The best way to understand this concept is through a story. Ulla complained about her 6-year-old son’s angry behavior so she brought him in for an appointment. At first he seemed fine but then threw a temper tantrum when he did not get his way. “You make me so angry,” he said in direct reference to his mother.
But Ulla believed that no one can “make” you angry unless you give them that right. So she explained this concept to her son, which resulted in more anger. He did not comprehend what she was saying and felt even more misunderstood. He crossed his arms and let out a deep sign of exhaustion, demonstrating that this was a common occurrence.
But Ulla was right in theory. While it may seem as though the actions of another “make you angry,” in actuality it is that person’s set of experiences, emotions, and beliefs that cause anger.
Can a parent “make” a kid angry? Yes. Why the double standard? With maturity comes the ability to temper responses, which is the idea of having “self-control.” But a child has not reached this age and they are therefore unable to control emotional outbursts.
Literally, a parent can “make” a kid feel a certain way because they are not in full command of their responses. Therefore, as the adult, parents can be held accountable for creating anger in a kid. How?
Not listening. Hands down, the number one complaint kids have about their parents is that they don’t listen to what they are saying. Too often as a parent, the focus is on getting their point across and not listening to a child’s point of view. Then, because of immaturity, the kid often doesn’t really know what they are thinking or how they are feeling, so they default to the most basic emotion: anger. No, they are not able to speak clearly; they are a child. No, they are not able to counteract point by point; they are a child. But give them some time, and soon as teenagers they will become more and more like their parent, not listening and counteracting point by point.
Assuming the worst. Just to make things more complicated, kids don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say. While this is a nice lesson to teach them, assuming the worst motive or attitude about a child sends a subtle message that their opinion is not valued. This brings on anger just as a parent might get frustrated when someone assumes the worst about them. When the worst is assumed about a child, they interpret this as “I am no good,” “I can never do anything right,” or “I am to blame for everything.” The negative consequences of a child learning this is that it will not leave them as an adult. For the rest of their lives, the child could struggle with a negative self-image.
Looking in the mirror. When your child behaves and speaks in a manner similar to a parent, there is almost an immediate angry response from the parent. Especially if the child makes the same mistakes they did. The problem is that a child doesn’t understand the parent’s anger, so they internalize it. They become angry with themselves for “making” the parent angry. In that moment, the child is not likely to respond badly, but give them a couple of years and the resentment will build.
It is not too late to stop “making” a child angry. How? Simply do the opposite of what “made” them angry. Listen to what they are really saying, assume the best about them, and divorce adult behavior from child behavior.