I’ve noticed over the years that anger scares parents. Not only their child’s, but their own. I’m not sure why this is so – perhaps we have been afraid to repeat the mistakes our parents made, or that anger doesn’t have a place when you are hyper aware that your children are so small and innocent. Anger doesn’t seem to have a place for so many parents. It confuses us. Yet it is there.
My first encounter with parent anger was when my daughter, Sara, was about six weeks old. She developed colic and cried like she was breaking, for hours and hours every day. It did eventually subside, but it went on for weeks. I thought I would lose my mind. My therapist at the time gave me a valuable insight: I was angry at Sara. How could this be? We so much wanted this child and, of course, loved her even before she was born. She was so tiny and the definition of innocence. But once I let this enter my consciousness as a real possibility, I realized this was indeed what I was feeling underneath the distress and frustration of this “moment” that seemed to last forever. I could then let go (a little!) of my frustration and deal more subjectively with the task at hand – cutting certain things out of my diet for example (I was breast feeding). I’ve always felt that the worst feeling you can have while raising your child is when you cannot help them. Conversely, the best is when you can.
There is a book, with great illustrations, that I read to the kids in the playgroup every year. It’s called “When I’m Angry,” by Jane Aaron, published in 1998 by Golden Books. It is so unfortunate that this incredible book is out of print – so I’m hoping that renewed interest will encourage the publishers to do another printing.
“When I’m Angry” has been one of two books most requested by the kids in my groups since it 1998. (The other one is “Creepy Castle,” by John Goodall.) The first is a book about dealing with anger and the other about dealing with fear. Fascinating. This tells us so much about what feelings children find the most challenging. I believe it also tells us what they are picking up from the adults in their lives.
A few years ago, in the beginning of the year, a little boy, who was a bit younger than the other kids in the group and who was very attached to his mother, was having a hard time letting her leave. His mom and I agreed that she should stay each day until her son was more comfortable with this new situation. Sometimes she would take him home early. After a few weeks, I asked her to try leaving with the other parents, and without him. Her son watched her leave, tensed up, and started crying. The kind of crying that takes over their whole little bodies. I picked him up and held him and it became clear that he was actually very angry. So, I read “When I’m Angry” to the whole group – looking particularly at him as I read. One of the pages says, “Sometimes I feel like nobody is listening.”, and then another page, “Other times being angry makes me want to cry.” I’ll never forget how much this spoke to him. He even smiled (and stopped crying). What a powerful tool!
I’m not suggesting there is one formula for every situation. But I am saying that acknowledging children’s feelings is critical.