While it may not seem like it, often times a parent is capable of creating or fostering negative emotions like anger in their children. A child who was once cooperative and reasonable may develop a habitual pattern of angry behavior, and this is not always something that a parent can blame on their kid. The best way to understand this concept is through a story. Ulla frequently complained about her 6-year-old son’s angry behavior, so to try and amend it she brought him in for an appointment with a therapist. At first, he seemed to be doing fine, but it wasn’t long before he threw a temper tantrum when he did not get his way. “You make me so angry,” he said an indirect reference to his mother.
Ulla had a hard time accepting this phrase because she believed that no one can “make” you angry unless you give them that right. She had explained this concept to her son multiple times, but it only resulted in more anger. He could not comprehend what she was saying, and it made him feel even more misunderstood. Now, hearing the same phrase from his mother once again, he crossed his arms and let out a deep sign of exhaustion, demonstrating to the therapist that this was a common occurrence.
However, Ulla was right in theory. While it may seem as though the actions of another “make you angry,” in actuality it is your own set of experiences, emotions, and beliefs that trigger an anger response.
So, considering that Ulla’s argument was technically correct, how can a parent “make” a kid angry? Why the double standard? The answer is relatively simple. With maturity comes the ability to temper responses and regulate emotional reactions, which is the idea of having “self-control.” But a child has not reached this stage of development and they are therefore unable to control emotional outbursts. For this reason, a parent can “make” a kid feel a certain way because children are not in full command of their responses. Therefore, as an adult, parents can be held accountable for creating anger in a kid. What are some ways a parent may be doing this?
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, your focus is on getting the 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 parents, 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 the same way 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 extreme negative consequence of a child learning this at such a young age is that it will stay with them as they mature. 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 the parent did at their age. The problem is that a child doesn’t understand their parent’s anger in this situation, so they internalize it. They become angry with themselves for “making” the parent angry. At 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.