When Your Anger Has Frightened Your Child

Parenting can be very difficult. When a child is misbehaving or acts emotionally out-of-control, parents can become so exasperated that they “lose it” and say or do things that they wish they had not.

What you can do if you have scared your child

frightened child
Here are three ways to help your frightened child.

Most parents know when they have frightened or traumatized their child, but sometimes it is hard to know what to do after such an occurrence. Here are three things you can do.

  • Reassure

If a parent is feeling that his or her child is severely frightened, one thing to do is to reassure. A parent can use rehearsed reassuring statements (see following examples). Even if the reassuring statement is not completely sincere; meaning, that there is still some anger, it is still important that reassuring statements are made to the child.

Here are some examples:

I know Mommy/Daddy looks/sounds scary right now.  I am angry and in a little while I will calm down. You don’t have to be afraid.

I will be able to talk about this in a little while.

It is going to be okay.

I will be happy again,  just not this minute.

  • Apologize

If a parent has stepped outside a healthy process and gone too far by generalizing, name-calling, verbally attacking, blaming, shaming, condemning or threatening, then that parent may need to apologize.

Here are some examples of asking for forgiveness:

I apologize for saying/doing . . .  It was wrong for me to say/do that.

While I was angry I said/did things that were not right.  I apologize.

When I said/did/ . . . . what I should have said/done is . . . . .

mom and daughter hug
A sincere apology is a teachable moment.

An apology needs to be sincere in order to be received. However, chronic  apologies create the impression that a parent is chronically out of control, and this is not a good message to send to any child. Further, chronic apologizing can also produce unfair expectations and guilt in the child.

  • Forgive

Without dooubt, it can be difficult to forgive certain offenses. But we must remember that children and teenagers tend to be impulsive, immature and egocentric.

Consequently, it is important for a parent to decide to accept that, for whatever reason, something wrong happened (was unfair, betrayed, etc.), so that once an issue has been addressed, the parent lets go of his or her anger and any need for revenge, acknowledgement or payback.

Examples of statements that a parent can make are:

I have decided to forgive you for . . . . . .

I have decided to move on. What you did/said is no longer an issue for me.

Teachable moments: modeling appropriate behavior

Children benefit knowing anger is normal and modeling forgiveness is healthy.

We need to remember that a parent, when angry, is modeling and teaching how to express anger either in a healthy or unhealthy way. Children can benefit from learning that anger is normal, but anger has to be communicated without blaming, shaming and insulting.

It is important for parents to realize that it can take several hours to resolve anger in a healthy way. So, a parent should take his or her time, be calm as possible and try to stay in control during the responding process. An angry moment can also be a teachable one!

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Understanding Anger, 2004, Diane Wagenhals.

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