Do You Stay Mad at Your Kids and Hold a Grudge When They Misbehave? (How It Can Backfire on You)
“I am SO angry right now!!! Why should I give my child another chance, when he’s just going to do it again?!”
You’re not alone if you find yourself feeling frustrated, angry or hurt by your child’s repeated heart-piercing statements or inappropriate actions. As parent coaches, we hear about everything from huge curse-laden screaming matches, to lies about homework and missing curfew, to wrecking the family car, and more. So I truly understand where parents are coming from when they say that they’re having a hard time letting their child’s behavior go, especially after a crisis or breach of trust — and I get how hard it is to give a child a fresh start or another chance.
But the truth is, continuing to hold a grudge ends up giving your child more authority, because you are ultimately sending the message that he or she has the power to control you and your emotions. In the long run, your child learns that you are emotional peers.
So what can you do if you are having a hard time dealing with your own anger and hurt and can’t find a way to move on? Here are some ideas:
- Recognize and validate your feelings. As Debbie Pincus explains in her article Sometimes I Don’t Like my Child, acknowledging your anger and hurt can go a long way to resolving these feelings. It’s OK to be angry at your child, or to feel hurt by their actions — you don’t have to feel guilty for not liking your child’s behavior, or not wanting to be around him or her when you’re upset. These are normal reactions to your child’s inappropriate behavior.
- Don’t take it personally. I know this is easier said than done, especially when your child is screaming at you or calling you hurtful names. Chances are, though, that your child’s behavior isn’t about you; it’s more about having ineffective problem-solving skills. Think about it this way: If you’re supposed to be working on a project at work, and instead you’re browsing eBay or playing a game on Facebook, your manager is unlikely to be very emotional about this, or think “I’m such a horrible boss — if I were better, my employees would stop wasting time and just do their work!” Instead, your supervisor would likely address this with you in a matter of fact way, and then you would both continue on with your day. As James Lehman reminds us, it’s most effective to parent from a calm, objective standpoint, and to think of yourself as “CEO of your family’s business.”
- Forgiving doesn’t equal forgetting. Many parents I speak with are incredulous when I advise giving their child another chance. I get comments like, “So, what? I’m just supposed to forget about this??” I understand that frustration, that anger, that pain when your child continues to push your buttons and act out, and I understand that it’s not easy to let those powerful emotions go. I do encourage those parents to think about the lesson they are teaching by holding onto those hurt feelings. Many times, what the child is learning is, “I’m so bad, I can’t change!” or “I’m just a lost cause, so why should I try?” If your child seems to constantly make the same mistakes, over and over again, that can actually be a very good platform for problem-solving and scripting with your child what s/he can do differently next time.
Related: For a step-by-step plan on how to start trusting your child again, read Janet Lehman’s, Risky Teen Behavior: Can I Trust My Child Again?
We all make mistakes — parents included. It is part of what makes us human. Another part of what makes us human is our capacity to learn from our mistakes, and change our behavior accordingly. By your willingness to give your child another chance to try again, or to earn that privilege back, you are sending the message that you think your child can behave better, and that he or she is capable of change.