A while back, I interviewed Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller who wrote the book, Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids. They talked to me about how parents can use anger as a tool rather than a weapon with their children. Here’s part 1 of the conversation:
What makes this book different from other books on anger?
Scott: What we’re trying to do here is teach our kids character and use routines of life to do that. It’s a challenge sometimes to work with our kids, and we get into bad habits with them – especially in the dialogue and the daily grind of family life. We believe that we can give our kids gifts of character and teach them how to respond in difficult situations. The goal is that they will then be able to use these tools for the rest of their lives.
The Apostle Paul says, “In your anger, do not sin,” so it’s assumed that we’re going to be angry. How can parents learn to use anger as a tool rather than as a weapon?
Joanne: Anger is a common problem in families. Parents often get angry but then they feel guilty about being angry. They know they shouldn’t be exploding on their kids, and they don’t know what to do with that emotion of anger. We believe that anger can be a positive emotion if it’s used appropriately. God created us as emotional beings, and anger is a part of that creation, but we don’t want to use it to damage our relationships and to hurt people.
We believe that anger is really an emotion that points out problems. When we’re getting angry, it’s because there’s a problem. The problem may be inside me…maybe I’ve got expectations that are unrealistic. Or, the problem may be around me…maybe my child is doing the wrong thing. Maybe they’re not responding to correction, or maybe my child has a bad attitude, etc. These things make parents angry. We believe that anger can be used as a flag to point out a problem, and we believe that there are solutions to the problem that do not use anger to solve that problem. Parents don’t have to become harsh and angry, but they can use that anger to point out the problem and move into a different direction…one that develops character in our young people.
So, parents need to understand that anger is not a bad thing. It’s what they do with it that can be bad.
Scott: One of the things we’re trying to do here is help parents and young people understand that anger is not necessarily bad. In our counseling practice with parents and with teenagers, we’ll often make the statement that anger is good for identifying the problems, but not good for solving them. That kind of summarizes what we’re saying here.
In the book, you talk a lot about the “instruction process”. You say, “Valuable lessons are hidden in the instruction process.” Talk to us about this.
Scott: We want to help parents establish a routine that kids can understand and expect. Kids need to know how instructions are given and how instructions should be responded to. When a parent gives an instruction, the child needs to respond. It’s good for a child to acknowledge the fact that an instruction has been given, so if parents add that as part of the routine, that will help that child when he or she becomes let’s say an employee someday.
Children also must learn that they need to report back when they finish the job. We suggest that parents use the same instruction routine every day over and over again, and this routine should involve having the child report back. This process increases the child’s sense of responsibility. When the child knows that she has to report back, she feels an extra weight to do the project. If parents want to teach children how to be responsible, part of this is reporting back.
Communication really is an incredible key here to the whole process, isn’t it?
Joanne: Yes! As young people head into the teenage years, family life changes. One of those changes is that young people are more opinionated and they have more ideas, so sometimes that creates conflict in family life. Parents don’t like being questioned and they don’t like their child evaluating what’s going on, so conflict happens.
We believe that parents need to be careful in those situations and know how to deal with conflict and communication in a way where it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. It can be a positive one. One of the things that parents need to learn is to know when to start a conversation that might be a little unpleasant. The last thing they want is to immediately put their teen on the defensive. They need to learn how to start conversations with their young people in a way that draws them out but doesn’t set them off on the defensive.
Scott: Parents also need to know when to stop. Some parents just escalate conflict, but there needs to be a point where they say, “Hey, this is getting pretty intense here. I think we just need to take a break and pick this up later.” So, parents not only need to know when to start but also when to stop conversations.
Joanne: Something that parents need to learn when they are communicating with their children is also how to listen. As parents, we think we have all the answers and all the knowledge, but we really need to learn to listen a little more.
Give parents some tips on ways in which they can become better at introducing touchy subjects with their older children.
Scott: Parents just have to be sensitive about timing. They have to sense the emotional climate in the situation. Sometimes the best thing to do is to confront right on the spot and deal with the issue when it comes up. However, at other times it’s best to wait, because dealing with it right then may produce a flood of emotions that might make any constructive conversation impossible. Just be sensitive to the emotional environment.
Some teenagers set up a facade that makes any time inaccessible. When that happens, parents need not be afraid of a young person’s emotion. Don’t get drawn in, and don’t be afraid of the emotion. There may be times when parents have to confront a situation even if it unleashes some emotion.
Parents have to remember that when they say something to a teenager, they may get an instant negative response, but their teen will most likely go away having heard what they said. Parents must be careful not to be harsh because it may cause their teen to lash out.
Joanne: When it comes to dealing with conflict or even just giving instructions, parents must remember to be sensitive to the environment they’re in. They should connect relationship-wise with their teen first rather than instructing them the second they walk in the door. Talk to them first and then listen to what’s going on; get into their world a little bit and then maybe they’ll be more open for confrontation or instruction. Be very careful about timing and environment.
Part 2 of this conversation will be posted tomorrow.