How to deal with your kids....
September 23, 2008 3:30 AM   Subscribe

I believe being a "good parent" is being patient yet firm when dealing with your kids (idealing never showing temper or losing it- my partner thinks it's normal and healthy to show anger at what he feels is inappropriate behavior. Any one know of studies (or how to find such studies) that research that topic? The focus is babies and toddlers.

(added info: I have been reading about how colicky/fussy babies are MORE influenced by good/bad parenting and how easier kids are kind of prewired and you'll get what you get whether you are a great or not-so-great parent. With my "difficult" colicky kid I feel a bit more pressure)
posted by beccaj to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know any studies, but I highly recommend the work of William Sears, MD and Ross Campbell, MD. From my own experience (I'm a father with four children ranging 0 to 12 years old), children will grow up to model the behavior which they experience. They will grow up to mirror your emotional habits. If you want a kid that "loses it", then "lose it" with your kid. I think that firm, yet patient is the way to go. You can discipline--have real consequence for crossing clear boundaries--w/o losing it. Let the consequence do the work, instead of straining your relationship with your child. Of course, we parents are human and we sometimes lose it anyway. The important thing, then, is to apologize so you child knows that you hold yourself to the same standard of behavior as you hold him...and like him you fail now and then. Also "pick your battles" is a good phrase to remember. Reserve your anger for huge infractions should they come up. If you get angry over the day to day stuff, then your anger over the big stuff will not be effective. Another thing I try to remember is, "Will this matter in 20 years?" Good luck!
posted by keith0718 at 4:19 AM on September 23, 2008

Your idea of a good parent is indeed an ideal. If you don't freak out at babies' and toddlers' behavior, more power to you. But many people, including your partner, have stronger reactions to smashed lamps, cranberry juice on the walls, and so forth. Nothing you can do about that. People are people.

If the angry parent tries to suppress the anger, it won't fool anyone. The child might be even more afraid of that oddly quiet parent with the furious face and body language. Think Jack Nicholson.

I'd suggest that it's healthier for all if the parent who freaks out not try to suppress the feelings, because that would not be genuine and would not help in the long run; but instead just try to tone them down a bit, try to get over them a bit sooner, and try to learn coping strategies such as leaving the room when necessary.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:20 AM on September 23, 2008

Seconding Keith: with effective behavioral training (of the child), your partner will eventually have less anger. And apologize early, and often.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:22 AM on September 23, 2008

I think the key is consistency. Children are very resilient and can deal with an angry parent, especially if they have done something clearly wrong. What they can't deal with so well is mixed, confusing responses, like an adult flying off the handle for something minor.

Personally, I fell completely impassive responses to bad behaviour on the part of the child aren't all that great a preparation for real life, where they are more than likely to encounter angry responses (sometimes unreasonable ones) from teachers, peers and eventually in the workplace.

However, at home, it's a (relatively) controlled environment, where you can offer consistent and constructive responses. If they can be sure that when their parent is genuinely angry with them they'll a) know about it and b) it will be because they have done something properly wrong, then they'll develop a healthy relationship with the concept of good and bad behaviour, and will end up as the kind of kids who dread disappointing their parents rather than knowing that acting up will get them attention, negative or not.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:45 AM on September 23, 2008

Distinction between appropriate anger and out of control rage - one is ok when a point need be made with stress on the child's personal safety - i.e. good attention getter when well placed - and guidelines met (no physical or emotional harm done).

Rage is not appropriate - and is symptomatic of unresolved issues of the parent (once a child who never got needs met) and has no place in disciplining, guiding or parenting a child and has inflicted more harm to more children than all the wars and acts of terror throughout the ages combined. Bottom line - anger ok - rage not. Got rage? Get help.
posted by watercarrier at 5:03 AM on September 23, 2008

This is a good book btw and can help guide parents along the way of non-violent parenting.
posted by watercarrier at 5:05 AM on September 23, 2008

Best answer: They will grow up to mirror your emotional habits. If you want a kid that "loses it", then "lose it" with your kid. I think that firm, yet patient is the way to go. You can discipline--have real consequence for crossing clear boundaries--w/o losing it.

I think we have to be careful here. beccaj did not say her partner "loses it/freaks out" - I think there's a perfectly good place for showing anger in a healthy way that does not include that far end of the spectrum ("freaking out"). I'll second JimN2TAW - kids can tell when you're angry, even when you try to hide it, and it's really unnerving.

