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Sad Instead of Mad

Posted in Parenting Corner

Often parents have a poor repertoire of discipline techniques so they do what comes naturally—they use anger as a consequence. Anger becomes the punishment that children learn to fear and the result is distance in relationships. Parents want to express disapproval for misbehavior and anger becomes the vehicle for showing it.


Imagine this scenario: You're making dinner and your six-year-old daughter, Amy, comes into the room complaining that she’s hungry. You tell her that you're making dinner and that she needs to wait. She persists and complains that she hasn't eaten all day. You remind her that she had a snack a few hours ago and then encourage her to leave the room. Instead of leaving, she begins to whine, "I’m starving." Finally you sigh and offer her a banana or an apple. "I don’t like bananas! I don’t want an apple!" Okay, you give in. You offer her some milk and a cookie. Amy is so excited she jumps up…and knocks over the milk! You’ve had it! That was the last straw. Now you're really angry and yell, "What's the matter with you? Now look what you've done!!"

Think a minute. What caused you to lose control? Was it the spilled milk, or was it the fifteen minutes of whining and complaining? If we wait until we become angry to discipline, then we end up responding like a time bomb. Our children can never be sure when we’ll explode.

In this situation, Mom needed to take action earlier. "Amy, it makes me sad that you keep asking after I said No. You need to go play in your room until I call you for dinner."

In honor-based parenting, anger and its accompanying distance are not appropriate consequences. Instead, parents learn to reflect sorrow. Some parents may feel like hypocrites because they don't feel sad, they feel mad. But it doesn't take long for a parent to recognize that the sorrow is there. It's just masked by the anger. If you peel away the anger you will genuinely feel sad that your child is acting out or choosing to disobey. You see that the misbehavior will lead to an unhappy and unsuccessful life. Reflecting sadness is much more beneficial to the child and to the relationship.

Try it; you may be surprised. Children often open up in response to sadness and you may end up with a productive conversation. Sadness opens relationships; anger shuts them down. It may take some practice, and self-control, but your relationships with your kids will benefit in the end.