When children lash out in anger after not getting their way, parents typically respond with a stern reprimand and treat their child’s outburst as “wrong” or negative. Or, a parent might succumb to his child’s bad behavior by letting her do as she pleases. According to Dr. Fran Walfish, the leading Beverly Hills child and family psychotherapist whose caring approach and innovative strategies have placed her at the forefront of her profession, “Most children lose their connection to their parents during episodes of anger. This breakdown causes children to keep secrets and hide things from their parents, ultimately creating pathways to later issues including lying, drug and alcohol use, and more.”
Dr. Fran’s Parenting in 3-D methodology, which has been a transformative force in the lives of parents for the better part of two decades, provides a powerful solution for dealing with your child’s anger in a way that builds self-esteem and creates a healthy expression of all emotions at an early age.
“When parents can acknowledge, invite, and openly validate angry feelings, their child becomes calm and feels accepted,” Dr. Fran adds. “This acceptance is what builds the child’s evolving self-esteem and is a prerequisite for all good relationships with peers, teachers, employers, spouses, and you, their parents.”
Next time your child lashes out in anger, Dr. Fran strongly urges putting into practice her Parenting in 3-D formula:
Discard the DEFENSIVE. Every parent wants to be both loved and liked by their child. Parents should understand that your child will sometimes be mad at you or reject you altogether (especially when you are asking them to stop a behavior or do something they would rather not do).This behavior is a necessary part of claiming themselves as a separate being with individual wants and wishes. Don’t undermine the boundaries you attempt to create by being defensive or giving in. Instead, take a deep breath (or two) and think before speaking.
DEMONSTRATE empathy with words. In the midst of a tantrum or other exaggerated behavior, many parents refuse to accept the episode, and ignore it by stepping away until the child is ready to behave. As a result, your child may think his/her feelings are not accepted. Instead, acknowledge to your child that you understand he is disappointed and upset, and narrate verbally what your child is feeling. Say with warmth and sincerity, “I see you are angry with me, and I’m the kind of mom who really wants to hear about it right to my face. Tell me about how mad you are at me.” Also address your child’s response with empathy. For instance, with a three-year-old, you might say, “Mommy sees you are disappointed. You want more play time and now it’s bath time. You got angry at Mommy. It’s hard to stop when you want more.” Being a container for your child’s anger will help him/her view you as a person that they can confide in. It also establishes your place as a stable figure, one who will not attack, run or collapse when the going gets rough. This is very important to convey to your child as she grows and faces larger issues.
DIRECTIVE-DISCIPLINE with boundaries. Talking through a situation allows your child to feel heard. However, once he understands that you acknowledge and accept his displeasure, set the boundary and follow-through by taking action and “directing” (i.e. moving your child toward his responsibility, or your command). In this case, simply walk him into the bathroom and help him into the tub. Do not over-indulge him with gadgets and gifts to compensate for his struggles.
According to Dr. Fran, being a good parent requires two things to happen together: loving/nurturing your child, and at the same time, setting/holding boundaries. To love your child is only half the job; children need firm boundaries, too.
About the Author
A frequent guest on top-tier TV programs, including NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and KABC-TV in Los Angeles, and often appearing in major national publications such as Parents Magazine, Family Circle and Woman’s Day, Dr. Fran continues to lead the field with her expert insights and innovative strategies for parents, children and couples.
Her book, The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child from Palgrave Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, launched December 7, 2010. Feel free to visit her on the Web at www.DrFranWalfish.com.