Tag Archive for anger

Parenting Inuit Style

Did you know Inuit adults have an “extraordinary ability to control their anger”? I didn’t either; but anthropologist Jean Briggs spent years living with the Inuit people and reports that it is true. Inuit adults have an “extraordinary ability to control their anger.” That ability begins when parents teach their children to control their anger…and doing so in a rather unique manner. How do they do it? What’s so unique about the Inuit parenting style? An NPR article  entitled How Inuit Parents Teach Kids to Control Their Anger describes three parenting strategies used to raise adults with an “extraordinary ability to control their anger.” Perhaps we can learn some important lessons from Inuit parenting.

First, Inuit parents do not shout or yell at young children. When adults yell at their child, it escalates the parent’s heart rate and impedes the child’s ability to think and process. In effect, a yelling parent shows a child what an adult tantrum looks like and teaches them to use similar behavior in solving problems in the future. In addition, yelling demeans the person being yelled at, even if that person is a child. Instead of yelling, Inuit parents focus on modeling calm behavior and calm problem-solving. They work to discover what has upset their child and contributed to them exhibiting problematic behaviors. We can take several positive actions from this lesson: 1) Treat your child with respect, even when you must discipline, 2) look for the underlying cause of their negative behavior (Why Do Children Misbehave?), and 3) model positive ways to control your own anger in the process. (For tips on reducing yelling, read Rewire Your Brain & Stop Yelling.)

Second, Inuit parents also use stories to teach consequences of inappropriate behavior, desired behaviors, and the values underlying appropriate behaviors. Inuit parents often used imaginative stories to teach. In fact, children learn through stories. The story of Pinocchio can teach a child the danger of lying and following the crowd. The story about “the boy who cried wolf” teaches a child the importance of being honest about needs and not creating drama. A story like A Child’s Fish Tale can teach the importance of limits and listening to parents. Stories teach important lessons and we can use them to teach our children about the behaviors we desire, the consequences of inappropriate behavior, and the values undergirding both. These stories can be imaginative stories or “real life stories.” They can be stories you tell from your experience, stories you make up to emphasize a point, stories you read (find stories that help children overcome various struggles and teach important lessons, check out the blog at Books that Heal Kids), or stories you watch through various media streams. Keep an eye out for the lessons you can learn in the stories around you…and tell them to your children.

Third, perhaps the most interesting of the parenting strategies, Inuit parents re-enacted the negative behavior to show the negative results. You may not do this in the same manner as the Inuit parent (How Inuit Parents Teach Kids to Control Their Anger), but you can still utilize this strategy. You can re-enact the negative behavior and results with puppets, stuffed animals, dolls, or even yourself to show the real-life consequences of their behaviors. However you choose to do it, let the parent play the role of the recipient of the negative behavior and the child play the role of the misbehaving party. Throughout the process, ask your child questions to help them understand the consequences of their behavior. Begin by asking your child to act out the role of one engaging in the negative behavior. “Why don’t you pretend to do that to the puppet?” As they do, think out loud with questions and statements like, “That hurts.” “Don’t you like me?” “I’m going to cry because that makes me sad.” “Why are you being so mean?”  This is all done with a tone of playfulness until the misbehaving child becomes bored and stops repeating the drama.

Perhaps we can practice some of the Inuit people’s parenting style and raise a generation of children who have an extraordinary ability to manage their anger…and have some fun in the process.

Help, My Child is Always Angry!!

All children get angry.  It’s a part of life. In fact, anger can be good. For instance, our children’s anger can help us identify what they find important. After all, a person rarely gets angry about something they don’t care about. Anger also gives us the energy to address that priority. The trick is to not let the anger overwhelm us but to learn how to use the energy of our anger to address the priority in a positive and productive manner. With that in mind, we can address our children’s anger by exploring what priority lies underneath their anger. Here are a few to look for:

  • Feeling unheard. Children get angry when they feel “no one listens to me.” We may inadvertently contribute to this feeling if we have not learned to be observant of our children. For instance, if we do not observe the subtle cues of boredom, tiredness, hunger, or nervousness our children may escalate to anger. We did not “hear” their subtle behaviors telling us they needed a break so they broke out in anger to be heard. Learn to listen well. Listen to their words but also to their body language and actions. Listen with your ears and your eyes.
  • Being emotionally hurt. Hurt often lies underneath our children’s angry outbursts. Remember our children do not think like adults so what you may think of as a minor infraction might be perceived as a major betrayal in their eyes. For instance, I told my daughter we could get ice cream one night; but then I got called in to work for an emergency. She felt as though I had broken a promise, betrayed a trust. She was hurt. We needed to repair our relationship. Broken promises, teasing names, strained friendships, a teacher’s comment, and similar experiences can lead to hurt…which can be expressed in anger. Observe your children’s anger carefully to discover if there is a hurt underneath that anger.
  • Fear. Children often respond to fear with anger. Fear might arise in response to the unknown or the unpredictable. Perhaps you have experienced your children’s anger on the first day of school, as they prepare for the new and “unknown” of a new school and new teachers. Or, you may have noticed the increase in your children’s anger when routines get changed and life becomes unpredictable. Our children thrive in structure. They excel when they have a predictable routine letting them know what comes next. If that routine gets changed, be sure to keep your children informed. Doing so can cut back on angry outbursts. (For more on the benefits of routines, read The Discipline Tool You Can’t Live Without.)
  • Attention. Everyone likes to be noticed. Children especially need to know their parents notice them and delight in them. Sometimes, however, parents give their children all kinds of energetic attention when they misbehave and very little attention when they are behaving. We think, “Don’t upset the apple cart” when they behave and avoid interrupting as a result…which they interpret as receiving no attention. When they misbehave, we jump on the misbehavior to nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, we have given attention to the angry misbehavior and ignored the positive behavior. We have reinforced the angry misbehavior with attention and taught them the best way to get attention is with angry misbehavior. Once again, we must remain observant of our children. Verbally acknowledge their positive behaviors and address negative behavior in a calm, neutral voice. (Read Catch the Little Rascals Red-Handed for more on the impact of attention in discipline.)

