No parent likes hearing that their children are angry at them, particularly when they work hard to raise them.
However, it is healthy for children to experience anger and learn how to express it effectively. If the parent is overly reactive or retaliatory, the child does not learn how to deal with his or her emotions. When children have to suppress their feelings, or are made to feel guilty about having and expressing their feelings, problems begin to develop.
Most children will say things like “I hate you” a few times when they are quite young. The way a parent responds effects whether the child will continue saying such things. A parent’s response depends on the situation. Generally it is important to remain calm, not take it personally, and teach them a better way to express themselves.
Ways NOT to respond:
1. Act hurt and whimper. “How can you say that? Look at all the things I do for you?”
2. Use shame or guilt. “Well, I love you.”
3. Deny his or her real feelings. “You don’t mean that!”
4. Implement severe punishment, which merely causes more hatred and inability to deal with that hatred. It is also a bad example.
Ways to respond:
1. Stay calm, which will help defuse the situation.
2. Label the child’s emotions without judging them: “You seem angry. You really want to stay up longer.”
3. Find out why the child is angry, and then help him or her express it in a meaningful and respectful way. “Why are you angry with me?” After truly listening, you could also say, “Next time, tell me why you’re angry in a way that won’t make me feel defensive. When you say ‘I hate you,’ it’s not very effective in getting people to listen.’” By listening and responding to the child when he or she communicates without hatred, the child is encouraged to do so in the future.
4. Demonstrate how to handle your own anger effectively. For example, do not fly off the handle or express extreme views like, “I can’t stand him! What an idiot.” Instead, express that you are angry at someone’s specific behavior — “I’m disappointed and angry that he mislead me.” Be specific about why you are angry.
5. Find out how the child’s day has been and what is going on. It’s possible that something else is going on in his or her life.
Sometimes children mirror back a parent’s own issues. If the parent is angry, the child feels angry too. If the parent lacks self-respect, the child doesn’t respect the parent either. In these cases, it’s important for parents to focus on dealing with their own issues and anger and develop habits of self-respect. To deal appropriately with the child becomes a double challenge then, but twice as essential. You could even make a mutual pact or a game to remind each other when you are not using the right words or tone.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD