Remember the public service announcements from Smokey the Bear? Only You can Prevent Forest Fires…..Well parents, this is your public service announcement: Only You can Prevent Temper Tantrums and future anger management classes for your child.
It seems that many people have difficulty containing their anger. I am one of those people. I have a temper that flares very quickly…..explodes, then subsides as quickly as it arrived. Nonetheless, words are spoken….feelings are hurt. As I age, my temper flares less often….I have mellowed, but there is always room for improvement. Especially because I am finding this trait so abhorrent in others, I have come to the conclusion that I must master my disposition once and for all.
Interestingly enough, from the time I became aware that I should tame my anger, I was less triggered by others. I am not sure if the two are related, but I am guessing they are.
Anger is a fickle bitch with a multiple personality disorder. They’ll be mad in 90 degree weather for something they tolerated on a perfect 75 degree sort of day. They will be pissed at you for something after only 3 hours of sleep that they thought was funny after a full 8 hours. And really, is it Anger yelling at you on Tuesday or did Hurt, Frustration, Low Blood sugar, or Fear show up for Jerry Springer?
And we’re back from the segue…. As far as anger is concerned, I am entitled to my anger just as the people triggering my anger are entitled to do the things they do, even when it makes me crazy. Sometimes the decisions of others affect me in a negative way. When this happens my anger feels justified. But ultimately, another’s decision is not mine to make or even judge.
Usually, when you boil down anger, you find hurt. So I’m left asking…Why would someone decide to do something that would hurt me or another? When I realize that behind my anger is actually hurt, from this juncture I can calmly explain how I feel to the person whose actions angered/hurt me. Usually the other person realizes the error in judgement or explains themselves, and we can talk rationally. Another possibility is that the person does not care that their actions have caused harm to another. You might explain your hurt, frustration, mental health issues, and they may say “F…. You!” What are you going to do? As I’ve taught my dog….Leave It! Yet another scenario….the confronted person just takes off. They may not have the words, the confidence, the ethical bearings to engage. Alternatively, they may become extremely defensive.That’s OK too….it is “what it is”….they are who they are……I will not fight against this; it does me no good, because I can only answer for my own actions. When reacting in anger, I have digressed. When both people can communicate rationally about a situation and have empathy for one another, a bridge is created. If not, a wall is created…..but I don’t have to climb that wall.
My interest in the subject of anger came out of nowhere, as great truths do — when we are ready to hear them….
I quite accidentally came across an article via NPR named “How Inuit Parents Teach Kids to Control Their Anger”. It was written by Michaeleen Doucleff and Jane Greenhalgh.https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/03/13/685533353/a-playful-way-to-teach-kids-to-control-their-anger#:~:text=Instead%20of%20yelling%2C%20%22Don',back%20just%20for%20little%20kids. The article was a fascinating read, and it made so much sense to me.
“Even just showing a smidgen of frustration or irritation was considered weak and childlike, Briggs observed.” Jean Briggs was a Harvard graduate student of anthropology who lived with the Inuit people on Baffin Island in the 1960s. She wrote the book, Never in Anger, a chronicle of her 17 months of living with an Inuit family above the arctic circle. The article was inspired by her fascinating account of that time, and subsequent trips she made to study the Inuit’s unique parenting style. I believe we have a lot to learn from indigenous people. The modern lifestyle has caused the “forgetting” of a great many ways…..ways of parenting, medicine, spirituality, communing with nature….. that have served people for millennia. Sometimes new ways are better, sometimes they are just new.
One community member shared, “Across the board, all the (Inuit) moms mention one golden rule: Don’t shout or yell at small children.” and “Traditional Inuit parenting is incredibly nurturing and tender.”
So, in a nutshell, it seems that anger, like so many attributes, is taught (I always thought maybe there were so many angry people in my family because they had angry genes lol, but maybe not….) I know parents that eat well…their children eat well. I know parents that read…..generally, their children love to read as well. Why would characteristics associated with peace and harmony be any different? I know parents that are calm and loving…..their children are as well. I know parents that yell and get angry….their children are angry as well. My own children, especially my oldest, have had issues with anger. The root of it, is most likely my fault (and let’s blame some of that on my ancestors as well). As with many things, I wish I could go back and do things differently…..but when you know better, you do better. I am working on doing better every day.
As for Briggs’ observations of the Inuit culture, I believe there are gems to be mined from their parenting approach. They believe speaking to a child in an angry voice or showing frustrations in front of children is incongruous with good parenting. They believe it does not help and will also be unhealthy for the parent (blood pressure, stress related illness, etc.). Another belief, that I completely agree with, is that when children do negative things, it is not misbehavior, so to speak, but caused by having unmet needs or not being able to regulate their emotions. In my opinion, if we do not help them with this task, our example will become ingrained in them and become part of their coping mechanism. This is not the legacy we want to pass down. Bottom line, we need to grow up….be good examples, and pave a path they can follow for the management of their own big emotions. If they see us managing our own, they will feel confident that they too, can manage their’s.
