As my kids get older, I’m realizing the ongoing need to parent them through difficult emotions, especially anger. It takes great effort and insight to help them develop productive ways to express themselves. It’s also easy to miss some of those teachable moments, in the hurried, hectic lives we lead.
We must realize these little people are learning how to navigate some powerful emotions, and they need our nurturing support. I know I have missed the mark. I can cite countless times I could have done better, was rushed, or honestly needed my authority intact for prideful and selfish reasons.
These are the challenging parts of parenting – the times when we want to be right and in charge but know the best thing we can do is step down off our platform of being the “boss” and allow our kids to express themselves and have a voice. That is what ultimately teaches them how to handle frustration and anger.
It takes effort and intention to notice when these opportunities arise. It takes patience and perseverance to watch the fruits of our labor grow. If we really think about our ‘end game’ – kids who’ve learned how to navigate their decisions and emotions and take responsibility for both – then our parenting must allow for empowerment and independence.
It’s hard when the moment is heated and we find ourselves wanting to shut down the interaction. It happens to the best of us. I am learning to help my children better express their anger. It takes a deep breath and a steady hand of authority to stop myself from slamming on the breaks and delivering those marching orders in the heat of the moment.
I’ve found that these two things simply must happen for children to understand and communicate their anger properly:
Allow your child to have a voice
There’s a fine line between giving our children the freedom and power to say anything they want and allowing them to express their opinions and feelings without letting them free-fall into selfish entitlement.
When children feel ‘wronged’, they lash out. How many times do we battle through the ‘That’s not fair!!” or the “Why can’t I!?” or, better yet, “You are wrong!!” with weapons like “Because I said so!” or dishing out the consequence with “We are done!”
The greatest battles I have with my kids are not caused by the actual injustice they feel they’ve endured. They’re caused by the frustration of not being heard. If I allow them to express their views on the matter in a controlled and mature way, the situation simmers down regardless of consequences, and I sense them feeling validated as a person worthy of my attention.
If I calmly say, in the throes of a meltdown, “You can tell me how you feel if you are not yelling,” they immediately start to share their lamentations about that particular circumstance. I nod and make it known that I do, in fact, care about the way they feel. The interaction shifts whether or not the outcome changes because they feel heard. They may still be upset and angry, but they were given the opportunity to say why.
Don’t we all want to have our own voice heard when upset or angry? I believe this is one way we can love our kids: through the act of allowing them to express themselves, even in the midst of those emotion fueled moments. A situation may escalate over and over again, but if you teach kids how to control their emotions and express themselves in an appropriate manner, they will learn that their voice has power.
Let your children be angry
Too often, we don’t allow our kids to express their anger. I’ve seen so many parents immediately punish their kids for showing anger, thereby sending the message that anger is wrong and unacceptable when it’s really the behavior that’s wrong, not the feeling.
Why send them the message that they aren’t allowed to be angry when something doesn’t go their way? We get angry when things don’t go our way. Anger is a natural and justified feeling. If we ignore or punish our kids for having it, how does that help them learn to express it effectively? And if we don’t address that anger, where does it go? We need to let our kids be angry and show them how to articulate those feelings in a productive way.
By no means should this undermine your authority or allow your child to overpower your relationship. Instead, this approach will establish a relationship in which your child will learn to trust that you value her feelings and honor her worth. By respecting your child’s emotions, you are teaching her how to respect other people’s emotions, too.
Anger leads to poor decision-making and negative behaviors if it doesn’t get addressed. If we can dive in during those hot moments and teach our children how to work through such critical and sensitive emotions, they will be better equipped to manage those eruptions in life.
An earlier version of this article was previously published on themomcafe.com.