If beccaj expands on what her partner means by "showing anger," we can get a better idea if the crux is how the anger is being expressed.

Helping Young Children Deal with Anger is an example of a mental health article that touches on the relationship between adult anger and children (although it focuses on how to help kids handle anger). These suggestions are for teachers, but equally applicable to parents. I'll quote just a few here:
Create a Safe Emotional Climate. A healthy early childhood setting permits children to acknowledge all feelings, pleasant and unpleasant, and does not shame anger. Healthy classroom systems have clear, firm, and flexible boundaries.

Model Responsible Anger Management. Children have an impaired ability to understand emotion when adults show a lot of anger (Denham, Zoller, & Couchoud, 1994). Adults who are most effective in helping children manage anger model responsible management by acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for their own angry feelings and by expressing anger in direct and nonaggressive ways.

Children guided toward responsible anger management are more likely to understand and manage angry feelings directly and non aggressively and to avoid the stress often accompanying poor anger management (Eisenberg et al., 1991). Teachers can take some of the bumps out of understanding and managing anger by adopting positive guidance strategies.
I've italicized my particular point, which I've seen repeated again and again - trying to deny or stifle anger is not managing your anger effectively. I'm not saying the OP is doing this - being able to maintain an even keel and express anger is important, but a goal of never showing anger is counter-productive, for both you and the kids. The key is how that anger is expressed - constructively rather than destructively - and there's a lot of literature out there on that in general.
posted by canine epigram at 5:24 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

As the father of two reasonably well-adjusted teenagers, I can tell you we went the firm and patient way with a surprising result. The kids had a sliding scale reaction. By that I mean when I would speak to them in a firm voice expressing my displeasure, they would say, "Dad was really yelling at me!" I would check with my wife to see if that was true and she would confirm that I was no more than firm and controlled. So it seems you can have the best of both worlds. You can be firm and controlled but your kids will interpret it as anger. Most important, they got the message I was trying to communicate. Isn't that what your husband really wants?
posted by lpsguy at 5:57 AM on September 23, 2008

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Longitudinal studies of the effects of various parenting styles on the eventual emotional resilience of the grown children. Whether it will be useful ammo for you depends on the circumstances in which your partner is showing anger. In any case, it's an excellent book. Much more empirical than most parenting books.
posted by Coventry at 6:08 AM on September 23, 2008

You're both right, except that you can't really avoid showing temper, and he can surely work out nonviolent ways to show his anger. As others have said, the kids work it out anyway. What you can do is be explicit about the fact that you are angry, what's made you angry, and what you'd like to see done about it. You can do this without violence, including verbal violence.

It's not OK to lose the plot and scream at little kids.
posted by flabdablet at 6:15 AM on September 23, 2008

I skimmed through this because I am at work so I am sorry if the same has been said already.

I don't think you should hide your emotions from your children too much because the child learns from them. If she does something that disappoints you then you should show you are disappointed, it will be in your eyes, tone of voice and facial expressions to name a few of the cues the child will pick up on.

If you were just stone-faced and did not show emotion the child would find it harder to understand, even if you was to tell the child you are upset, if you don't look like you are then the child will find it confusing.

I do however think you must also show restraint, and be controlled and consistent. Sometimes your temper will be quicker to go than other times and it will be more to do with how tired you are or what a crappy day at work you had so as difficult as it is, you do need to have restraint and control yet do not hide your feelings.
posted by Samsixty at 6:32 AM on September 23, 2008

Your idea of a good parent is indeed an ideal. If you don't freak out at babies' and toddlers' behavior, more power to you. But many people, including your partner, have stronger reactions to smashed lamps, cranberry juice on the walls, and so forth. Nothing you can do about that. People are people.

Yes, but isn't it a bit more complicated than that? My "angry" reaction is not (always) because I am actually angry or have "lost it", but because I want to get my point across that hitting little brother is NOT OK.

