ways like describing his feelings, expressing strong disapproval, giving choices, and taking action. This family kept paper to be ripped and shredded when they were really angry. Mom told me she couldn't believe how helpful the "angry paper" was when the house was flooded and the plumber called to say he couldn't come that day. Best of all, she was setting an example to her children on how to express anger.