Mom Has a Temper Tantrum
By Melanie Howard
Each month, my five-year-old son's
kindergarten class compiles a "book of days," in which the children
share their daily home experiences with one another. The next
month, the book gets circulated to all the parents. Imagine my
chagrin when James brought last month's book home, and there-between
"Mollie and her mom made brownies" and "Jeremy helped his dad
take out the trash"-was "James's mom was angry with him this morning."
My temper, in writing, laminated and distributed for all the world
Worse yet, I realized that almost
all our recent mornings had degenerated into Mommy screamathons
over seemingly minor matters-dawdling, misplaced gloves, sibling
bickering. I felt terrible, and obviously James did, too. How
could we break this angry pattern?
"Yelling is usually a sign that
a parent has no strategy," says Thomas Phelan, a clinical psychologist
in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and the author of the popular 1-2-3 Magic:
Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (Child Management, Inc.).
At a loss for what to do, moms may resort to yelling out of anger
or frustration. But the end result is that parents feel guilty
and children get the emotional message that they are bad.
It's because we love our children
so dearly that they are able to provoke such strong feelings of
anger in us, according to Nancy Samalin, a New York City-based
parent educator and the author of Love and Anger: The Parental
Dilemma (Penguin Paperbacks). But that doesn't make expressing
that anger through hollering or put-downs appropriate-or effective.
Samalin, who has conducted workshops for parents of toddlers through
teens for more than 25 years, says the key is to feel and acknowledge
your emotions but not let them control you and make you act irrationally.
Samalin and Phelan recommend drawing
on these following strategies when your kids are driving you up
- Exit or wait. When you
feel your anger getting the better of you, briefly withdraw
from the situation until you calm down, Samalin writes in Love
and Anger. Phelan agrees: He suggests stepping out of the room,
counting to ten, going to your bedroom, and closing the door-whatever
it takes to restore your cool.
- "I," not "you." Avoid
attacking your child with "you" statements-"You are such a slob!"
or "You'll never learn." Instead, think in terms of "I": "I
don't like picking clothes up off your floor every day" or "I
get upset when we're not on time." These are less hurtful and
- Put it in writing. If
you are too angry to speak, don't. If your child is old enough
to read, express your feelings in writing. Sometimes just the
time required to find pen and paper will help you to cool off.
- Stay in the present.
When your child makes you angry, don't work yourself into a
tizzy by listing every offense he has committed in the past
week and is likely to commit in the future. Stick to the issue
- Restore good feelings.
When you do lose it, reconnect with your child as soon as possible.
That may mean saying you're sorry and giving a hug and kiss
to a younger child. For an older child, you may want to offer
an explanation of why you were angry along with an apology.
Don't worry that apologizing will diminish your authority-it
won't. It shows your child that you respect him and teaches
him that everyone can be wrong sometimes.
- Recognize what the problem
is. Is it really your child's messy room? Or are you sleep-deprived?
Feeling overwhelmed at work? Mad at your husband or mother or
boss? Be aware of when you are more vulnerable to anger and
resist the urge to transfer negative feelings to your child.
- Make yourself-and all family
members-accountable for lashing out. Institute a "no losing
it" rule to make kids and parents aware of the times they go
ballistic. But do it with a light touch. For instance, make
a chart and tack on a sticker when one of you has an outburst.
If one family member is accumulating a lot of stickers, it's
time to talk about it.
- Carry a tape recorder.
When you feel yourself about to blow, turn it on. If you explode
anyway, play back the tape and imagine yourself as the child
on the receiving end.
- Use cognitive therapy.
This technique is sometimes used to calm fearful fliers. Analyze
your thoughts and put them in perspective-or, as Phelan puts
it, "deawfulize" the situation. (Fliers learn that their fear
is of crashing, not flying. And since crashing is unlikely,
their fear is not reasonable.) Ask yourself-when your children
are fighting, say-if it's really that horrible. Think of the
situation as aggravating but normal behavior that merits a calm,
rational parental response.
Melanie Howard is a writer and
a mother of two. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom,
Inc. All rights reserved.