June 11, 2014

You Can Get Angry Without Shaming

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of childhood verbal abuse and a video with mature language imbedded

I've written about expressions of anger and frustration before. Rather than qualifying emotions, I simply feel that all emotions need to be expressed and released. Sometimes they need to be shared and sometimes that is beneficial. I also believe, however, that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to express one's emotions. My basic belief is "if it harms no one, including yourself, it's probably appropriate."

 This means you can hit pillows when angry (since you probably won't hurt your own hands), you can throw ice cubes at the tiles around the bathtub and watch them explode. (Make more ice cubes for others after or buy a bag of ice specifically for this.) You can scream into a pillow. You can go for a run around the block. You can smash Play-Doh in your hands. You can call a friend. There are so many options to let emotions out.

As parents, we need to give our children options for releasing their emotions, rather than forcing them to keep them inside. We need to show them appropriate ways they can calm down and self-regulate. We need to set the example for how we want them to express themselves in healthy ways. This means as parents and the adult role-model in the situation, we need to watch our own anger issues. 

No one is expecting parents to never get angry. We deal with so many stresses all the time, little things can tip us over the edge. But as adults, we can behave better than children. We have the power to choose how we will react. In any situation, you can react with calmness and empathy for your child, or you can react with contempt, negativity and shaming.

For example, a child can accidentally spill their milk all over the table. In that split second as you see the milk spilling all over the table and the floor, you can say, "why did you do that? I told you to be careful! What's wrong with you? You're so clumsy!"

Or you can say, "oh dear, look at this accident! It's a mess and we'll have to clean it up together."

One teaches the child that there's something wrong with their character and they are inherently flawed. It may also teach the child that your love is conditional on perfect behaviour. The other teaches your child that mistakes happen and that they have to take responsibility for their actions (by cleaning up to the best of their ability) to correct the problem they caused. It makes no statement on their character or value as a person. It just means there is an effect to their actions on the world and they have an opportunity to fix problems as they arise. 

So when I saw this video on YouTube, I not only thought it was funny, but an example of a wonderful relationship between a father and son. One, the son felt safe enough with his father that he knew he could prank him like this. But also, listen to the choice of words the father uses to express his disappointment. He's able to express that disappointment without expressing judgement on his son's character or value. While he does use colourful words (you've been warned about his language), he still sticks to the facts of the problem - it is costly to retake the test and he fears if he has to go again that he will be failed again. At no point does he call his son a name (although he does suggest his son should have used his charm to "sweeten up" the testing agent).

Again, as a parent, you have a choice: react with love and compassion or react with hatred and contempt. How do you want your children to feel about you in the long run? How do you want your children to feel about themselves? Do you want a close relationship with your children or do you not care if you're alone in old age?
I'm not making up extremes. I know of what I speak. I was the kid who was called "stupid" and "idiot" for simple mistakes. What do you think that did to my self-esteem? What do you think my relationship with my mother is like now?

Take heart - if you are not reacting with love now, you still have time to change. You can still repair some damage. It means you will have to take responsibility for the mistakes you made. It means you will have to apologize to your child for all the times you messed up. It's not too late to try. You have a choice. 

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