Many parents have expressed to me a desire to be more patient. They wonder how the other parents at the park seem to have it so “together” and I’m sure they never “lose it” when their child won’t get in the car seat. Other parents just seem to know “how to handle things like that” with more patience.
That’s when I kindly reassure them that they are nuts. We’re all a bit of a mess sometimes (or often). This parenting gig is rough. What might look like patience to you from a distance is often times lava-boiling, gut-churning, silent fury….being held at bay with every ounce of strength and self-control available at the moment.
True, there are some folks who are quicker to anger than others….and they earn that reactivity honestly…for many reasons. But it might be helpful for us to ask ourselves if our “patience” is actually patient…or if it’s silent anger being withheld and leaking out in other ways….
In Haim Ginott’s classic book, Between Parent and Child, he discusses what he calls “Congruent Communication.”
“Having been brought up not to show our true emotions, we are proudest when,
in the midst of the greatest turmoil, we show the least reaction. Some call it patience.
But what children need from their parents and appreciate is a congruent response.
They want to hear words that reflect their parents’ true feelings.”
He goes on to suggest that parents use “I feel” statements to express anger and frustration, and to not pretend they’re not angry. He suggests that parents should be honest, but should never “attack the child’s character or personality.”
“Jenny, what is WRONG with you?
Why can’t you listen? I’ve told you a hundred times not to hurt your brother.
You always make me so furious!”
“Jenny, I’m feeling very upset and frustrated.
I’ve talked to you many times about not hurting your brother,
and I’m feeling very sad and angry. I’m not sure what else to do or say that would help.”
(no character attack)
I would also add that it’s our responsibility to keep our expressions of anger and frustration at a level that feels safe and not scary for a child. Yelling, having threatening body posture, getting too close to the child while angry, and touching or holding them while angry are all too scary for a child. It doesn’t matter how great you shape your language and whether you use “I feel” statements if your body or voice is too aggressive.
It’s also our job to control the anger. The goal is to express the upset and anger, and then to breathe and move on. No child deserves to be ranted to. One honest expression is enough…then stop. This takes a lot of practice, but gets easier the more successes you have.
As you’ve heard me say before, children know. They know when we’re angry, they know when we’re sad, they know when we’re stressed….they’re very perceptive little creatures.
Even if they don’t understand it, they can feel it. And often times when a child can feel anger behind the curtain, they pick and poke and misbehave to bring the anger forward. They like to have all of the cards on the table. Even if it’s unpleasant, it’s better than feeling it there brewing beneath the surface, not knowing when it might erupt.
And like with a million other things in our parenting, this is fantastic modeling for children. They’ll learn that big feelings don’t have to be scary and out of control…and they are entitled to feel them, and express them…as long as it’s done respectfully.