If you're afraid of your child, you are not alone. Many parents are frightened of their kids' tantrums, violence, and their own lack of control over the situation. On the 1-on-1 Coaching team, we hear about the pain parents experience as a result of their children’s behavior: the social scrutiny and the isolation that accompanies it. Whether it’s a three-year-old hurting another toddler, a teenager threatening you with bodily harm, or a preteen cursing at you or breaking household items, fear of your child, in itself, is a terrifying and humiliating place to be.
Many of us remember the days when things were very different because we were afraid of our parents. They made the rules, had the last say and would not hesitate to cancel time with friends, spank, or ground us for a minor rule infraction. Showing any form of disrespect, such as name calling or swearing, would not be tolerated and could end with a mouth full of soap or a trip “behind the barn” for a thrashing.
James Lehman considers these types of harsh consequences ineffective. They do not teach children appropriate ways to act, but rather create resentment. He contends that “learning problem solving skills and being held accountable changes behavior.” So what do you do? If you are afraid of your child, he knows this, regardless of his age. In the article Are You Afraid Of Your Acting-out Child? James Lehman states, “If you’re negotiating on your child’s terms, your fear that’s he’s going to act out is going to dictate how much you give in.” The message from your child is, “If you upset me, bad things are going to happen.” So saying “no” to a party can mean a hole punched in your wall or your car keyed.
One way to take back some power, at least outwardly, is by not showing your fear. James describes this with a visual of a three-year-old having a tantrum in a grocery store because Mom said they couldn’t have candy. James suggests that you take out a book and look bored. The 3-year old will learn very quickly that they aren’t going to get candy, there is no reaction from Mom and they don’t have an audience. It won’t take them long to learn that this strategy is not working and that behavior will diminish.
Keeping a neutral expression and voice tone has more power when implementing consequences, because your child realizes they can’t wear you down or feed on your emotions. So, put on your poker face, give the consequence and then disconnect and leave the room if appropriate. This will not only reduce the escalation in your child's behavior, but will reduce your fear. Fake it until you make it!
Later, after your child is calm, follow up to deal with any damage and problem solve with them on how they can do things differently next time. Explain that you want to help them not get in trouble next time. As James states in Go to Bed NOW!” Winning the Bedtime Battle with Young Kids and Teens, “The focus should be on your child learning how to manage himself through meeting his responsibilities, and not on your child learning to manage you through power plays.”