“Be quiet, Dad. You never let me do anything!” “I don’t like you.” “You’re not fair! Leave me alone!”
When a child is allowed to spontaneously express his anger, he may say rude, hurtful things, because he’s too young to consider his parents’ feelings. In the heat of the moment, he says what he’s thinking, and he doesn’t understand adult reasoning.
Anger at parents is a normal part of growing up. Learning how to express negative feelings in socially acceptable ways takes time. It also takes patience on the part of parents. Yet many parents react harshly. “Don’t you dare talk to me that way!” “I don’t want to hear that tone of voice.” If parents overreact toward their child for his disrespectful words, he may learn that feeling angry is bad and that angry thoughts shouldn’t be spoken.
While some parents overreact, others feel helpless when faced with outbursts. “Should we allow this behavior?” “Why does he talk this way?” “Am I setting enough limits?” Many parents grew up with strong restrictions on their speech. “Don’t ever say that again. It’s not nice.” They may be reluctant to impose similar restrictions on their child’s expressions of anger, yet they feel uncomfortable listening to him say things they would never have said as children.
Your child needs a chance to speak his angry thoughts, but you also need to put limits on how he expresses himself. If certain words or attitudes are unacceptable to you, tell him. “It’s all right for you to be mad at me, but you’ll have to change your tone of voice.” “When you stop name-calling, I’ll be happy to listen to you.” “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.” “You’ll have to find another way to tell me about being angry.” Not only do such statements guide him toward better ways of expressing anger, but they demonstrate a respectful way of communicating that you’d eventually like him to adopt.
As you help him control the way he speaks to you, consider his age; a young child lacks communication skills. Also, remember that your child is greatly influenced by your behavior. If you expect him to speak respectfully, offer examples. Don’t say, “Get over here this minute!” “Stop acting like a baby.” “You better listen to me!” Instead, talk to him and treat him as you would like him to treat others.
With patience, limits, and guidance, he’ll gradually learn to express most of his feelings appropriately. However, if you become concerned that he can’t control his anger, consider seeking outside help, such as a parenting class. The way you treat this issue now will set the tone for communication with your child later.