“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow” ~Chinese Proverb
Anger is a Scary Emotion by Kate Russell
One of the first practices I adopted upon reading about Magda Gerber’s to parenting was accepting and acknowledging feelings. Instead of using distractions to will away sadness, pain or frustration, I began to support my children through these feelings; naming them so they could develop their emotional intelligence and offering comfort for as long as they needed it. It was revolutionary for me, and I have embraced this change in our parenting wholeheartedly. Of course, it isn’t always easy.
While I am usually comfortable with expressions of most emotions, there is one that I have found it difficult to accept and encourage: anger. This is especially true when it is directed at one of us — Mum, Dad or baby sister. There is something about having my child scream in my face or lash out physically that triggers some pretty strong and counterproductive emotions of my own, namely ANGER. It can be incredibly difficult for me to maintain my own composure in these situations, never mind encourage or support what my daughter, L, clearly needs to express.
L is two and a half, and anger is something that she has in abundance at the moment. Getting to the root of this anger is a story for another day and something we are working towards as a family. In the meantime, we have resolved to help her work through it by showing her it is okay to feel this way, and at the same time supporting her to not use physical aggression.
The other day we were having a particularly difficult afternoon. We had just come inside from some water play. It had been a lot of fun, but I was starting to see some signs of pent up emotion in L. She was becoming intolerant of her younger sister P, especially when she moved into her space. I had already blocked a few attempts at grabbing and pushing, and so when we came inside to start the bath, I decided it would not be safe to put both girls in the tub together. L had stated that she did not want a bath, so I put an eager P in and sat on the edge of the tub to give her a wash.
L then decided she wanted a bath too, but I couldn’t allow her in at that time. She confronted me with the kind of raw, primal scream that you would associate with someone being tortured (or worse). “Get away!” came her guttural roar as she lunged at me repeatedly trying to push me off the edge of the bath.
Immediately, I felt my fight or flight response kick in. It took several moments of conscious thought to gather myself and determine the best unruffled response. I kept repeating to myself: ‘She needs me to be calm, she needs me to be calm…” which is my mantra when faced with these situations.
You see, every time I lose patience or snap at the kids I see the impact it has on them not only in the moment, but also in the long run as they continue to test my ability to respond with confidence. So when I am being pushed in this way, I am constantly repeating to myself, “She needs me to stay calm, she needs me to stay calm, I can do this…”
On this occasion, after gathering myself, I was able to block her hands and calmly state: ”I can see you are very angry at the moment. You really want to get in the bath and I’m not letting you. I won’t let you push me.” I then repeated, “I won’t let you hit me” as I blocked her hands.
I also let her know it was okay to scream. ”You feel really angry right now, it’s okay to scream, loudly if you need to.” All the while, I kept myself level and matter of fact. At this point she left the bathroom sobbing. From what I have read about tantrums, the sobbing indicates that she has ridden the wave of anger and perhaps the cortisol in her system is starting to subside. So I let her go because I felt she needed a little bit of space, and she had expressed all the angry emotion she needed to for now.
About 30 seconds later she came back into the bathroom eating a pear. She climbed straight onto my lap and started chatting to me about the little barking dog in the neighbour’s backyard. All signs of her very recent outburst had completely dissipated. I took the opportunity to let her know I was listening to her earlier. ”Boy, you were really angry before. You screamed very loudly and that’s okay. I want you to know that I understand and want to try to help you when you feel that way. I will always stop you from hurting P or me.”
I gave her a few moments to absorb and process in silence before P stood up, indicating she would like to get out of the bath. I then said,” P is ready to hop out of the bath now, would you like to climb in?”
“Yes,” came the reply but not before standing up on my lap and kissing my head.
So, as excruciating as it can be to have my child scream at me and lash out, and no matter how much it evokes my own anger, I am resolute in my quest to be that rock for her to trust and lean on whenever she needs. It can certainly be frightening and difficult, but I try to consider that whatever emotion she is evoking in me, she is feeling it ten times over. While it frightens me when she expresses her anger in this way, I have realized ‘frightened’ probably doesn’t come close to describing the fear she must have when she is gripped by this scary emotion. Therefore, it is even more important that she sees that I am strong for her, not stressed out, flustered, and definitely not angry.
While I can’t be sure where L’s anger is coming from, I trust that every feeling she has is perfect and necessary for her healing. I am confident that by using this form of respectful parenting, she will eventually come out the other side stronger, more at peace, and more trusting of the strength of my support and love for her.
Kate Russell is the mother of two beautiful girls born 13 months apart. She believes that it is never too late to change how we parent and has learned that being a conscious and reflective parent will empower children to grow with confidence and trust in themselves. A former high school teacher, Kate now dreams of opening a school for parents to learn about the joys of respectful parenting.
I share my advice for responding to our children’s anger in No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame
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