In the article, a parenting class instructor in the community, Goota Jaw, relates that she believes telling a child to go to his/her room, is teaching them to run away. Angry adult to child interactions are also teaching them that being angry is normal and commonplace. It doesn’t have to be. I remember once as a young mother getting very angry at my children and yelling at them to stop yelling. It was a moment that I caught myself being ridiculous. Who did they learn the yelling from? Who was their role model for emotional regulation?
In the article, Briggs gives several examples of situations that happened that could have easily sparked anger, but the Inuit people remained calm. One was a recollection of a pot of hot tea being dropped and spilled on the igloo floor, damaging the floor. The adult figure said, “Too bad.” and reached for the tea pot to refill it. Another was about a fishing line that had taken days to braid, and broke upon the first use. No one reacted….someone quietly suggested sewing it together. Such control…such poise. The older I get though, the more I can understand it. I never feel better when I rage….I feel better when I take some deep breaths and ask myself, “What now?” I have recently added…I wonder where this is leading me? Is this a sign? Or maybe a way to a place I’ve never visited or an introduction to a person I haven’t met? Life is a series of interrelated events. We can choose to believe they are random or that they are a guidance system. In any case, not getting angry or frustrated, while super difficult, is a way of life to aspire to in my opinion. Why, you may ask?….peace, my most precious possession.
Another way that the inuit people help children to understand empathy and right from wrong is play acting. For instance, letting the child throw rocks at the parent while she cries out “Ow, that hurts!” Play crying when they hit us. I’ve used this one. The other day my grandson hit his Mommy. I then pretended to hit her and she pretend cried out…He told me, “You not hit my Mommy!”. I said, “I was just pretending….you didn’t like that, did you? Don’t hit people T..it’s not nice, and you are a nice boy…”. We use a lot of puppets, dolls, toys to act out situations the boys are going through to help them see things removed from their personal involvement in those situations. Letting them experience the problem solving of negative emotions through play tempered with love, apologies, and making amends of fictionalized characters can be a rich learning experience. This is a great way to explicitly teach empathy.
The article goes on to reveal a very interesting method of parenting that goes beyond the parent regulating their own emotions in a mature manner or teaching valuable lessons through play/role play. I believe all parents utilize it, albeit it, unconsciously — Storytelling! Maybe not the storytelling you might be thinking of, but more of an on the spot story to help keep them safe. The example in the story talks about how the Inuit people live near the ocean and from a very young age, they train the children to respect the powerful ocean and stay away from the shore. Goota Jaw relates a tale told to Inuit children to protect them….. “if a child walks too close to the water, the monster will put you in his pouch, drag you down to the ocean and adopt you out to another family.” Yikes, that would scare the crap out of me if I were a child! Upon first reading this, I was a little appalled by the suggestion. It seemed a bit over the top and possibly traumatizing. The more I rolled it around in my head though, the more it made sense. Children don’t understand the concept of death, suffering, time, the future, etc. Their biggest source of danger is a lack of fear. I have seen news stories about kids climbing over the railing at hotels while their parents are showering (and falling to their death)…..because they have no concept of the consequences…the danger. My son was almost hit in the head with a brick by another child who thought he would toss it at him. Do you think he intended to kill him? Of course not, he didn’t even have the intellectual ability at that age to know of the consequences. In light of this lack of understanding, the fictionalized cautionary tales can, and probably will, give some additional security to keep children safe from dangers they do not and cannot grasp. Childhood fears seem to be of monsters, the dark, separation, strangers, the Boogie Man, bugs, animals, etc. Let us speak to them then, in a language they can understand.
Let me reassure you, I am not promoting terror….I had a long ago friend/co-worker who told her daughter there was a boogie man in the basement for no other reason than to watch her scream and shake in fear….I wonder how she turned out. No, I am not endorsing fear tactics. What I am suggesting are stories that children can understand and apply to situations that may not be safe. There is a huge snapping turtle in the creek behind our house. It has taken a small dog into the creek. All true…..and it is also a story we tell our little ones as to why they cannot go near the water without an adult…only an adult can fight the snapping turtle!………..I recently told my 6 year old grandson about drinking enough water. I said your body is mostly water inside….you have to pour enough water into your body or you will shrink up into an empty bag of skin that can only lay there on the floor…..he drank some water. My explanation is not too far from the truth….maybe it wouldn’t look like the visual I gave, but if dehydrated, a person will start to shrink in…..looking gaunt and skeletal around the face….skin denting in by pressing a finger tip to it, and a person may lose the ability to function. I believe my explanation reached a 6 year old’s ability to understand how critical it is to stay hydrated, especially during the hot summer. Did I get him to comply through fear or through his desire not to suffer negative consequences? Is there a difference? It’s tricky….and to be truthful, I’m still a little conflicted, but if it will help keep children safe, I am Ok with turning a fear they cannot fathom into one they can.
I think some caution is in order. Don’t go overboard…..we don’t want to create anxious children that are frozen in fear of the world. Instead, create a safety net that overrules their curiosity without stunting their sense of adventure. Make them want to take you by the hand and walk out into that adventure with you beside them until they are big and strong enough to take on the troll by themselves.