Oddly enough, logic and reason sometimes fail to make an impression on my 2 year old.
posted by three blind mice at 6:36 AM on September 23, 2008

I can only add a personal data point. My dad is the mildest most patient man in the world, and a child psychologist to boot. Mom is the archetypal loving angel. They raised me with patience and temperance and were very reasonable and fair. They almost never displayed real anger, as in, that loss of control that makes the situation become about them instead of about me and whatever I had done. But I was a volatile little pill anyway from day 1. I would not be contained. I would "lose it" and have had to work very hard to overcome that in young adult and adult life. It's most definitely just the way I'm wired, despite my parents best efforts and the admirable example they set for my whole upbringing. That probably blunted my natural wiring somewhat, and provides useful hindsight perspective for me, but I popped out like this and it's who I am.

That doesn't mean you should just give up and shout though. You control their world and you're bigger than them, looming way over them, and kids will have enough trauma in childhood already without getting it from the person who loves them more than anyone (though admittedly trauma burns lessons in very effectively). So I think your plan is a good one. It certainly can't hurt to always provide a good example of keeping a cool head and dealing with problems calmly and consistently, even if decisively. And there's a sliding scale from displeasure to real anger, so it's not like you have to keep a completely neutral face and tone. I theorize that children might develop a better appreciation for the rules of life if they see consistently see that it's rules and consequences that should and do govern life and our behavior, not whether or not we happen to make someone angry. I am a random internet commenter with no child psych qualifications, fyi.
posted by Askr at 6:45 AM on September 23, 2008

Sounds like you and your husband my be able to agree on authoritative parenting, which research has shown it to be very effective. I've never heard an advocate say that appropriate anger was harmful, but instead the focus should be expressing the anger in terms of problem solving. For example, child spills milk. You are allowed to express anger, but the anger should be directed towards problem-solving: "You spilled this milk, and you should have asked me for help, but now we've got to clean this up. You won't be in as much trouble if you'll go get some towels..." etc. Your husband may not be making the wisest decision when he expresses inappropriate anger, but both you and your husband should be learning to focus appropriate, the-kid-really-did-something-wrong anger into something constructive that doesn't force you to bottle things up.

I've been around some parents who never express anger and their near-adult children, and the kids definitely have some weird interactions with others. A main problem is their dissolution into tears after their first real harsh criticism (read, Freshman comp). Having been privy to arguments between these groups, the parents can be unnaturally passive and hard to deal as well.

The wikipedia reference links are a decent start for finding research (on the topic that I've changed this into, sorry), and a google search of the term will bring up a lot.
Here's some quick abstracts to get you started:

Authoritative Parenting and Adolescent Adjustment across Varied Ecological Niches.

The Authoritative Parenting Index: Predicting Health Risk Behaviors Among Children and Adolescents

ERIC should be a good source for you, if you're not familiar with research databases.
posted by Benjy at 6:52 AM on September 23, 2008

Wait, your kid is currently colicky? As in, an infant? There's a pretty big difference between "inappropriate behavior" and colic, and the real problem might be difficulty setting appropriate expectations of what very small children are capable of. A colicky infant is not behaving inappropriately, and s/he is not at all capable of regulating that behavior. Is your partner aware of this?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:55 AM on September 23, 2008

Point of information! Do you want scientific studies, or do you want to discuss parenting and anger in general? This thread is becoming anecdoty real fast.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:04 AM on September 23, 2008

Response by poster: I appreciate anecdotes but am hoping for real studies or techniques based on studies.

And I understand- the "I am upset because you did A" technique and agree but I dont know how effective with babies and toddlers.
posted by beccaj at 9:47 AM on September 23, 2008

Response by poster: Oh-- and he was colicky- now 11 months old and prone to mini melt downs when not getting what he wants..
"I'm sorry you are upset, maybe you'd like this instead " but try to never give him what he is freaking about WHILE he is freaking about it.
posted by beccaj at 9:50 AM on September 23, 2008

I recommend Alfie Kohn's book: Unconditional Parenting
posted by saxamo at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2008

Well, at that age it's best to remain calm. Babies ping off adult upsets. They aren't old enough to realize what the anger is about, and their own infant anger frightens them-they need the parent to be calm so they can realize they are really okay.
posted by konolia at 11:36 AM on September 23, 2008

Best answer: I'd suggest chapter 8 of Becoming The Parent You Want to Be, which specifically addresses the issue of parental anger. There's a sidebar entitled 'Expressing Anger with Children: A Developmental Look' which discusses how children at various ages might experience expressions of anger which would probably be particularly useful for you and your husband (and the wee one!).
posted by toodles at 8:46 PM on September 23, 2008

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