On finding her chocolate missing, Lakshmi instinctively knew what must have happened. In anger, she stomped towards her younger brother Hari, caught him by the hair and, slapped him hard.
Freeing himself from Lakshmi's clutches and screaming in pain, Hari ran to their mother Vimala and hid behind her. "Mama …He stole my chocolate. I won't let him get away with this," shouted Lakshmi.
Before Lakshmi could do further damage, Vimala caught her hand. She took a look at Hari's swollen cheek. Infuriated by the sight, Vimala thundered, "So what if he ate your chocolate. Are you going to kill him for that? Look how badly you have hurt him. Now, go to your room!"
Shocked, hurt and further angered by Vimala's response, Lakshmi retorted, "It's because of you that he picks on me. You always support him even if he is in the wrong." She then ran to her room sobbing.
What transpired between Vimala and Lakshmi is typical of how most parents deal with an angry child. Seldom do parents handle an angry child the right way. Upset and puzzled by their child's display of anger, most parents resort to severe measures like sternly admonishing or punishing their child. However, harsh steps neither have a positive effect on the child nor do they produce a positive result. Here are six things that you should never do to an angry child:
- Don't reason or discipline: Anger is a natural human emotion and a child's instinctive response to something that she finds provocative or troubling. Remind yourself of this fact when your child displays anger. Trying to reason with your child by asking questions like "Is this the way to behave?" or "Don't you have any respect for others?" only aggravates the problem. Give yourself and your child time to calm down. Then, try to understand what made her act the way she did. Soothing conversations like "I can see you are very upset. I think I understand why you felt angry. Would you like to talk about it now or later?" can help both you and your child connect, and begin the healing process.
- Don't ignore your child: Parents often feel hurt and offended by their child's angry outbursts and actions. Some resort to ignoring their child. This is sometimes intended to elicit an apology from the child and to make him realise that he was wrong. Remember, an angry child is not only coping with anger but also seeking your support and reassurance. So, don't ignore your child. Make peace with him.
- Don't stop listening: Perhaps, nothing can explain things better than this quote from Carl Rogers: "The truth about rage is that it only dissolves when it is really heard and understood, without reservation." When your child displays anger, don't jump to the conclusion that she is being disrespectful or trying to subvert your authority. Try to initiate a conversation and ask what is bothering her. Listen actively to what she has to say. Your approach should be such that it encourages your child to open up to you. If you feel that your child isn't forthcoming or is uncomfortable talking to you, ask her if she would like to speak to someone else, like a family friend or a relative. But, if your child says that she doesn't want to talk at all, don't feel alarmed and try to compel her to talk. This may make your child put a distance between you and her, or pretend that everything is okay.
- Don't denigrate your child: Children, even those who are very young, have a strong sense of self-respect. They resent being criticised or having tales of their bad behaviour told to others. Some parents have a habit of discussing their child's unacceptable behaviours with others. While some do it in the hope of finding a solution, others do it to shame their child. Don't discuss your child's bad behaviour with anyone else, especially in his presence.
- Don't go back in history: Once in a while, every child indulges in bad behaviour. Don't make it a habit to bring up past instances every time your child engages in offensive behaviour or displays anger. Children feel frustrated when their mistakes are recounted again and again.
- Don't punish: Some parents feel that along with shaming, abusing and scolding, it is also necessary to punish the child physically to make him behave better. Don't punish your child when he displays anger or after his defiant outburst. Remember, you and your child are mismatched in terms of knowledge, experience and physical strength. Physically punishing your child will change your relationship with him from a love-based one to a fear-based one. Also, punishment will not make your child realise that he is in the wrong or lead to him altering his behaviour.
One of the most important lessons you can teach your child is to not allow his anger to prevail over his better sense. To accomplish this, honour your child's feelings, and treat him with respect and love.
With inputs from Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.
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