The best advice I got about family relationships was this: Don’t talk when you are angry. It should go without saying then, that we should not engage in any type of conversation with our kids when they are angry. This is easier said then done, obviously.
There are some things that children say that just pushes our buttons. It is usually when they are upset and tense, and then they complain and hurl accusations our way.
The inevitable happens; we respond in kind. We can’t seem to manage our own tempers and instead of remaining calm, we get angry. Then, we start to complain and accuse.
The negative cycle continues; anything we say seems to make kids angrier, more demanding and accusatory. It doesn’t take long before, there is an all-out fight.
We don’t have to go down that slippery slope. It can help to remember that children do not have the emotional vocabulary to let us know how they are feeling. There is always an underlying problem that they are experiencing and they don’t have the words to express it respectfully, tactfully or kindly.
When they are feeling disappointed or in need of attention they might say:
“You never do anything for me!”
When they are feeling helpless, or overwhelmed, they might say:
“Nobody ever helps me. I have to do everything myself!”
When they feel pressured for time, they might say:
“This family is so stupid! Why do we always have to go out to dinner!”
Not only that, these statements are provoking. They escalate the fighting. They put people, and in this case us, the parents, on the defensive. Unknowingly, our children have thrown the first punch in the fight. Instead of expressing themselves in a way that can help them get what they need, they have done the opposite. Then, they don’t have the skills they need to deescalate the tension.
That’s where we, the mature adults need to come in. We need to stay calm enough to teach them how to express their feelings properly, so that they can release the tension they are feeling in a healthy, non-provoking manner.
To do this, we can use the validating phrase:
“You sound…” and then fill in the blank with the corresponding emotion, “angry/frustrated/pressured.”
Then you can let them know what you think they need.
Later on you want to acknowledge their feelings again and then teach them a better more respectful way to address you.
This helps keep everyone calm and even-tempered. It can even turn a rough time into a relationship building moment.
Here is how it works:
1. “You never do anything for me”
“You are so selfish. What do you mean I never do anything for you?
Who do you think pays the rent around here?”
“You sound pretty disappointed. When kids feel that way it means they need some attention and extra TLC from their parents. When you calm down, let’s make a time that we can do something, just the two of us.”
Later on when you are both calm, you can say:
“I know you didn’t mean what you said before, that I don’t do anything for you. The problem is that it is hard for me to hear that. It is also better to say, ‘I am really disappointed’ instead saying all that angry stuff.
2. “Nobody ever helps me. I have to do everything myself!”
“What are you talking about? We always help you. You need to start doing things yourself!”
“You sound overwhelmed. Even though Mom and I think you can load the dishwasher yourself, you feel like it is a big job. I wish I could help you. The problem is I have to take care of the laundry. I know you can handle this. As soon as I am done with the wash, I will come help you if you are not done.”
Later on when you are both calm:
“Do you want to discuss your responsibilities in the house? If you are having trouble with your jobs we want to know. We will try to think of some solutions. It is also better to say, ‘I am feeling overwhelmed’ instead saying all that angry stuff.”
3. “This family is so stupid! Why do we always have to go out to dinner!”
“Why don’t you want to go out to dinner? Why does everything have to be a problem for you? Can’t you see I need a break from cooking?”
“You sound frustrated. You wanted to eat at home. You weren’t expecting to go out to dinner. The problem is, I came home from work late and there is nothing for dinner.”
Later on, when you are both calm you can say:
“You were really upset at us before! I will try to remember not to spring last minute plans on you. It is also better to say, ‘I am feeling rushed’ instead of saying all that angry stuff.”
When we as parents stay calm in the face of our children’s complaints and anger, we are teaching them a valuable lesson in self-control and anger management. We are also teaching them life skills that they can use always, validating another’s feeling, diffusion of conflict and better ways to express their feelings in non-provoking ways.