Did you know that your kids use anger to control the people around them?
Anger may be a natural emotion, yet we have seen the devastating effects it can have on the whole family. Teaching your child how to deal with anger will not only help your family, but it also prepares you children for future situations.
Doug: We’re talking about anger, anger in your kids. I think it is going to be a great episode.
Andrea: This isn’t just a kid thing. This can touch home for a lot of us adults, too.
Doug: It wasn’t that many years ago that one of my kids actually came to me and said, “Dad, I am afraid of you. You are an angry person.” When one of your kids comes and looks you in the eye and says that, you are either going to tell them they are crazy and yell at them or you can go, “Oh. I think maybe I should go do something about it.”
And I quickly learned that guess who was the angry person in the house? Moi. And it was the best gift anybody ever gave me, that I learned how to deal with it. You do not want your kids to go and say that they are afraid of you. Anger is a real issue. Where does anger come from in kids?
Dr. Leman: One of the best sermons I have ever heard in a church was entitled How to Be Good and Angry.
Doug: How to Be Good and Angry.
Dr. Leman: “How to Be Good and Angry”. Anger itself it’s not something bad. It is a human emotion. We all have anger in our life from time to time. Sometimes, it is situational where a kid will just make us angry. I have had things like coming home to see that someone had driven the van through the garage door.
I had two teenager drivers at that time, but I knew who did it. He had a signature all over it. I did not get angry. I sat there and just sort of took it in. I asked myself, “How could she possibly do that?”
We talk about anger we have a choice to be angry. Lots of anger does not seem to be a choice because it’s just sort of an automatic response to something that we did not expect to have happened. But kids who get angry continue to get angry many times because they are little perfectionists who feel like life has to go just a certain way.
And when life goes wrong, for example kids who are in competitive sports, it is easy to be a good winner, it is very difficult to be a good loser. When things do not go well for kids, lots of times, the kid will throw a temper tantrum. I like to call them power tantrums. The kid who is angry is usually a powerful person.
Now again, keep in mind that anger is a very natural feeling that all of us have from time to time. Every time Doug and Andrea get angry, let’s have them blow a little air into a balloon. Again before long, you have a few kids around you. That balloon might be pretty full of air in a short period of time.
What happens with people who tend to get angry, notice it is a little straw that broke the camel’s back. A little thing can set off this momentous explosion of anger.
Keep in mind the analogy that every time you get angry, you blow a little air in the balloon. Before long, you have this balloon with just one more little puff of air, and maybe we all did this as kids blowing up a balloon. We blew it up so far it snapped in our face. So it is with human behavior.
Something happens and everything just blows. This goes back to an earlier podcast that we have talked about, about if I could just throw up when I have the flu I know I would feel better. Lots of times with anger, we emotionally throw up on another person and now we feel better because the tension has been released. But look what we did to somebody else.
Now the analogy back to this little balloon. Remember the noise we used to create by taking the neck of the balloon and we’d stretch it? We would make that terrible sound that would drive your sister, or your brother, or your parent up the wall. It is interesting.
When you do that, when you let air out, although it is uncomfortable to hear what happens to the balloon? It gets softer, it gets malleable. What is the chance of it exploding? Zero. None. Zilch. If you can get a person to talk about what is bothering them inside in a productive way, you lessen the probability of these explosions because the explosions hurt.
When you are angry, if you are an angry husband, you say something to your wife. The words you choose to use with your wife, or your husband, or your kids make a huge difference. I am on record in saying the words you choose can change the path of a relationship by just thinking your way to behavioral change.
No drugs from the shrink just thinking your way to behaving differently with the words you choose to use with your wife, or your husband, or your kid. Kids continue to get angry because life is not going perfect for them. They are the ones that throw their tennis racket. We have had great athletes. Was it John McEnroe who had the great temper?
Dr. Leman: Again temper only continues because it is reinforced. Years ago, there was an ad on television for E.F. Hutton, a financial investment group if I remember right. But he punch line was “When E.F. Hutton talked, everyone listened.” They showed everything just came with an abrupt halt.
And so it is when people have an explosion. You are going to be around someone and all of a sudden they have this terrible explosion. You sort of freak out. Everything becomes quiet, you become frightened because of this explosion of anger. Anger can be used to control other people.
Andrea: Once they learn that, then they use that as a pattern.
Dr. Leman: Yes. And it is manifested in so many different ways in their life. There is people who are listening to us who are in marriages where they feel like they just have to walk on eggs. You have to walk on eggs around your partner. Why? Because if you say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing, Harold is going to explode, Marsha is going to have a hissy fit. That is not a comfortable way to live. It just is not.
Kids are the same way. When kids get crossed and you give a kid vitamin N which is “No, we are not going to do that,” and they have this huge temper tantrum, realize that that temper tantrum serves a purpose. Purpose being that that is my way of saying “I am very upset with what you have said that I cannot go and do what other kids do at my age,” or whatever.
