Parenting Q&A: Being Proactive about Anger Issues

The Next Family

By: Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg

angry child

Q:

My three-year-old hits me (hard!) when I try to work on the computer. I want to be gentle and loving but the truth is I feel infuriated at her and even violent at times, especially when it really hurts and I’m stressed because I’m rushing to finish something. I’m worried that I feel so angry, but mostly I just want to know what to do in this situation. Sometimes I just need to get some work done! How should I deal with this?

A:
First of all, it’s a perfectly normal physiological response to feel rage (or even fear!) when you’re hit. If you need a moment to collect yourself, tell your child that you need to take a breath or sit for a moment and help yourself feel better. This will help your daughter acknowledge the impact of what she did, and it models a recovery technique for her too. Taking a pause to breathe is a powerful tool that she can use whenever she’s upset, whether she’s with you, at school, on the playground, or somewhere else. It helps show her that she can take charge of her emotions.

When you and your daughter have calmed down, explain the rule, and, whenever possible, emphasize the positive side – the ‘do’ – instead of the negative side -the ‘don’t’ – so that your child can focus on what she should do rather than what she shouldn’t. For example, ‘we only touch people gently, we don’t hit’ can be more effective than simply ‘don’t hit,’ because it clarifies your desired behavior.

Then, be proactive by asking yourself: ‘What need is my child expressing when she hits me?’ She seems to need attention when you need to work. Before sitting down to work, can you spend 20 minutes in what we call ‘deep play’, fully engaged in a game of her choice? Once her need for connection is met, she may be more likely to play on her own. If not (anticipating that a play break for you isn’t possible), here are some ideas to try:

  • You could engage her in problem solving during a non-stressful time (i.e. not when you’re about to work), explaining that sometimes you need to work by yourself, and asking her what she might be willing to do while you’re on the computer.
  • You could create a special toy box that’s reserved for computer time.
  • You could also encourage ‘mirroring’ —helping your child set up her own pretend work area, complete with a play computer, so that she can engage in work alongside you.
  • You can acknowledge that the computer often sucks us in for more time than we intended, and we fixate on finishing that “one last thing.” You may want to set a timer so you can be accountable to yourself for the amount of time that you intended to let your child play independently. Depending on your child, it could be helpful to try the micro-control technique, where you let your child control something in a situation where they have very little control. For example, you could let your child be in charge of the timer. She can come get you when it goes off, and feel the joy of having you jump up and give her your attention. (Hint: You may want to set a timer on your computer to go off a minute before hers, so you can save your work and prepare yourself to re-enter kid-land).
  • Finally, you may want to modify your habits, potentially breaking up your computer time into smaller chunks, so you can give your child attention.

Some of these tools may work; some of them won’t. Every child is unique, so it’s important to be creative and open to trial and error. Above all, take some comfort in the fact that your daughter enjoys your company and wants to play with you. And let us know how it goes.

Holly & Julie

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

You can email them with questions at parentingadvice@thenextfamily.com

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[Photo Credit: Richardalan]

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