I know it’s difficult not to get mad at children when they exhibit certain behaviors, but if we truly want our children to learn the lesson or get the message, we need to work on ourselves first to remove our anger. When we’re mad we just can’t think straight and we end up either saying or doing something we often regret later. But probably the real reason to control our feelings of anger is that our anger frightens our children.
Let’s think of a few examples of things children do that might anger us and how what we do affects them. Suppose you have at least two children. One is probably bigger than the other, stronger, older, more capable of causing pain to the other. When you witness the larger child hurting the younger child, perhaps repeatedly, naturally you get mad and want to punish the hurtful child. You want to make sure that child doesn’t hurt the younger one again and you don’t mind it if your older child gets a little scared of you or your anger if that causes the child to stop hurting the little sibling. Ah, if only it would work out that way. But the older, stronger child doesn’t say to himself, “Oh, I’d better not hit my little sister again, it might hurt her.” No, instead what the older child says to himself is, “Gee, the next time I hit her I’d better make sure that Mom can’t see me doing it.”
Or perhaps you’ve invited your friend and her child to a play date at your house. When your friend’s child arrives, your child refuses to let that friend play with any of her toys. Every time the guest selects a toy, your daughter runs over to her and takes it away. You try to reason with your child but she will have nothing to do with that and acts in a stubborn manner when you try to get her to share. When your guests leave, you send your child to her room and tell her that she will never have any friends if she continues to be so selfish and unwilling to share her things. Your voice indicates you’re angry and so does your face. When your child sits in her room, she doesn’t think to herself, “Next time a friend comes over I’ll share my toys.” Instead she thinks, “Next time someone comes over I’ll hide all my toys so no one will know where they are but me.”
… to be continued
What we need as parents and teachers is a new paradigm for reacting to those moments when we’re truly disappointed in our children’s behaviors. We have some information here, if only we would reach for it. For you see, we were once children, too! Our children were never once our age, but we were once their age. If we can get in touch with that time in our life, we might be better able to understand our children. And through understanding them, we might just find ourselves a little less angry and a little less eager to use our anger as a scare tactic.
So, if we’re not going to react with anger, what are we going to do? We’re going to calmly take action. Maybe that action is to separate our fighting children by sending each to separate rooms until they are ready to play without fighting. Maybe it is to state firmly that hitting does not happen in this family. Children who hit cannot play in the family room. The family room is only for peaceful children. Hitting children can only play alone in their own room. Maybe we talk with her before the friend comes over and help her select toys she’s willing to share. And once children know and have agreed with the rules, then what we have to do is to take action every time a family rule is violated. We take action calmly, quietly, cheerfully even, but we try to consistently take action.
We don’t want our children to think they’re bad, we don’t want our children to think we don’t love them, but we do want our children to know that we have boundaries in all of our relationships and that we honor and keep those boundaries. In order for boundaries to be kept, adults need to demonstrate action. We don’t need to get mad, to raise our voices, or to make faces at our children, but we do need to let our children know what behaviors are within bounds and which ones are out of bounds. Those out-of-bounds behaviors result in children being limited in their freedoms. Skip the lectures; take action. Your children will feel safer when they know those boundaries are dependable, that you love them enough to secure their boundaries.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher