Anger – I would strangle you

Sometimes, the children act and speak in a way that can really anger us. It is easy for the psychologists to say: “Just make sure that you don’t get angry in such situations”, “ don’t get too upset and furious and don’t act in an ill-tempered manner”. But who can remain calm when the child is being rude while acting in the same stupid way over and over again!

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And the kids are really capable of this! They often, without knowledge, target the greatest weakness in us and our sensitive areas and they infallibly shoot the ‘poisoned arrow’ right into the spot that really bothers us. Or when our so far pleasant and obedient daughter says in an indignant manner: “I don’t like you at all”. Most of the time, however, the problems arise because the children act in a way in which they are best able to, in a way that is pleasant and convenient to them and this is often on the contrary with what the adults imagine and expect. The children in the present age are moreover taught a much greater aggression in behavior, assertion and activity and in some ways, they are verbally more mature than the previous generations. They have heard and learned a few things from the tv, and so they are able to create a sentence that totally puts us off with its directness and exactness and sometimes even with an open vulgarity.

 

The meaning of those uttered words – what our anger means

 

At what basis should we judge the words and behavior of our children (and that of other people as well)? How to understand what the child is doing and saying? How to interpret the actions and the words in certain contexts and specific situations? And how should we respond?

Many of us take the meaning of the children’s words literally and consider them seriously. “I will be good already”, “ I have never been there”, “ I have seen a snake. I don’t like you at all”, “I don’t want you”,  “You are ugly”. Alright, it is possible, the words certainly convey a crucial meaning and they make sense. In any case, I consider this “positive” version of interpretation much more suitable than when the parents doubt every word the child says in advance. There are numerous situations in which we do not have any other information and we have to base our understanding on the pronounced sentences.

But don’t we sometimes say: “You will drive me crazy one day”, “ you will weary me out if you will be naughty” ,”the devil will come and take you”, “you will be sent to a reformatory if you won’t behave properly”,  “I will throw all your toys out into the rubbish bin?” Do we really mean these seriously? Should the child trust all our words? Do we really keep all the promises that we say out? So should we really trust the words of our children for hundred percent? We all know those stressful moments, full of great rage, suspicions, distrust, fear and disappointment, when the awful words are yelled out and then suddenly more of such sentences can’t be held back.

What meaning do the uttered words have in such situations?  Sometimes, it begins with somewhat innocent deceptive words or half-truths and then it escalates into a chain of yet bigger lies and further tangles within them. Sometimes, with our actions, we push the child into the corner ourselves from where there is no escape. The child is then not capable of any sensible defense and so it acts in sheer bad manners or even in a hateful way. The child also usually does not exactly appraise the situation appropriately and it often overreacts. What is commonly acceptable among friends, is far beyond showing respect to adult authorities, the parents. A similar outcome can occur when the child wants to bring us some joy or when it wants to show us some obligation. Then he certainly promises the  impossible and with this brings a certain catastrophe upon himself.

A big problem arises when we perceive the child as a completely equivalent partner, an adult person. If this is the such case, then clearly, we cannot let the mess, the unkept promises or even the rude remarks go without any consequences, because precisely its attack jeopardizes our personality and authority directly as well as the basis of the partner relationship. Especially in the case of father-son relationship, aggression might seem as the only appropriate reaction. And this is especially so when the initiator is a maturing son. Nonetheless, the mums frantically “fight” in similar ways.

In such scenarios, the parents certainly don’t have any suspicion about the deeper meaning of what the child has said. Understanding can be very difficult sometimes. The adults definitely should not have just one and the only way of interpretation. If a three-years-old boy tells his mum who refuses to give him a chocolate before lunch: “I don’t like you at all”, I certainly believe that the mum easily understands that the child expresses his anger over the fact that his subjectively perceived willful wish wasn’t fulfilled and not because he has stopped loving his mum. If the mother doesn’t comprehend the situation correctly, and she concludes that the child does this on purpose so that he could trouble her, then she will go for a much less suitable reaction. But if the same happens to a grandma it is possible that a much bigger problem will arise from the situation because the grandma might use a totally different set of understanding. To the grandma it might seem that the child is being aggravated to act in this way by her daughter-in-law, or this could be a result of her bad bringing up and then further worries about the child’s future increasing misbehavior arise.

Sometimes the apprehension of the given situation can be even more complicated if the child starts to use words that are normally not used within the family. “Such words are not allowed to be used around mummy and can never be used on her, otherwise you will get slapped, you’ll see.” The adolescent child, however, is no longer influenced only by the family but his peers play a substantial role too and a  lapse  occurs easily when the child uses the words and vocabulary of the peer context in a family setting. It is also possible that the child accepts the coerced role of an adult, by the adults, and it then reacts to the parents’ words with the same caliber, in such a way in which he would not take the liberty to do so in a role of a child.

It is therefore not necessary to reject the words. They have its meaning. What is much more crucial is the behavior of the child. However, not just the isolated behavior of now and here, but also of yesterday, a week ago or a month ago. We should hence continuously pick up and keep in our memory the samples of a child’s behavior and apprehensions. In short, we should take note of the child’s actions in various time periods, situations and circumstances and maybe even towards various people. In their context, we can then easily understand the various acts at the spur of the moment as a deviation, as a particular reaction to an acute situation. How can a parent who is subjected to the child’s expressions of dedication and kindness on a daily long term basis believe his one-time frustrations and drifts of vulgarity to be true and to consider both the types of expression to be equivalent?

