News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.   Help, There's a Monster in My House!

     It is not hiding in one of our closets or under the bed. It is real and living among my family. For some reason, it seems to rear its ferocious self most when my children start bickering with each other, when they won't get ready for bed without endlessly arguing their need to stay up late, and when they complain for the fourth night in a row about the "disgusting" dinner I just made and why we can't order pizza instead.

    I admit it. That sometimes unrecognizable, angry monster happens to be me. I have come to realize that during the course of any given day or week, my children will inevitably say, do or not do something that just sets me off. I think of it as the Jekyll and Hyde of parenting. Most parents probably experience this strange metamorphosis themselves.

    Some days we feel so in control and are able to handle the many challenges our children will present us and other days... well, let's just say we are not so in control. And that is when the monster steps in to take our place. We find ourselves getting angry with our children, sometimes over the littlest of things, and then feeling guilty about our words and actions afterwards. It always seems surprising because we tend to start off the day being the most rational and calm of people, thinking we should be able to handle most anything, only to find ouselves being transformed into some unknown monster who has taken control of our sanity. What is happening here and how can we get rid of this monster?

   According to Nancy Samalin in her book, Love and Anger - The Parental Dilemma, there is a misbelief out there that most parents don't yell, get mad or seethe with resentment. The reality is everyone gets angry to some degree or another; even the most loving, caring parents lose it sometimes. It almost seems to come with the territory of parenting: the long days (and nights), the seemingly constant demands from our children and all that bickering (which I know is really normal and sometimes healthy)! So what is a parent on the verge of being consumed by the anger monster to do?

   In Your Child's Self-Esteem, Dorothy Corkille Briggs suggests that our first step in managing our anger is to learn to accept our feelings as normal. One thing we can do is to learn to establish more realistic goals for handling our anger. For example, we can learn to not look at anger as a bad thing that we should be trying to get rid of, but as a normal part of life, an emotion we can learn to tame and express in ways that do not hurt, insult, demean, or inspire revenge in our children.

   The next thing we can do is to look at where our anger is coming from. Often our anger is a cover for some underlying issue or emotion. For example, a young child runs out into the street. A parent's natural reaction is to get angry and yell at the child for what he or she did. But what really may have been going on underneath that parent's anger was fear that the child may have been hit by a car. It is very common for parents to mask their primary feelings with anger. Unfortunately, our children often become easy targets for that secondary emotion of anger. So the next time the angry monster shows up, it may be less scary to both you and your child if you were to take a step back, uncover what the underlying issues are and then share those feelings with your child.

   Expressing anger in constructive and healthy ways can sometimes be one of the most challenging tasks parents have to deal with, especially given the nature of children. It helps to sometimes plan ahead by thinking how you might respond the next time you find yourself transforming. Having a few options or alternatives available can help you to stay focused and thinking during an angry encounter. The following list of tips can be useful in helping us to keep our angry monsters in check.

      · Take time for yourself. This is really important because when our needs are met we are then in a much better position to meet the needs of our children. We may then find ourselves not getting so easily drawn into arguments.

      · Pick and choose your battles.Decide which rules and issues are really important and focus on the essential.

      · Take a time out for yourself. You are much better off walking away from a situation to calm yourself down than you would be jumping in and saying or doing something that you may later regret. Take the time to think clearly about how you can respond in a constructive way and not a destructive one. A few moments may be all you need.

      · Send "I" messages when you are angry. Focus on how you are feeling and not on attacking your children. "I get really angry when it is time to do homework and you are still watching TV!"

       · Avoid physical force and threats. Both hurt and damage a child's self-esteem and leave us feeling not so great either.

      · Restore good feelings. It is inevitable that the monster is going to show up sometimes but that doesn't mean it is the end of the world. We still have the option of apologizing and talking about how we can handle the situation next time in a healthier way.

       · Go easy on yourself. Parenting really is tough and it wouldn't be fair to ourselves or our families if our expectations were unrealistic.

   Learning to express anger in healthy ways is a gift we can give our families. And the double benefit is that as we learn to keep our own angry monsters under control, we are also modeling and teaching our children to do the same for themselves when they feel angry.

By Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator

Oct. 2000
Volume 3/Issue 2

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586


Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.



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