Parenting experts agree that the goal of discipline is not reprimand or punish, but to help children learn what is expected of them with regards to healthy, safe, and socially and morally appropriate behavior. This is the reason why anger really has no place in discipline; anger has nothing to do with teaching. But what if it’s your child who can’t control his or her anger during moments of discipline? Even a calm and patient parent will often be challenged by a child seething with rage.
If your child tends to get very angry when you discipline him or her, consider the following tips:
Call For a Time-Out
There is no law that discipline must happen in the moment of misbehavior – in fact, when a child is too upset to be receptive, discipline can be counterproductive – not only useless, but possibly even destructive. It is essential that neither parent nor child be upset at the time of discipline. Instead, let the discipline wait until an appropriate “teaching moment” – a time when everyone is calm. It doesn’t matter if this teaching moment occurs minutes or hours or even days after the original misconduct. Your goal is to be effective, not prompt.
If you sense that your child is too angry to listen to anything that you have to say, or too emotional to process his or her own behavior, you can call for a time out. “I can see that you are very upset right now. Why don’t we take a break to calm down? We can talk about this tomorrow.” Waiting can be a wiser choice that forcing an issue right away. Who knows, your child’s perspective about an event can change with a good night’s rest! He might wake up in the morning seeing it YOUR way even before you approach him.
Practice De-Escalation Techniques
In some cases, you will be able to help your child de-escalate in the upset moment. There are many calming techniques that parents can use in situations when kids become very angry. One way is to use “emotional coaching” – name and accept the child’s anger, and open the floor for venting. Consider the following:
Child: You never let me have any fun! Other kids get to go to the playground today. You’re the only one who said no. You’re so mean!
Parent: I can see that you’re very angry about this. And I understand – it’s very upsetting if you think everyone is going to the park except you. You’re mad at Mommy.
Allowing kids to have their feelings is a good way to help them process and release anger before trying to talk about misbehavior. Another de-escalation technique is to speak slowly in a soft and gentle tone, helping to draw the child’s emotional wavelength to a quieter, calmer place. A different kind of de-escalation technique altogether is to use the Bach Flower mixture called Rescue Remedy (you can find more information about Bach Flower Remedies and Rescue Remedy online and throughout this site). When a child is out-of-control with rage, spraying a bit of Rescue Remedy every couple of minutes on his arm or even right into his mouth can rapidly help restore him to calm. If you decide to use Rescue Remedy, only employ it if you have already explained its use to your child in a calm moment so that it won’t feel like some sort of “attack!” If you want, you can also experiment with a technique that some parents have found helpful – use this one only if you and your child are used to joking around in better times – throw yourself down on the floor and do a good imitation of what the child is doing; many children will stop their tantrum and laugh at the antics of the parent.
Know Your Child’s Triggers
Sometimes a parent’s behavior actually TRIGGERS a child’s rage. It might be worthwhile to consider your own words and actions during moments of discipline. For instance, your own shouting might trigger a disrespectful comeback from the child. Perhaps your words are taunting or provocative. Perhaps you are steamrolling – frustrating and overwhelming your youngster with your verbiage. Maybe you are being stubborn, close-minded or unreasonable. Maybe your punishments are unfair or outrageous. Ask your spouse, other kids or a professional to help you figure this out.
Teach Your Child How to Express Upset Properly
Keep in mind that a child is entitled to feel unhappy during discipline. What’s important is that he or she knows how to express upset and anger appropriately – safely and respectfully. You can permit your child to express frustration and upset – just be sure to teach him or her how to do it. Teach your child what you expect of him or her, following the steps outlined in “The Relationship Rule” in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.