It’s a dreaded day. I’ve been busted. My parents just found out that I skipped school for almost a year, missed a ton of classes and failed an entire semester. Home is going to be hell. Only question that comes to mind who is going to beat the crap out of me harder – my mom or dad. The dreaded doors open and I’m immediately faced with a barrage of scolding. Words go straight to my heart – “looser, idiot, bum, what an embarrassment!” They each scream at me louder than the other. My father raises his arm but I fall down to the floor and crouch into a fetus position hoping to avoid his blows but then it comes – three kicks in the row. They are not painful, physically.
Up to today I don’t remember what my mother said or did. She might have slapped me too but I don’t remember. What I do remember were those kicks. They violated a sacred bond between father and son, erased years of positive interactions between us, and possibly, I never forgave him for this.
You see, kids expect their parents to get angry when they mess up. They know it’s coming. What they never expect is to be humiliated. This is subhuman.
Life often makes me reflect on the ways my parents punished me for messing up. To be frank, it scares the bejesus out of me that I might discipline my daughter in the same way. Below is my advice to those of you who can’t help but to get angry but want to preserve your relationship with your child as much as possible.
So You’re Boiling With Anger, Now What?
1. Skip the degrading punches
There is a good rule out there to never hit your child’s head and belly. In fact, if you’re hell-bent to discipline your child then only slap his butt. You may say, “But I’m still abusing my kid!” and you’re right but if you’re going to do it then don’t humiliate the child.
2. Discipline without anger
This is hard but you can do it. Just calm down, walk up to your child and say “Pumpkin, you really messed up and you know it. I must discipline you now,” and then you slap the butt. If you do it this way your kid won’t be as angry with you. In fact, she might come to you in ten minutes and give you a hug. This is what happened to me and it was a big lesson and validation that this strategy works.
3. Skip the demeaning words at all costs
Kids are like sponges. The more you insult them with nasty words like “idiot, dork” and so on the more you wire this into their fragile psyche. Later in life, this programming will surely manifest in unexpected, subconscious ways and it will not bring anything positive to them. This is just how our minds work.
4. Don’t call them names that define their character
Instead of screaming at them “You’re a buffoon!”, scream “You acted like a buffoon!” There’s a major difference here. One is labeling and ingraining an image and the other one is describing an unwanted behavior.
Why get angry in the first place?
If you have ambitions to live life on a higher level then you know that our own emotional intelligence comes as a priority. At the end of the day, would you rather have your child model an immature, neurotic mother or a wise and dignified woman? Below I share some of the best advice I received as a parent:
Cause & Effect
Understand that everything has a cause and effect.You get mad and beat him now, he’ll get mad and beat someone else later. If you take karma seriously – you’ll meet again in some next life. What kind of connection would you like to have with your kid when you switch roles? How would you like to be treated yourself?
Patience is Painful
Practice patience no matter how painful it gets. Pretty much all wisdom traditions portray patience as the most noble human trait. I’ve heard that ABC’s children (American Born Chinese) do better at school not because they are inherently more intelligent but because Asian cultures instill patience into their children’s mental makeup. Want to raise a successful kid? Be a model of patience for him.
Everything is Impermanent
Remind yourself that everything is impermanent. As the saying goes, “the only thing that is constant in life is change.” The same baby you just rocked in your arms to sleep is developing a character and demanding more independence. You’re clinging to a notion the way she has to be (according to society or your own upbringing) is causing nothing but misery for the both of you. Honestly, if you really want to stretch this exercise then start imagining what it will be like if your daughter moves out of the house or God forbid, something else more horrible happens to her. These things happen. Life is fragile. Keeping these things in mind puts every day struggles with anger in perspective.
Your Kid as a Tool for Self-Significance?
Is your child an extension of you and your ego? Is he the one who’s supposed to help you feel more relevant in this life? This is going to sound a little harsh but I’ll share anyways. I’ve seen so many dull, ignorant and unremarkable people who were constantly struggling to find their place in society. Out of this deep feeling of insignificance rises a strong will to be something and parenting provides for that. Suddenly, instead of standing awkwardly in the corner at a party one has a kid to chase after and feel important. Suddenly, they are an expert at something! Problem is they do not see their child as an independent individual and they project their own wishes and desires onto them. The kid is lost between the need to follow his own inner calling or appeasing his parent’s wishes and anger. Best favor we can grant our children is by offering guidance rather than imposing our views.
Kids are small people
People act the way they feel. Why get angry at the way kids feel when they don’t even know why they feel like this? You may say, “I try to do what’s good for him but he’s not listening to me!” This is true, it can be infuriating sometimes, especially when you’re in a hurry (aren’t we always?). I find it helpful to ask myself, “What is she really saying here?” Often times what I see is that my daughter is simply going through a developmental change or simply picked something up from her peers at the kindergarten. Then I use the approach that I normally use with my wife: instead of changing how she thinks about something I must change how she feels about it. This works like a charm. A ton of frustration saved for the both of us.
Do you get naturally angry when your child is angry at you? This is the basics of any conflict, isn’t it? You get mad, then I’ll get mad and we’ll try to equalize everything so that no one feels stupid but in the end everyone does anyways. Why? Because no one swallowed their ego and tried to find a better way to end the conflict. I remember I once called my mom stupid. Her response was to lynch the living daylight out of me with a cord from an iron. I couldn’t sit for a week. Then there’s another extreme – where kids call their parents nasty names but their parents just ignore or lough at it. Even though the latter is more mature and less destructive it too misses the point that kids should see their parents as authority, rather than an equal buddy. It is up to us to establish those boundaries and respond in a wise manner.
A Spark That Burns the Barn Down
In summary, getting angry at your child will only create distance and more animosity wit her now and in the future. Children will always remember. I remember every iron cord from my mother and those soul crushing kicks from my father. I had to work hard in life, really hard, to reprogram myself that my parents brought so much more good to me than those embarrassing incidents of getting so angry and abusive with me.
Buddha taught that same way that one spark can destroy a barn-house, a moment of anger can destroy a lifetime of good deeds. This is what makes me very mindful of any anger fits with my kid. I work so hard to raise her wise, compassionate and resilient but it will take only one serious screw-up to erase all that from her memory.
There is one little hack to make sure that the relationship is always preserved no matter what. It’s called a sincere apology. There’s nothing more important than swallowing one’s ego and apologizing to a child if you feel you screwed up. God, I can’t even tell you how powerful it would have been if my father actually just once said “Son, I’m so sorry, I should have never kicked you because I love you so much. I just lost it, can you forgive me?” I would have adored him for the rest of his life.