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MSW, LICSW
Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

Many people make the assumption that anger gives them authority. I remember hearing several friends and family members indicate that they were scared of their fathers and that it was necessary to respect them. Many of us have grown up within this culture of "anger as respect" and appear not to have suffered harm, but this posture with one's children is a distortion of a more adaptive and functional definition of respect. I feel for anyone today who grew up with parents who believed that children should be seen but not heard. That condescending and disrespectful message can have lifelong effects if not actively countered with a loving and engaging authority figure. 

When Anger Harms

Some of us have experienced the very worst of anger when our parents were trying to make sure that they were being heard. While it may have been intended as demanding of respect, it was more likely experienced with fear of not only consequences but of intimidation. When dealing with this kind of anger on a regular basis, the child learns that anything other than compliance will provoke anger from the valued parent. Anger can come so frequently that the child can come to believe she is unacceptable as she is.

Love can be perceived as contingent on compliance with the authority figure. However, a child's job is to define her own identity, make her own decisions and discover her own preferences - learning in the context of respected adults and peers. When she is treated with disrespect, that learning is at best confused, at worst, the child stops respecting herself and the authority figure.

Making your child afraid of you creates a permanent barrier in the relationship. Your child may listen and comply only because they are afraid of the consequences. If this is the consistent message, your child will come to believe that you don't accept her as a unique separate individual - you simply want control, your own way. Ultimately, you risk teaching your child to rebel. She may begin to define who she is as anything but you. This sort of rebellion without a clear alternative code of behavior leads to an angry, confused and acting out pre-adolescent.

Intimidation cannot support a close loving relationship and respect. Treating your child with anything but love and respect leads to damaged relationships in childhood and risks an impaired child entering adulthood; a child without the skills they need to cope with their own emotions, much less the challenge of life.

Anger Motivators

Parenting is THE most difficult job we will ever face. This is largely because we care so much for our children; our emotions are always involved at peak levels. Managing and making sense of them is indeed very difficult and important. Raising children challenges our emotions more than anywhere else. We are often afraid of how our children will grow up. Will they be polite and caring? Will they be productive and able to produce a living? Will they be loving and caring enough to bring up a new generation successfully? All of these questions rolling through our heads make us fearful of parenting and can interfere with our judgment in parenting.

Squashing Problematic Behaviors

Perhaps you worry their behavior has to shape up quickly before they head off to school or they will find their future compromised. Perhaps you see some of your less desirable traits in your children and worry your children will suffer like you did. in response, you may become excessively persistent and insistent to squelch out the offending behaviors before they have to live with the consequences.

This may seem like an honorable task, however, how you teach your children is as important as what you teach them. Children need a kind but firm, nurturing and encouraging hand while growing up. Punitive approaches will directly impact their self-esteem and their relationships with you and other authority figures. 

Feeling Overwhelmed

You need to have an understanding of why you are having trouble with your role of parenting. Perhaps you are simply overwhelmed with the children's age appropriate behavior. All you want is peace and quiet after a long stressful day at work. If so, then you need to find a way to take care of the children's needs when get home, and still allow yourself a chance to de-stress. One idea might be to allow the children to watch a TV program while you engage in some vigorous exercise.

Protecting Your Reputation

Do you see your child's behavior as reflecting on your reputation? Is their performance a reflection of your performance? Our children have not been placed in this world to meet our expectations or to support our reputation. Any attempt to make that happen is liable to have the opposite of the desired effect. Whatever the underlying issue is, you must ferret it out and learn to address it appropriately while still providing good care for your children. 

Unrealistic Expectations

It is not reasonable to expect children to behave well all the time. Childhood is a time when children must explore and learn the natural consequences of their behavior. Natural consequences are those that happen all by themselves. They are the natural result of anyone's behavior in interaction with the environment. Children can't learn from their environment if you are continually interrupting their learning and imposing your consequences. Children have to make mistakes and learn from them without your intervention. Your job is to protect them from the extreme natural consequences of their behavior, like getting hurt or causing expensive damage.

How to Discipline

Set reasonable limits for your children. Practice assertiveness and let them know when they're out of line but do so only with a gentle tone to your voice.

  • Remember that your voice tone addresses your child's personhood. Clearly differentiate between her personhood and her behavior.

Make sure that she gets the message that she's loved but expected to behave differently than she perhaps just did. That's a difficult thing to accomplish without some practice or an appropriate role model from your childhood. Practice using the same tone of acceptance and enthusiasm for your interactions with your child when you're playing with them, teaching them, or correcting their behavior.

For anyone who has understood their anger to be an important message of urgency and authority, this positive voice tone will seem odd at first, especially when used in less than positive circumstances. Just remember that your voice tone and choice of words tells your child of your love and respect and the rest of the message can be about virtually anything else. You'll find that a positive tone will make any message easier to understand and comply with.

Raising children must take a higher priority than maintaining a household. A healthy child's experience will make their parents day more complicated, it's a continual and sometimes exhausting challenge, but we all owe our children our patience. They didn't ask to be brought into this world, we made that choice for them. Thus we have the obligation to give them the most we can give them.

About the author David Johnson:
After 30 years of experience providing mental health services in various settings, I have discovered six key concepts to a healthy life. Let me show you how to live the kind of life many of us only dream about, a life of passion about what is important. Let me show you the way to live emotionally free, mindfully aware and totally centered with Full Impact Living!℠
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Page last updated Nov 05, 2014

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