Why is your child angry? What is your child feeling?

When you were a child did you wish your parents allowed you to express your emotions?  How many times did you hear, “Boys don’t cry” or “If you keep crying I’ll give you something to cry about”?  Or maybe it was more subtle and was, “You are not really feeling that” or “feelings don’t really matter.”  Unfortunately we cannot go back in time and change the way we were parented, but we are able to make changes and not allow ourselves to parent this way.  Here are 4 tips to prevent that from happening.

 1. Try to Remember what you felt when you were their age

Why do we forget what we were experiencing when we were our child’s age?  Now, I understand that if they are 2 we might not remember, but 6, 8, 12, 20 are all ages we should be able to remember something from that time frame.  Remember what you felt when you were in school, home, friends.  When we can remember what we thought and felt it should allow us to relate and show empathy toward our child.  Your child is developing and you need to embrace it and come along side them.  If you are finding it a challenge to remember, go and find an old yearbook and watch the emotions and thoughts come flooding back.  Then interact with your child in a way that remembers those feelings you had.

 2. Don’t take their actions personally

Just because a child does not obey their parent does not mean that they have a personal vendetta toward the child.  Most parents I see think that their child or adolescent should be aware of how their actions will impact their parents.  Really?  So, as an adolescent, you were worried about what your parents were experiencing when you made your choices?  You were worried about your father’s car when you were speeding down the road, trying to impress your friends?  You were worried about how your parents would look when you were upset and said something disrespectful?  I have noticed that when a parent takes their child’s actions personally they are incapable of trying to understand how their child feels.  If a parent does not address a child’s feelings, then the child will continue to express that feeling and usually add a few more feelings on top of that.

 3. Allow them to talk about their feelings (Especially at a young age)

It’s important to validate their feelings.  This validation occurs when the child is able to talk to a listening parent.  If your children are young then it is the perfect time to start this.  When you see their arms crossed, or they have an upset face it is easy to address the body language, but instead, when you see it ask them what they are upset about?  This might take them by surprise, but it will allow them to talk about the way they feel.

If you have older children then you need to remember that they might be at a stage where they are seeking their autonomy so they might not be as open to talk.  If this is the case, when they tell you something about their life, instead of asking them how they feel, you can feel for them.  If they tell you they were bullied at school you could say to them, wow if that happened to me that would make me really mad.  If they tell you they had a friend talk behind their back you could say, that would make me frustrated.  This will allow them to see that you are expressing a feeling and it is okay.  Because they have the feeling inside of them, what safer way for them to express it than with their parents?

 4. Remember Their Feelings Are Real

At different stages of childhood/adolescents feelings are extremely strong.  As we get older we see things differently.  But when a child is going through a situation their feelings are real, and sometimes it is the first time they have experienced an emotion.  We understand that life will become more stressful than what they are experiencing now, but they do not see it this way.  If a parent addresses these feelings and allows the child to express themselves, then the child will work through the feeling and also recognize when they feel it again.  If a child suppresses the feeling and does not talk about it, then the child will keep experiencing the emotion, but not know what they should do with it.  They will be upset at a teacher and then take it out on their brother.  They will feel like a failure at a sport and then talk negatively to their parent.

Don’t just try to fix your child’s behavior, work hard to understand why the child is behaving this way. Realize that when you see a behavior from your child it might be an expression of an unexpressed emotion.

 If you or someone you know needs parenting guidance,  please contact a counselor to assist you.

NOTE: you can freely redistribute this resource, electronically or in print, provided you leave the authors contact information below intact.

Author: James L West, MA, LMHC, NCC

Edited by:  Jada Collins, M.A. M.S. Register Mental Health Counselor Intern #9777