How to Deal with an Angry Child

Q. What is an appropriate response to a child who hits you or pushes you out of anger and he is 11?  When the anger escalates, and you tell him it’s not ok and he still does it? It’s a slippery slope. This same child has also been extremely violent to his brother and knocked his head against the wall. He’s improved a lot over the years, but sometimes this violent behavior still rears its head, and I don’t know what to do except to scream stop. What is an appropriate response?

A. If you are telling your son that his anger and hitting is not ok and he keeps it up, it means he needs you to address something that he has no idea how to articulate. This is what makes parenting the hardest job on the planet. At this point you are reacting to his behavior alone, the tip of the iceberg, what you see on the surface. But the emotional state that is provoking that anger is what needs addressing, and that can be a long gradual process depending on how long this has been going on and how deep his pain.

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Is it really all about me?

As much as I talk about the importance of taking care of yourself, of filling up your cup so you can fill your children’s, we put ourselves at the bottom of our to-do list—if we make it to the list at all. There’s always too much to do.

I received this email from a woman who has been there and done just that—taken care of herself—after realizing the importance of it. She said it so well that I had to share her words with all of you. Please take heed and let her words give you a kick where you need it. Start re-prioritizing now.

I recently listened to your podcast Tell Me About Your Kids. One episode struck a chord within me because I was that mother to my oldest son when he was 3-7. I had unrealistic expectations, preconceived notions about “normal behaviour”, compared him to his peers, felt ashamed and guilty that our parenting must have “caused this”, felt hopeless and yelled a lot… not knowing what to do and feeling like I was doing it all wrong.

At the same time, I began an endless pursuit of solutions which took me down a path to discovery. First, I focused on learning about childhood behaviours through materials on ADHD, strong-willed children, etc. Next, I delved into connected and conscious parenting which seemed to take the onus off the child and onto the connection with the parent. Finally, I came to the place where I realized it was about me and my connection with myself first. I had to take responsibility for the energy I brought to my home and transform my reactions to responses, including being mindful of how my husband and I communicated when upset.

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Parenting in Public

Q. I have a very strong-willed, acting out 8-year-old boy. I only recently read and started implementing your 8 principles book and watched your YouTube videos and am trying to implement your “connective parenting” approach which has already been very helpful. But I have struggled with this for so long, and I have a hard time handling friends, family, anyone in public not getting what I am doing. I get lookers, judgments, and even comments of how “bad” he is. They tell me how he needs a smack or more punishment, that he’s disrespectful, etc. I am trying to find confidence in my parenting, but this is a real brick wall. Do you smile politely and say, “My son is having a hard time”? Do you tell them to mind their own business and that you are working on it! Do you just ignore them? It makes me want to wear a t-shirt that states, “I am doing the best I can and so is my son”.

A. I love the tee-shirt idea! You’ll need several so you don’t run out. I would suggest selling them on Etsy. You could make a killing! 90% of American parents would buy them. Congratulations on your new journey to raising a happier, healthier son—and you a happier, healthier mom.

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The Blame Game

Ever worry that your kids don’t take responsibility for themselves, always get defensive when criticized and blame somebody else? How many adults do you know like that? Blaming something or someone else when we are angry, criticized, or thwarted is as natural to humans as laughing or crying. But is it inherent in our nature or is it learned behavior? What I do know is that we can raise respectful and responsible children without it.

Children learn to play the blame game at very young ages. It starts with running off, blocking ears when they know they did something wrong. Then “I didn’t do it, he did” until connection and trust gets lost somewhere along the way and your tween and teen ends up barricaded in his room on a device where he doesn’t get blamed or punished for anything.

Exhausted, stressed parents feel under attack from even their smallest resistant child. So, blame and punishment begins. We want others to suffer when we suffer. It’s called retaliation. If I’m exhausted at the end of the day, my kids might hear, “Stop it, you’re giving me a headache” or “Leave me alone” or an angry, “Stop whining.” This is blaming your child for what is your problem. We do it easily because we learned it well. To take responsibility for ourselves—our own behavior and emotions—is hard. Just a tone of voice can send blame showering over a child and fill him with tension and resistance. He has no option but to get defensive.

