We all wish that ‘cooler heads may prevail,’ but what happens when our temper gets the better of us?
Say your child breaks a glass, draws on the wall, or overturns the laundry basket, and in that moment you yell at them. Scolding your children can make them feel distant and hurt, and make you feel shame and regret. Below are three tips for better communication and mending your relationship with your child.
Step 1: Stop and ask ‘why’
When we lose control of our emotions and lash out, it’s very common to self-blame. This feeling can make us look for forgiveness in unhelpful ways; buying our child sought-after toys, for example, or giving them extra TV time than normal. But these actions are only addressing the symptoms of the issue (feelings of guilt in yourself, and of alienation in your child) and not its cause.
Instead, stop and ask ‘why’.
Why did I react the way I did?
Is the thing I yelled at my child for truly that serious?
By asking ourselves these sorts of questions, we can get to the root of the issue and discover more meaningful, productive, and healthy ways to communicate. But just as importantly, they can help us to reconcile with ourselves before we reconcile with our child.
Step 2: Be specific, be a team
Let’s have an example: your child knocks a glass off the table, breaking it. The long-term issue of ‘being more careful’ can be addressed later; for now, there’s the immediate issue of broken glass all over the floor.
It can be tempting in the moment to yell. “Didn’t you see the glass? What were you thinking?” Instead, remember that you and your child are on the same team. That broken glass doesn’t have to be a ‘you’ problem; it can be a ‘we’ solution.
“Dad wants you to help clean up this broken glass with me.”
This fosters an attitude of responsibility for their own actions in your child. With the immediate issue addressed, carry that attitude forward into a bigger solution. You might ask your child, “How can we make sure we don’t break any more glasses?” Guiding them to an answer rather than yelling or telling them what to do makes for a strong, long-lasting lesson.
Step 3: Warm words fix frozen relations
After being scolded, children can feel cold, distant, or even fearful of their parents for a while. These emotions can’t be reasoned or explained away in a child any more than they could be in an adult. Both you and your child need a little time to calm down before talk can go anywhere.
Once the heat of the moment has passed, it’s time to reach out. Young children are as imaginative as they are inexperienced; they may worry that what they’ve done has made you angry at them forever, and that worry can grow and grow, feeding on itself till it’s entirely out of proportion to the situation. That’s why it’s important that they know that what happened hasn’t changed how you feel about them.
“Mommy loves you very much. I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
Taking your own responsibility for what happened rather than ignoring the situation or assigning blame is important too. Own the moment and commit, to yourself and to your child, to try something new and do better next time.
Now it’s time to re-engage with what brings you and your child closer together, like playing a favorite game, doing activities, or completing bedtime rituals. Move on from the moment and let life return to what was good. Nourish that bond with love and care and, like a well-tended garden, it will grow deep and healthy roots.