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Can You Handle Your Child’s Anger?

This article was featured in the October, 2010, issue of the ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) Management Digest. To get a complimentary subscription to this excellent resource, with many articles and tips for teachers, parents and counselors working with behaviorally difficult youngsters, CLICK HERE.



CAN YOU HANDLE YOUR CHILD’S ANGER?  It really hurts, doesn’t it, when someone you’d die for has moments where they would prefer you do just that.

Let’s take it a step further. There are parents who are so uncomfortable with their child being angry at them they’d either capitulate to the youngster or try to “buy them back” in some way. Result: Youngsters learn to use their anger to change outcomes at home. Do we really want the child to take that “skill” into the workplace and into marriage?

(As a dad, I remember how much it hurt to have one of my children that upset with me. My wife, the one without the degrees and licenses, was always much better than I at handling it.)

Sometimes your decisions as a parent must stand regardless of how angry a son or daughter becomes. Here are three quick tips for getting through it:

1. DON’T try to smooth it over. Just the sound of your voice might send them into another orbit. Let some time pass. Resist any temptation to reason with them, to explain the responsibilities of being a parent, or even share how much you love them. They’re not ready at that point to hear much of any of it.

Sometimes a small redirection regarding the outcomes of their anger might be effective, especially if it’s something the youngster hadn’t considered. It’s not a move designed to shut down the anger, but rather it’s intended (hopefully) to prevent the child from making a mistake they might later regret.

Here’s a quick story about what I mean. When my son was in high school our family was getting dressed to have photo portraits made up at the church. One problem: He was very upset with me. (It’s interesting today that, as we speak of the incident, neither of us can remember why he was so upset with me.) He proclaimed he was not going with us.

I had visions of our family’s picture in the church directory for the next five years or so being minus one conspicuous member. So that’s how I discussed it with him:

Jamie, I know you’re upset with me. I’m not here to talk you out of that. I just wanted to make sure you knew that, if you’re not in the picture with the family, people are going to ask why … people like your grandparents and other folks you really care about. Long after you and I work out the problem between us, you’ll still be missing in that picture. I hope you’ll come with us, but you’re too big for me to order around. You decide.

With that I went upstairs and put on my suit. I don’t recall him saying a word but, after a bit, he quietly got dressed and rode with us up to the church. As it turned out, it was our best family portrait ever. A huge copy of it graced our den for many, many years.

I can’t say my short dialog with him was necessarily right or wrong, but it was heartfelt. I’d like to think that was the message he received.

2. Be available, but not too available. Don’t change your lifestyle just because they’re mad at you. Give them some space, but don’t avoid them.

3. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul. Not only will your children eventually return to an anger-free relationship, they just might grow in their respect for you. And, just perhaps, they’ll learn that when they don’t always get their way, the world goes on, anyway.

James Sutton, Psychologist

October 6, 2010 Posted by | Difficult Child, family, Parents | , , , | Leave a comment