“That’s it, go to your room,” I said. “No!” said my four-year-old son.
I quickly responded, “Yes! Go to your room right now! One…two…”
“Nooooo! I hate you!” he shouted back.
As I quickly reached my boiling point, I threw him up onto my shoulder and carried him back the hallway to his room, kicking and screaming the whole time.
I put him down not so gently on his bed and told him he needed to stay in his room until he could calm down and improve his behavior. To this he responded with an ear-drum-blowing scream that I’m pretty sure broke some glass. I left the room quickly and slammed the door.
As I rejoined my wife in our living room, we talked over his screaming and crying saying things like, “I don’t know what else to do; I don’t know why he gets like this,” and “I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that but he just makes me so mad.”
This scenario plays out often in my house. My son misbehaves then throws a tantrum when he is corrected, then me or my wife lose our temper and “talk” to him louder than we should, then we feel guilty for being “mean” to him. We try to be patient and reasonable; we try to give him second and third and fourth chances; we even try explaining consequences to him clearly and giving him choices. But often he chooses to continue misbehaving, being defiant, or just completely ignoring correction. He pushes our buttons so effectively that our anger can go from “0 to 60” almost immediately. Of course our anger blows up more quickly when we are exhausted, which is most of the time.
The Bible says, “in your anger, do not sin.” So experiencing the emotion of anger is not in itself wrong or sinful; however, it can easily lead to sin if we let it. As a Christian parent, where is this line? And how do we avoid crossing it in the heat of the moment?
When my son screams at me I get really irritated; when he ignores my correction I get mad; when he slaps my wife in the face I get livid. I don’t think its wrong for me to feel these various degrees of anger or even to act on them.
It is wrong for a child to rebel against his parents, to ignore correction, and certainly to slap his own mother at any age.
I should respond to my sons misbehavior with discipline and teach him to obey his parents.
I should punish him, as well as instruct and encourage him.
But when I respond to his screaming with louder screaming, or when I follow up his slap with another slap or make ridiculous threats and do things just to hurt him back, I cross that line into sin.
Whenever I react out of anger, I let my emotions in that moment determine my actions. Unfortunately, my emotions don’t often make good decisions that are consistent with what I believe and the kind of parent I want to be. If I respond to my son’s sin with more sin, how can I expect him to ever grow or change for the better?
If you’re like me and my wife, you need to learn to put some process into place to avoid this vicious cycle of misbehavior, angry blowups, and lingering guilt. Although we are still very much in the trenches, I believe there are at least 3 things we can do now to help us parent more effectively with less guilt.
- Plan Ahead
I once heard the definition of stress is what happens when you experience the difference between your expectations and your outcomes. So to reduce stress, you need to modify one of these. If you expect your child to behave perfectly and follow all of your rules, I’m sure you will be disappointed every time. But expecting misbehavior and deciding in advance what your response will be can help you avoid an angry blowup. Setting clear rules and communicating expectations to our kids also needs to be a part of the plan.
- Act, don’t React
My son told me that it makes him really mad when we use “mean words” or yell at him. This usually happens in response to his use of mean words and yelling. Its easy to react to another person in the same manner they have acted toward you. However, if we follow the rule that we should treat others how we want to be treated, we won’t simply spit back the same disrespect they throw at us. Especially with our kids, we need to focus on leading and teaching them what it looks like to live this way, showing them that its possible to respond in a loving way even when we’re angry.
- Debrief well after the fight
Even when you make a plan, communicate expectations, and try your best to respond instead of just react in anger, there will still be times when you just lose it. You will say and do things you’re not proud of and you know are not helpful to your kids. But all is not lost, because you still have the chance to talk about the fight after its over. Once the dust settles and the smoke clears, make sure to have a follow-up conversation in which you apologize for losing your cool and give your child the opportunity to both apologize and be forgiven. As parents, we can’t have a big screaming fight with our kids, punish them, then just pretend it didn’t happen and assume everything will automatically be smoothed over.
QUESTION: What other ways have you found to parent more effectively with less guilt? I would love to hear your response in the Comments, on Facebook, or you can send me an email.
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