This year has brought us all to our personal edges. I’m guessing you are exhausted and done with it. You want your kids back in school with a schedule you can count on, and you want your life back to normal. You’re also probably juggling guilt about not being a good enough parent during these times and fear that your children are glued to screens and falling behind in school.
Q. My son will make a negative statement about anything and then immediately follow it by a more extreme version, e.g. “I want to die…I have wanted to die since I was born!” OR “No, I don’t know that you love me…I have NEVER known that you love me.” I don’t know how to react to these statements – they take me by surprise. Is it just his way of expressing the magnitude of his feelings?
A. Yes—and his words are also telling you that you are not listening to him.
Do you yell more often than you like?
Does yelling fall short of getting the result you want?
Do you find yourself yelling when you don’t realize you’re doing it?
Do your kids say you yell all the time?
Is yelling easier than stay calm?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be addicted to yelling. We can get addicted to patterns of behavior, especially when we experienced those patterns growing up. And what’s scary is that, like addictions, we often don’t realize we’re yelling and will actually deny it when we are. But your kids hear it as yelling.
Q. My 6 yr. old son is worrying me to death. He seems to wake up in the morning with a wish to hurt as many things as he can – including me and sister. He has even screamed at his grandparents. If anyone so much as looks at him funny or tells him to do anything, he starts to punch and yell. I have tried everything. Time outs and putting him is his room only seem to wind him up more. If I tell him he can’t watch a program unless he can stay calm for an hour, he screams at me. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m afraid I’m letting him get away with it because I don’t have the strength to fight him anymore. Help.
A. Let’s first think about what might be going on from your son’s point of view:
- Is he feeling angry because he thinks he is not being heard?
- Is he afraid that no one thinks the same things he thinks? Does he feel alone?
- Does he believe he is a bad child—someone the most important people in his life don’t want?
- Does he look at his sister with jealousy and think, she is the right one, she is the one my parents love most?
- Does he hear words coming back at him every day that hurt, belittle, and tell him he is not okay?
- Does he try and try to get a point across, only to be sent away, yelled at, ignored because no one can deal with his anger?
- Is he upset because he is not able to do what he could pre-covid?
- Is he feeling worse about himself because he can’t keep up with his class, can’t get the directions his teacher is trying to give, can’t be silly with his friends?
Before connection can be made, it is important to see the world as he might. That means getting out of your own head with your fears and expectations. You do not have to agree with him, just be able to see that, given who he is and what he experiences, he hurts, he feels angry, alone, misunderstood, powerless. This is true empathy, no “buts” about it. Only compassion will get you to connection.
With Covid stretching all of us thin, families are experiencing more emotional upheavals than ever—kids and parents, alike. The #1 step to managing anger and stress is to give yourself and your kids a break and keep it present—stop catastrophizing fears into the future—easier said than done. Covid adds enormous stress to an already stressful life. Don’t try to make life the same as before. You will only come out feeling like a failure—more stress.
When you see anger and physical aggression in your kids, it’s easy to panic and think there’s something wrong. You can also look at it differently and think, it’s wonderful that my kids feel safe to express their anger in our home. Did you? If not, then your child’s anger triggers a danger signal in your brain, which likely leads you into fight, flight or freeze mode. Helpful responses rarely follow.
Author, Rachel Simmons says we tend toward either a positive or negative “stress mindset”. With a positive mindset, you experience the fullness of your emotions and feel the stress, but you know you will get through it, you are not alone—there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and you can get there. A negative mindset takes you down. It tells you that once again you can’t do this, why bother, wouldn’t it just be easier to give up and give in. You feel overwhelmed, alone, and hopeless.
Q. I don’t know what to do anymore about screens. My 9 and 12 year olds are not only on screens all day for school but then they crave playing their games and it’s all I can do not to just give up. I hate the way they behave when they get off and we end up in some kind of fight or argument because their attitudes are snarky and rude. What can I do to get a handle on it?
A. It seems that across the board everyone is hitting a Covid wall. Everything that is normally a simple problem turns into huge emotional upheavals. We all want to escape and feel normal again. For most kids, their escape—Covid or no—is into the world of gaming and watching gaming.
Kids who feel some level of incompetence at school, athletics, and/or friendships find solace and mastery in the video game world. With Covid, kids are stuck at home with parents who are always telling them what to do. Especially when school is online, they are less engaged than ever and feel frustrated and bored. It doesn’t matter to them that they have been staring at a screen all day. It’s what they gain in the gaming world that we need to pay attention to.
For any parent who fears the teen years—and who doesn’t—I can tell you how to make sure your teens will steer clear of all the horrible things you imagine. I know what you’re saying.
Obviously, I can’t guarantee anything. But if you fulfill the 4 steps below, I would put my money on it.
Studies have shown that the #1 preventive factor for all those nightmare scenarios is connection. It’s not the only factor, but it is #1. If you focus on and succeed at staying connected to your kids, your family will be in the best shape possible to weather any storm—even if something tragic happens. Connection means your child trusts you and feels safe telling you anything without fear of reprimand. It doesn’t mean you will hear everything, but it’s what goes on inside their heads that should be your concern. Connection means trusting that accountability is held for all through working problems out together.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, founder of the Neufeld Institute and author of Hold Onto Your Kids, says that when your teen is faced with a tempting proposition by a peer, the first thing you hope he will think is, what would mom and dad say? not, what would my friends say? You may never hear about it, but the goal is for your child to weigh wisely the risks of the temptation and to be highly influenced by what he thinks you would say. So that leaves you with the daunting job of being highly influential.
Q. My almost 7 year old has started a habit of telling lies. We have talked about this several times. I have confronted him when he has told lies. He seems to understand. The hard part is that his Dad tells “white lies” and if he is confronted about things will find a way to put the fault on someone or something else. I have not confronted his Dad about this as he is an adult. It was not an issue when my son was small but now he knows when a lie is a lie. So what to do when he sees his Dad tell lies, and I confront my son about lying? I personally don’t lie.
A. Just because your husband is an adult is no reason not to talk about this with him. You do not have to blame or confront. Simply point out to him what you experience and tell him that you are concerned that his example may be giving your son the wrong message. I suggest starting off with something like, “I know we both want our son to be honest and upfront. Neither of us want him to lie or to be afraid to tell the truth for whatever reason. My concern is that when he hears something like…(an example of one of his white lies), he will interpret that with his 7 yr. old brain and think this is what he should do.”
‘Tis the season for gratitude and generosity—and for expecting it in our children especially at this time of year. The gimmies and the lengthy lists for Santa provoke fears of consumeristic, unappreciative, thoughtless kids. The daily dose of “I don’t want to…” after a simple request raises fear your kids will never show consideration or helpfulness without being brow-beaten into it. And we start to clutch.
Yes, life would be easier if your children did what you wanted when you wanted it, if they didn’t embarrass you in public, if their behavior always made you proud. But can you see that’s all about you? You really are self-centered when it comes to raising your children. When they behave like children, you freak out and yell, threaten and nag. That leaves your children feeling powerless, misunderstood, wrong, and afraid. Behavior gets worse—on both your parts. Soon you are dealing with the kids you most feared.
Aren’t we all self-absorbed, really? We all want what we want when we want it. The difference between us and children is maturity. Our prefrontal cortex tells us the consequences of being inconsiderate. If we want relationships, we need to consider what others want and make compromises so relationships can work.
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.