Some mysteries are not that deep. If a parent asks in a grizzly voice, “Why is my child always whining?” you don’t need a PhD in psychology to work out an answer. We train our children, first and foremost, with our example. This is certainly true when it comes to anger and aggression. If we respond to their aggro with our aggro, the aggro just aggregates. We shout, and they learn that shouting is the way to get attention. We use an angry threatening tone, and they add it to their bag of acceptable communication techniques.
But here is the thing – our kids learn from us so well that, one day, they will be better at us than us. We may be able to yell louder than them now, but give that kid a few more years and a dose of adolescent hormones and he or she will be much more even competition. Check with your neighbours how the competition is going – they will have very accurate information on the relative shouting-power of the different members of your family.
How do we want our kids to handle their anger? With self-control and even-toned, respectful words? Then that’s what they should hear from us. We need to drop our volume and speak calmly. By the way, if you are thinking, “Yes! My kids get more scared of my dramatic quiet voice than my shouty voice!” then you are not quite getting the point. Some kids learn that their parents get quiet and icy just before they really blow their stack. I am not talking about that scary, slightly tremulous, frozen-anger, type of quiet voice that makes you wonder if the speaker has a concealed weapon they are about to pull out. That is really just another form of angry aggression. The calm needs to be real.
Kids use anger against us and others (and sometimes themselves) because they have a frustrating problem or they’ve been given a fright. They have a surge of emotion but they don’t have the tools to figure it out. This is when we can be their coach. They look to us for cues and skills on handling the situation. “I get angry too, so sometimes I have to just wait a minute before I do anything.” Many kids can’t learn or think if they are worked up, so give them a minute to cool. “Step out of the room. When I call you I want you to be all finished with your screaming.” And if they are, compliment them on that. “Thank you for calming down” – you give them the message that they can control themselves. “Now, can you tell me what is going on?” Maybe you have to restate the rules and boundaries and a consequence. “You don’t hit or bite anyone. I think you can keep that rule but, if you can’t, we will have to leave the playground. Okay?” Learning to handle anger is not a quick process, but it can be learnt.