I’m sure there are more reasons lying beneath our children’s anger; but these four give us a start. You can learn the specifics of what lies under your children’s anger through careful observation and loving interaction. As you observe your children, tell us what you find…it might help all of us deal better with our children’s anger!

“You’re the Worst Mom Ever:” A 3-Part Blessing

It’s bound to happen, inevitable, unavoidable. Sooner or later you will set an age appropriate, loving limit on your child’s behavior and he will get angry. He will become Sauer seinfurious with you and argue. As a good parent, you will stick to your guns; after all, you know the limit is for your child’s best interest. Suddenly your child will look you straight in the eye and say, “You’re the worst mom ever. You’re so mean. I hate you. I wish I lived somewhere else!” They may not use those exact words, but you’ll feel the sting. They may not even say the words out loud, but you’ll feel the laser cold stare they shoot at you. Really, it is unavoidable. It will happen. What’s more important than when it happens is how you respond!

Children need to know their parents are bigger and stronger than they are.  They need to know their parents can and will survive their anger and harsh impulsive words. When your children blurt out the “I hate you…You’re so mean” mantra, do not strike back.  Do not return anger for anger. Offer them a blessing instead, a blessing consisting of three parts.

  1. Acknowledge their anger and frustration. “I’m sorry this is so frustrating for you” or “I can tell this really makes you angry” are the kinds of statements that acknowledge and empathize with your children’s emotions. When you acknowledge your children’s emotions, you children will know you care enough to hear and understand them. You do not fear their emotions. Instead, you accept their emotions…and them.
  2. Confirm your continued love for them. You might simply say, “I still love you” or “I love you too much to let you (insert the behavior you’re limiting).” Your children learn that even when you stare into their face of anger you love them. Your love is unwavering, not conditioned on their emotions or behavior.
  3. Stick to you guns. Yes, the limit still stands. An age appropriate, loving limit does not disappear in the wash of your children’s anger. It remains intact because it is securely grounded in your loving desire for your children’s best interest.

Your children will learn several crucial lessons from this 3-part blessing. They will learn you love them. You are stronger than their anger. Their anger will not scare you away. And a loving limit remains, even in the face of anger. Give it a try…you might be surprised at the results.

H.A.L.T. Family Conflict

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April, 2014, showed one source of conflict and aggression in marriage: glucose levels. Specifically, the lower the level of glucose in a person’s blood, the higher the level of aggressive impulses and the more likely they were to “blast their spouse” with a more intense and prolonged irritating noise. In other words, hunger can contribute to greater conflict and possibly even aggression. Reading this study reminded me of an important principle of healthy marriages and overall family life: Do not argue when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (H.A.L.T.). Another way of stating this principle is: Eat healthy, resolve anger quickly, develop healthy friendships, and establish healthy sleep hygiene for a healthy marriage and happy family. Briefly consider each of these principles.

  • Eat healthy rather than going hungry and devouring one another with irritability and harsh words. The study cited above highlights the need to eat healthy. A healthy diet can decrease agitation and irritation. It improves a person’s ability to learn. It also offers a great opportunity for the family to come together and build family relationships. (For more on the benefits of a healthy diet read Mom Was Right Again and Project Mealtime: A Sacred Expression of Love.)
  • Resolve anger quickly so no bitterness takes root and chokes out your family relationships. Unresolved anger lingers and bursts out at the most inopportune moments, damaging relationships and hurting feelings. For the sake of your marriage and family, resolve anger quickly. (Read Finish Your Family Business for more.)
  • Develop healthy friendships rather than trying to micromanage the lives of your spouse and children. If we intrude into the lives of our spouse or children by making them live our dream or shape their lives around our emotional needs, they may rebel against us, our ideals, and our values. Each person needs to develop their individual lives so they have more to bring to the relationship. Each person needs to develop friendships that allow them the opportunity to grow, learn, and resolve. (Check out Get Your Own Life; Leave Me Alone! to learn the benefit of this for your teen.)
  • Establish healthy sleep hygiene or you will find yourself too tired to invest energy into establishing healthy relationships. Sleep supports the immune system, facilitates learning, and improves mood. We have all seen our children grumpy because they’re tired. We have likely experienced our own grumpiness when tired. So, build healthy sleep habits into the fabric of your family. The whole family will benefit. (Click to learn about Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and Prime Your Children for a Good School Day.)

