(This is such a valuable chapter, focusing on parental anger and how to handle anger in children. Here is a brief summary of the chapter and some of the tips and some of my thoughts; I encourage you to get the book and read it for yourself. It is a keeper for the bookshelf, and covers ages from babyhood through teenagers, so you can use it for many years).
Onto the post:
Ah, you all thought I forgot about this! I did summaries of the first four chapters, and yes, we are going to finish the book! (You can find summaries of the first four chapters of this book if you use the little search bar and type in “discipline without distress”). This chapter is entitled, “Good Parents Feel Angry: Separate Your Anger From Your Discipline”.
Judy Arnall writes,” We need to take responsibility of our actions when we are angry. Discipline means having the vision to see the long-term picture and keep things in balance. A Chinese proverb teaches, “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.” It’s so much easier to watch what we say in anger than to apologize and try to make amends.”
She lists the reasons parents becomes angry; it is a long list but at the top of the list is “My child doesn’t listen to me”, which, of course, really means “My child doesn’t do as I ask.” (Their hearing is fine!)
She adds to list anger caused not by the child, but by things going on with US. Alcohol, stress, our own needs not being met, low tolerance of normal childhood behaviors (remember ALL those posts I did on “realistic expectations” for each age up to age 8??!)
Anger is healthy, it is normal, but the author points out the goal should be to solve a problem. It alerts us to change, she writes. Marshall Rosenberg of Nonviolent Communication writes how anger is a sign our needs are not being met.
Judy Arnall’s method of managing anger is based on the acronym ANGER. A=Accept it, N=Neutralize it, G=Get Away, E=Examine why, R=Resolve and problem-solve.
She goes through all these steps in this chapter. There are pages of “calm-down tools” for the adult (that could also work for children). She talks candidly about avoiding child-time outs when the parent is angry (and if you read this blog, you know I am not for child time-outs period. I think they essentially teach the child nothing at all. It does not solve the original problem in any way, shape or form.)
She writes, (and I agree 100 percent): “When a parent sends a child to time-out, she feels stretched to the limit. The parent feels upset because she is unable to control the child. She needs a break from the child and has the power to send the child away. When the child is gone, she can calm down and she feels more in control of herself, the child and the situation. It SEEMS to be working. Parents lose it because they believe they are supposed to be in control. Control is illusionary. There is no such thing as control when another human being is mixed in the equation. Children have their own control. The appearance of control is only maintained by our power as long as the children are little. It’s easier to take a time-out yourself than to force another person in time-out.”
There is a whole list of ways a parent can take a time-out for themselves even if their child is standing there. She also has great tips for breaking the yelling habit.
The next section of this chapter is all about dealing with an angry child. She writes, “We don’t have many role models of adults handling children’s anger. Most often, we handle it the way our parents handled it.”
She details the ways children express anger: Babies with red faces and crying and grunts of protest; toddlers and preschoolers with hitting, screaming, yelling, crying, tantrums, throwing things, stomping feet; for middle childhood teasing, sarcasm, bullying, hitting, yelling, crying, throwing things, withdrawal and a sulky attitude and for teenagers sulking, teasing, sarcasm, hitting, yelling, throwing things, depression, withdrawal and other things under the heading of “attitude”. Typically by age 10 or 12, she writes, a child can begin to handle anger without hitting or throwing things.
Children can get frustrated and angry from not having their needs met, by a parent who has completely unrealistic expectations for the age their child is (or the child’s developmental level is my added thought), feeling they have been treated unfairly, etc.
Carrie here: As the parent, you are not responsible for your child’s feelings. This can be such a hard thing to not want to own. We listen to our child’s feelings, but the feeling does not belong to us to solve. If your child is bored, sad, angry, happy – that belongs to the child. You can have a rhythm, you can have a calm house and some children are still going to be more wild or more negative or whatever than other children of the same age (even accounting for those realistic expectations for their age!). The only thing you can control is you.
I think the other work for you is to figure out your own “triggers” – does the house being a disaster set you off? Being hurried? Not having food or a menu plan going on so you are stressed around dinner time? If you can figure out your stress triggers, then you can solve it and put a plan in place to make your house a calmer, happier place.
Judy Arnall’s tips for reducing your child’s anger include using tools of solving problems, having realistic expectations for your child’s age (she is singing my song here!), avoiding hitting because that just shows that hitting is what we do when we are angry, not to isolate the child if that makes them more angry, not comparing children, listening to your child’s frustration if they can verbalize it without interrupting. She goes through her ANGER acronym approach for helping children manage their anger.
She talks about “negating phrases”, which I especially liked because you hear them so much: “Stop making a fuss” “It’s no big deal” “Can’t you be nice?” “Nice little boys (or girls) don’t act that way.” “You don’t really feel that way.” “What’s wrong with you?” “You are so ungrateful!” and many more. It is a sobering list to read and think about how many times we hear parents talk this way to their child.
The tongue is a powerful ally in parenting but it can also be a terrible weapon. It is an area where many of us need to learn to be able to relax into silence ourselves, to smile or pat a child on the back, to just breathe a minute before we say something we will completely regret later on.
She has a whole section on temper tantrums, which are most common between the ages of one and three and a half (although really, a teenager who is running around slamming doors to me is having a temper tantrum of sorts. Do they ever totally disappear?) But at any rate, this part of the chapter has tips and techniques for dealing with tantrums. I do disagree with the author that a way to prevent power struggle temper tantrums is to “give lots of choices”. I find most small children under 9 are much happier and less prone to tantrums if all the decision-making is not on their shoulders for what they should wear, eat, do. Time-out is a very ineffective way of dealing with a temper tantrum.
She does detail how to move a tantruming toddler, how to get a tantruming toddler into a car seat (I personally have found it just best to breathe and wait a minute or minutes and not force a child into a car seat as hard as it can be to wait), how to deal with the “spirited child’’s temper tantrums, how to handle public misbehavior (and her number one tip is to have realistic expectations! A toddler is not going to sit through going out to dinner!), what to do with the older angry child, and what to do about apologies.
Carrie here: The trick with temper tantrums is that YOU must remain calm. YOU must be the rock in the swiftly moving stream! You must show your child how to have self-control! Let this practice of developing your own inner self-control be YOUR inner work!
The very last part of the chapter involves “Counteracting Parent Stress” and she addresses fatigue and how to deal with it, how to get time for yourself in five, twenty, two hour increments; she has a section for couples and encouragement for spending time together, de-cluttering your life, the cleanliness of your home, and helping children play independently. For facilitating children’s play she talks about unplugging the TV and other media and packing away many toys, leaving out unstructured play materials. Sounds Waldorf to me!
Anyway, if gentle parenting and not spanking are new paths for you in you this New Year, I encourage you to check out this book. I don’t agree with every single thing in it, but it sure would be a good place to start!