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10 Ways to Deal with Fear and Anger

Q. I just completed chapter 7, Don’t Take It Personally, in your Buttons book. Holy cow, that is my life right now! Things have been tough on-and-off for the last 4 years, but with being stuck at home, resistance to distance learning, working as a single mom, and feeling isolated with no break from each other, I have hit an all-time low in my parenting. My son is off the charts angry (hitting me and swearing at me non-stop), disruptive, destructive, and disrespectful. I’m exhausted and handling all of it terribly. As I listen to your book, I’m seeing how my controlling-mom agenda and my own anger issues (never allowed when I was growing up) mean I just give in to stop the anger—both causing our relationship to spiral.

A. These are hard times. The only consolation is knowing you’re not alone. Many families have more resources and a two-parent household with help from family or tutors. But many are in your boat. I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself and your kids a break from the old norm. It’s essential to think of this time as an isolated, unprecedented, inherently stressful time that neither you or anyone else can control.

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It’s a Strange New School World… Still

Another school year has begun. But this one is unlike any other. All the emotions that come up for you and your children at this time of year are exaggerated and exacerbated by Covid. Nothing is normal, nothing is predictable. But school is school however it is conducted so I offer some thoughts.

Whether your child is excited about school starting or dreads it—either in class or remote or both—may have a lot to do with the support system. We want our children to take responsibility for their education, but we usurp that responsibility when we tell them how it should be done—when we adults take control of their education and learning process. We fear that children don’t care about their education, so we direct instead of support. Our children need us to learn how they learn best, to set up the support system they need to do their best, and then trust that they will find their way.

It is the rare child who likes to do homework and is self-motivated enough to set up the time for it without procrastinating and grumbling at the very least. If your child is self-motivated, defer to his lead on when, where, and how much homework is done. Stay involved with what he is studying, oversee, ask questions, etc. Then count your blessings, step back, and allow him to navigate his own way.

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When You Think Your Teen May Be Depressed

Q. My concern is that my teenage son who has been struggling with remote learning and isolation, is of a generation that grew up having to be worried about school shootings, climate, higher levels of political divide, protests and rioting, and now a pandemic. I’m wondering if I should have an in-depth conversation with him about anxiety and depression in relation to the fact that he has grown up with these things and therefore is at greater risk. On the other hand, am I sending him the message that you should be anxious because you’ve grown up with these things? His symptoms are not what I would consider to be serious, but I’d like to prevent them from becoming serious. I’d appreciate any feedback or suggestions. 

A. Your question about sending him the message that perhaps he should be anxious because of these world events is a perceptive one. Yes, he has so much to contend with in his young life, but I do believe that every generation has its worries. I grew up with the threat of nuclear bombs and the Vietnam War with its protests and rioting. Previous generations feared polio and lived through WW2 and the Great Depression. When it is in our backyard, it feels so great. Be aware of the stresses these events are causing you and understand the reality may be quite different for your son. Many teens are self-absorbed and get more depressed about how many likes they are getting on Instagram than what is happening with the climate. That is not to say that many do feel an enormous burden of where their futures are headed in a most precarious world.

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Turn Your Stress into Positive Modeling

Seriously, has parenting ever been more stressful than it has been the past 5 months? And it continues as many of you are stressed over continued remote learning, whether to send your kids back to school or not (if you even have a choice), worry that your children are falling behind, frustration over no uninterrupted time to do your work, and fear that you are failing as a parent from overwhelm.

I often talk about the importance of Being instead of Doing. Your children want you—but not the nagging, yelling, telling them what to do you. They want to simply be with you. It may look like they demand everything and act out just “to get your attention”. But these are the ways a young child knows how to ask for you.

Being Time is more important than ever these days. Yeah, I know, you don’t have time nor one more ounce of energy for it. Frankly you probably just want to stuff your kids in a closet for a couple hours/days while you chill. But I’m not suggesting that you do more. I’m suggesting that you be more. Being time means being more true to yourself which can actually fill you up and help you feel less stressed.

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Change Your Beliefs; Change Your Experience

The beliefs we each hold can sustain us, move us forward, and hold us. They can also sabotage our desires and drive our lives in a direction we either don’t want to go or, more likely, are too afraid to change. But the good news is we can tackle those beliefs and change them—or at least change the way we experience them.

For instance, I have always (or since high school anyway) believed that I was not very smart. That belief limited my thinking about what was possible for me in my life. Then I realized my belief got planted after a high school history teacher told me I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but I did know it was a derogatory remark about my intelligence. I have never forgotten that moment. Who knows where she was coming from? Maybe she was having a bad day, maybe she really didn’t think I had a good perspective on history. Who cares!! What matters is that I let that moment in time influence how I saw myself—until I realized the silliness of it.

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