H.A.L.T. family conflict. Eat a healthy diet. Resolve anger quickly. Develop friendships. Establish healthy sleep hygiene.

The Face of Anger in Your Family

Anger has many faces. The positive face of anger serves a beneficial purpose in our family and our life. It helps us identify and clarify our priorities. It communicates those priorities to our family members through facial expressions and words. Anger also injects us with energy to deal with any obstacles that frustrate our efforts to live by our chosen priorities and values. Unfortunately, the negative faces of anger use that energy but do clarify, communicate, or serve our priorities. In fact, these ineffective faces of anger prove counterproductive, and even detrimental, to our priorities and our family! Consider whether you wear any of these five ineffective faces of anger. Then, read the suggestions that follow to help you put on a more effective face of anger.
1.      The Passive-Aggressive Face of anger. This style of anger expression withholds praise, attention, and affection. The person wearing the passive-aggressive face of anger intentionally forgets to follow through with commitments and “promises.” They deny feeling angry while behaving in a way that will knowingly “get back at” and upset the other person.
 
2.      The Sarcastic Face of anger. This face of anger feigns humor; but, sarcasm has a cutting edge to it. It hurts. The person who uses sarcasm may reveal embarrassing information about the person with whom they are angry. Or, they may publicly humiliate the person with various sarcastic comments. The sarcastic face of anger carries a tone of voice that reveals disgust or disapproval.  If you are on the receiving end of sarcasm, you may feel hurt, embarrassed, confused, or even angry.
 
3.      The Cold Face of anger. The person who practices the cold face of anger simply withdraws from the other person when angry. They remove their affection, hold back intimacy, ignore attempts at interactions, and refuse to repair the relationship for a period of time. This cold face of anger also refuses to explain why they are upset. Instead, they punish the other person by shutting them out and avoiding interaction.  
 
4.      The Hostile Face of anger. The hostile face of anger reveals an inner intensity that boils over in a raised voiced and angry gestures. In general, people who wear the hostile face of anger appear more stressed out and impatient. They show visible signs of frustration and annoyance if others do not move fast enough or fail to meet their expectations for competence or performance.
 
5.      The Aggressive Face of anger. People who wear the aggressive face of anger raise their voice, becoming verbally loud and aggressive. They may curse, call the other person degrading names, and blame others for their behavior. They often have thoughts and mental images of anger that include hurting the other person somehow (even if they know this is wrong and do not engage in physically aggressive behavior). They may, however, act out their anger by hitting walls or breaking things around them. In some instances, they may resort to pushing, blocking, or hitting the other person.
 
As you can imagine, these faces of anger are damaging to personal relationships and family life in general. At the very least, they pound a wedge between people and result in hurt feelings. Ultimately, they destroy intimacy, devastate relationships, and crush people’s self-image. What can you think you wear one of the faces of anger described above? Here are 4 ideas to get you started.
     1.      First, admit that anger interferes with your relationships, destroys family intimacy, and hurts your spouse and children…the very people you love. Admit that the negative face of anger interferes with your goal to have family filled with joy, playfulness, security, and intimacy. The negative face of anger tears down the people in your family rather than building them up. In fact, the negative faces of anger have a long-term impact on each family member’s self-image, confidence, and future relationships.
 
     2.      Learn how you fuel your anger, how you contribute to its creation and escalate its negative expression. What thoughts race through your mind from the time you begin to feel just a little bit annoyed? What bodily sensations do you experience? How does your body tell you that you are beginning to get upset, annoyed, irritated, or angry? Write these thoughts and sensations down. Begin to be aware of these thoughts and sensations in your everyday interactions.  Being aware of your anger escalating thoughts and bodily sensation allows you to address them, calm them, and reduce them before you put on one of the angry faces described above.
 
     3.      When you begin to have the thoughts related to irritation or the bodily sensations of annoyance, take a long, deep, slow breath and look at your surroundings. Really, take a deep breath and notice what hangs on the walls in the room, what the other person is wearing, what you are wearing, and what expression the other person has on their face. Make a mental note of your surroundings while slowly release a deep breath. This will help calm the body sensations of anger, allowing you to think more clearly and respond more appropriately to the other person.
 
     4.      Talk…and listen. Listen for what the other person really wants to say. After you understand the other person, calmly explain your thoughts and priorities regarding the topic. This means becoming somewhat vulnerable, revealing yourself. Although this can prove difficult, it pulls people together. You will find that you grow closer with your family member this way, even in the midst of an irritating situation. 
 

These four brief steps begin the process of putting on a positive face of anger. A positive face of anger allows you to reveal yourself and build intimacy. If you struggle with anger in your family, I encourage you to read Taking Charge of Anger by W. Robert Nay, PhD. Dr. Nay describes the faces of anger in more detail and offers a comprehensive and effective method for learning to manage anger…an excellent investment in your family!