On a busy Saturday in the middle of summer, I take my three year old son with me to a local food place so we can get lunch and bring it to my husband who is busy working. I am balancing the food and drinks in my hands as I maneuver my eight month pregnant belly through the first set of double doors to the parking area and then my son starts throwing a fit. “What’s wrong buddy?” I ask trying to mask my irritation. “I’M ANGRY!” he shouts back.
I take a deep breath, kneel down next to him and say “It’s okay to be angry, would you like to talk about it?” He proceeds to tell me that he thought we were going to eat inside the restaurant and was upset about it. I then explain that we need to get some of the food to his dad and we can all eat together before the food turns cold. What probably would have been a moment that I lost my temper with my child in public became a learning experience for the both of us.
I would like to say that I have a perfect track record with handling situations like this but that would be a bold-faced lie. However, I have been taught over the years a few skills that help deflate these types of situations.
Keep your cool
Whether you like it or not, your kids are constantly watching you and learning from you. When you become frustrated or angry and handle it poorly your child is imprinting those same poor coping skills into their behaviors. It’s perfectly fine to tell your child “I am frustrated right now, please play with toys and give me a few minutes to calm down.” By sharing your emotions and how you are handling them you are directly modeling for your child what they should do when they are feeling these emotions for themselves.
Parenting can be very frustrating and it’s difficult to keep your emotions in check. It’s important when you do lose your temper in front of your child that you talk to them about it and explain to them what you should have done differently. This will show them that you recognize you aren’t perfect (they already know this, shocker) and that you are working on being better.
Teach them to be responsible for their behaviors
My son often gets frustrated or angry over little things because he is a perfectionist. When he starts whining or getting angry I often tell him to think about the problem, try to solve it if he can, and ask for help if he needs it. I find that most of the time he can work it out himself with little interference from me.
Make sure they know that it’s okay to feel angry
Anger and frustration are perfectly normal feelings to have. Anger can help motivate us to stand up for ourselves or protect others; however, this powerful emotion needs to be properly controlled. Teach your child that it is okay that they feel this way, that it is not wrong to feel angry but also teach them appropriate ways to express these emotions.
Get down on their level
Imagine someone that is two or three feet taller than you who got angry about something that you did wrong. This person is red in the face and starts shouting at you. This would be very intimidating and would probably make you feel concerned about your personal safety. This is exactly how a child feels when you tower over them, shout, and express your anger. Take a deep breath or go for a walk if you need to in order to calm down. When you are ready to speak to your child, get down on their level so that there isn’t so much distance between you and calmly talk together about the situation and what steps need to be taken in order to resolve it.
Too often as a child I felt like I was in trouble because I was angry. It wasn’t until I was in high school, maybe even college that I realized it wasn’t feeling angry that was the problem; it was the way that I handled the situation. It is so important to help children, even from a very young age, to understand these emotions and how to appropriately manage them.