This could lead to some fatal mistakes especially with the maturing teenagers. Their exceptionally and overbearingly strong words, clearly expressed, as well as often very unfair words reflect the confusion and uncertain anchor in life, a persistent afford to find its place in it, the perpetual perception of life as black and white, the need to confine against those whom they actually love the most. It is important for them to be different from their parents, to contrast them strikingly. We also shouldn’t expect the child to be exactly the same as the way we are. If this would be so, we would probably still run around the forest as apes. As parents, we have undoubtedly got used to a compliance and admiration during the first eight or ten years of life, but during the maturing stage, the teenager has different preferences. Sometimes it is actually praiseworthy that it is different from us.

Sometimes with his inappropriate words and improper behavior, the child can call for a little bit of attention and concern from adults. “If I don’t make any mess, they won’t even notice me, they are at work all the time. Only then will they take some interest, notice me, talk to me and try to solve my problem.”

So how do we handle such situations in such a way so that we don’t unnecessarily cause stress to ourselves and at the same time so that the discrepancy that arises does not distress the relationship with the child? Sometimes, such situations can also lead to a significant deterioration of the relationship between parents in the case that their approach towards their child differs substantially. If the upbringing regardless the extensive afford put in, doesn’t succeed, they will look for a blame and the closest one at hand is the husband, the wife or their parents.

 

Take note of all actions

In the first place, we should regard the longterm deeds and expressions as the primary ones. Those one-time deeds and words should be considered as an acute deviation from the norm and not the more important ones just because they are the most recent ones on the list. It is also important to take note of all the actions of the maturing child. Most likely, we reasonably get angry over his frequent stays out of the home, his lenient approach towards keeping of a family order, but we should also consider equally seriously that he talks to us for a while, that he smiles at us, that he says “don’t worry”. Maybe these are just some seldom and volatile moments in comparison to that mess in everything else, to the demonstrative refusal of all that is adult, but their value is the equally important. In particular situations, the child might not even be able to do more than that. An exclusively negative perception of all situations from the adult perspective is not good for the maintenance and development of any kind of relationship. It is well-known that our expectations act in a strong way and they are able to significantly influence the child’s behavior in accordance with the expectation. If we therefore always show that we think that he is useless, that he is just a trouble to us and that he will grow up to be nothing at all, then we are certainly contributing to the fact that this will really turn out to be the reality.

We should educate our children from a young age and show them alternatives and socially acceptable ways of solving challenging life situations. It is certainly not necessary for him to curse and swear all the time, to take offense and blame the whole world using all sorts of words. Sometimes it is just enough for him to wait with his reactions for a little while and everything can turn out to be different. It is important to accept that even the very intensive emotions have their place in our lives, however, without the obligation to take those words and actions that tend to accompany them literally.

At other times, we could just keep silent, ignore some words and not hear others. When it is possible, we can leave the battlefield. It is also feasible to leave with the words: “Don’t get mad, but I don’t want to and I’m not going to solve this problem now. When you calm down, we can have a chat about it. Please count to ten and then you can tell it to me again.” At yet other times, we can force the child to leave himself.

I definitely do not recommend accusations, a cry or an emotional extortion. It is possible that these would help in some situations, but its effectiveness will be significantly reduced with its continuous use and after some time, these can paradoxically increase the child’s resistance towards the adult.

It is left up to us to communicate in a more polite manner than the child. We should not say things which are the products of anger especially when we don’t mean them deadly seriously. If we are not in control of ourselves, we should be more discrete with our reactions when the child uses the exactly same rhetorics towards us. In my advisory sessions, a twelve-year-old boy told me how he got a bad mark at school for being rude. He apparently reacted on the teacher’s complaint, that she is bored of constantly discovering whether he did something bad or not, with the answer that he is also bored of it. I consider this teacher’s remark highly unprofessional.

Some advices are in the form of compromise. The adults are more matured and their personalities wouldn’t suffer as much when not all is according to them.

Sometimes it is enough to wait with our reaction for fifteen minutes and then the discussion with the child can turn out to be completely different altogether. We shouldn’t forget that even we behave in a different way with audience around us. We can withstand so much more in a friendly atmosphere in between four eyes than when we have to face the critiques from the whole class or our co-workers.

The adults also forget that what has already happened cannot unhappen. And so they come back again and again to what the child has done wrong yesterday and a week ago, they repeat the same sentences and so as time goes by, they reliably make the child not want to listen to them.

When the child does something wrong, it doesn’t mean that it is a villain. He has just done a bad deed. Children are quite sensitive to how we perceive their misdemeanors. A girl in the seventh grade has copied during her test. The teacher has caught her, let her finish the test and then immediately examined her from the same study material. The girl received a grade five (1 being the best and 5 the worst). Here is an insight of the girl herself: “It was completely fair. I rather not copy again. Because it is not worth the trouble.”

It might seem that I’m pushing the adults into a defense position, that I’m refraining them from reacting to the child’s misconduct, that I’m leaving the upper hand to the children. By providing all the explanations for their behavior I’m actually justifying them. Nothing like that. Nonetheless the up-bringing needs to be effective. And if the child stops to take note of you, if it responds to all your propositions in an opposite manner, if it avoids you and goes to his friends instead, then you can be right a hundred times round and it is still all good for nothing. You will not be able to influence your child anymore. And here I’m trying to find ways which won’t hurt the child or the relationships with those closest ones, which won’t jeopardize his future and which will at the same time lead to the goals set by the parents.

 

 

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