What words are you tempted to shout at your toddler who throws herself on the floor at Target screaming over and over “ I want a snack,” or your squirmy, wiggly 6 year old who knocks a full glass of chocolate milk over your stack of important documents, or your argumentative 9 year old who defiantly barks “you are so mean” when you refuse to give in to her demands?
When you ask your child to do a chore, or put away the iPad, to you frequently find the two of you colliding into a screaming match? And do you give in to demands at times simply to avoid this type of head-on collision with your defiant child?
In recent years the most common questions I am asked by parents, have to do with how to avoid getting angry and yelling at their children.These parents realize there must be a better way, yet they have no idea how to get there. Learning how to communicate is vitally important, and even more so in our digitally connected world that offers them instant connection with anyone else, 24 hours a day.
What causes so much eruption between parent and child today?
I believe there are several reasons, such as the strong tendency in this generation to micromanage children or to place them at the center of who controls the family, or the assumption parents exist to make their kids happy.
I recently have pondered an admittedly crazy reason as well. In recent years I see what feels like an increasing number of very, very strong willed kids, especially boys, who challenge their parents incessantly and have a personal sense of purpose so strong that parents find it very difficult to stop them from doing what they simply want to do. Is something bigger up with this generation of boys and girls than we can see with our temporal eyes? Has God perhaps gifted us a large group of very strong, driven, passionate children who will be called to carry out world changing purposes in their generation? While challenged by my own grandchildren who fall into this category, I am also very inspired by and hopeful for them.
But how do we communicate effectively with these strong willed challengers in ways that nurture a loving connection from our hearts to theirs?
As many of you already know, anger and intimidation don’t work. Our children need to see us as a safe place to turn to without fear of rejection, even when they are wildly out of control. Nor does a permissive approach with weak expectations in place serve them well. They need to trust that we have their best interests in mind and they innately know that giving in to them is not wise. Adolescents will often share with me, rather sheepishly, that they wish their parents would hold more firmly to strong expectations.
SO here are a few tips:
ONE: First, make yourself aware of those times when communication tends to crash.
What are the triggers? Do your children draw you into ugly power struggles over things you really can’t control? Or do you face bouts of screaming tantrums when your children don’t get their way? Some children resort to angry responses when they feel disapproved of or rejected. Others put up angry walls when deep inside they know they are wrong and can’t quite face it. Others grow angry when they fear failure in doing what they have been asked to do.
TWO: Don’t challenge your children when they are angry.
This will just make you feel more out of control. Instead, stay calm in the midst of the predicament. Pray for your child and for yourself. Challenging an angry child is like throwing gasoline on a fire.
THREE: Put yourself in “time-out” when you grow angry.
Tell your child that you need a break to calm down before you can talk with them. If you keep on engaging in the heated conflict, anger on both sides will grow. It’s best to admit that you are angry and need to cool down. Not only are you modeling how to be honest with your feelings, but you are also modeling a healthy means of managing your own anger. We need to get past thinking we have to control our kids in the midst of the struggle. Attempting to do so often winds up with everyone acting less self-controlled.
FOUR: Don’t hand out overly harsh consequences in the heat of the moment.
When faced with a tantrum throwing child, parents tend to try to gain control by saying things like “If you don’t stop throwing a fit, I am taking away TV for the rest of the weekend.” Then it becomes the rest of the week. Two weeks. A month. FOREVER. But to your growing frustration, as you pile on more and more consequences, your child’s response escalates. Endless punishments are ineffective, plus the child figures out that you will “come to your senses” and likely return what was taken away. Make your consequences about their behavior and not over getting angry. They get angry just like we do and some need a safe place to calm down. With younger kids, establish a place nearby where they can throw their fits. Let them know you are giving them time to calm down and that they are welcome to join you when they have. Establish the behavior you are willing to be around and welcome them back once the tantrum is over.
FIVE: Pay attention to your choice of words.
Turn your negatives into positives. “I would love to be with you when you calm down” is more effective than “I don’t want to be around you when you are yelling.” “Let’s get that math assignment done so that you have time to play before dinner” encourages cooperation more than “you are not going to have time to play if you don’t get your homework done.”
SIX: Pay attention to your body language….
…..which often speak louder to your children than your choice of words. Kids can forget what you say but your tone of voice and facial expressions leave a longer lasting impression.
SEVEN: Give your kids full attention by looking them in the eyes.
Did you know that people who maintain eye contact are perceived as more trustworthy, warm, caring, and interested? Eye to eye contact is a power means of growing connection. Expect your child to give you eye contact as well when you speak to them. We all listen better when we give full attention with our eyes.
EIGHT: Fortify a loving connection between your heart and theirs. Do this by regularly:
- communicating delight and gratitude in them as a gift from God
- communicating hope and vision in who they are becoming
- communicating safety, that they can share with you without fear of rejection, especially when they have made a mistake or failed
- communicating trust in their abilities to handle their lives and solve their problems
- communicating empathy and compassion when they are working their own issues
- communicating ongoing forgiveness
God calls us to communicate a love to our children that is tenderly tough.
This generation of children needs parents who know how to remain strong in gentle ways – in the same manner that Jesus shepherds us. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:11).
For more on building a loving connection between you and your child, read Free to Parent, which can be purchased at Amazon.