It is a kid’s way of saying, “I am in control of you and I rebuke the authority you are trying to exist over me.” When a kid gets angry, saying something like, “Honey, you seem angry. Listen I can tell by the expression on your face you are really not ready to talk right now. You are still pretty upset about this. But when you calm down I would like to talk to you about it. Just come on in the family room when you are ready. We will sit down. I would like to hear what you have to say about it.”
I would like to hear what you have to say about it. There is an open invitation for the kid to talk. And you let him talk. Is he going to say things that are all going to line up with what you think? No, but you still hear him out with tell me more about that, without asking questions. If you got a control freak in your famil, whether it is a husband, wife or kid, number one: Do not ask them questions. Asking questions will get you nowhere.
Doug: If you have a control freak and you ask them questions it will get you nowhere.
Dr. Leman: Yeah. Do not ask them questions. Tell me more about that, or honey can I ask your opinion about something?”
Andrea: Why does that take you nowhere if you ask them a question?
Dr. Leman: Because it puts the defenses up immediately, especially for men. You women, use three and a half times number of words that we men use in a given day. Sharing, communicating, talking, that is right up your alley. It is not for your husband because he specializes in arm’s length relationships.
Andrea: So what would I say to him instead?
Dr. Leman: “Honey, can I ask your opinion about something?” When you say it to a husband or a kid it says, “I value what you think.” There is not a man on this Earth that would not tell you how he thinks. There is just some gentle ways of doing it without asking a question. This is interesting because right now I am framing out a book about middle school kids.
I make the point that here is this kid sailing along, great little kid. All of a sudden, he hits the sixth grade. He does not talk, in the morning you are lucky to get a grunt out of him. You say, “Leman, I drive him to school nine miles. He does not say a word. I am lucky to get a word out of the kid.” Well, do not ask him questions.
If I did not ask him questions, he would just sit there. Fine, let him just sit there. Drive him to school. If you want to say something, just before he slams the door say, “Have a good day.” If he forgets his lunch, that is not the end of the world. He will bump some food off of his buddies.
Doug: How do we, as parents, help our children release that anger out of the balloon little bits at a time?
Dr. Leman: Again, I wrote the Birth Order book so forgive the Birth Order reference. Let me say something that a middle child has never heard in their entire life. Honey, what do you think? We never ask the middle child anything because the first born and the baby overrun things. Saying to kids, “Honey, I would like to know your opinion about things.”
It is a question, but it is an opinion question as opposed to just flat out asking kid’s questions. They perceive that as an agenda, it puts their ears back a little bit, and their defenses go up immediately. Again, there is a lot of ways to skin a cat.
I remember a long time ago when kids cry and sometimes in private practice, working the families you would see a kid cry. I always try to be close enough to the family so I could touch them if I needed to. When I learned when the kid starts to tear up and tell you how rough things are, you just reach over and touch their knee or touch their arm.
Even though it seems like they are going to stop talking and just cry when you just touched him, they will continue on. If you let them stop, that is the end of it. They are just going to break down. Then they will get embarrassed and leave, slam the door, leave the office, whatever. Just touching somebody says, “I am with you. You do not have to say much.”
Doug: When your kids start to exhibit any type of emotional response be really aware.
Dr. Leman: You may want to touch him. You might just say, “Honey, you seem awfully upset. And I do not know if you want to talk about it now or later but I just want you to know I really would like to hear what you say.” Let me speak a little Birth Order for a second.
You got Little Miss Goody Two Shoes in the number one position. And right behind her is that sister, just two years behind her. I think the parent is so smart to pull aside that second kid. The second kid might be the one that has got the anger in them.
You might say to little Sally about her older sister Samantha, “Hey, honey. Can I ask you a question? Would you mind if I asked you a question? I like your opinion about something.” There, the opinion part, you will probably get a yes. “Yeah, what is it?” “Well, your sister. Is she a little over the top or is it me? Is she a little too much or is it me?”
What you have done with that second child is you said, “Hey, I get it. That is a big shadow to live up to. Little Miss Goody Two Shoes who gets straight As without racking a book and here you are struggling to get Bs.” What you are doing is what I call establishing equality with your kid.
You are getting behind the kid’s eye and just saying to them in commercial form, I understand what you are up against. And while we are on the subject of your big sister, is your younger sister Cory a brat with a capital B? Or is it my imagination? She can be the biggest pest in the world.
Now, you have just hit gold with this middle child. This middle child says, “Oh, thank the Lord. Somebody understands my plate in life. I am sandwiched between little Miss Goody Two Shoes and little Brat breath herself.” Then you put a little humor in it. It is a tough position to be in. I always tell people it is like me going on Jay Leno and finding out that the woman from San Diego Zoo has brought her animal act on.
In fact I was on The View once, a couple of times actually, but one of the times I was on, we talked about my book “Sheet Music” which is a sex book for couples. Talking to those crazy women of New York about sex, they do not care about me, some chubby guy from Tucson, Arizona.
Anyway, when I was done, I walked into the green room which was located right behind the set. John Stewart the comedian, was there. Everybody was clapping when I walked in. I knew I did a good job. You only get six minutes, by the way. I walked in and John Stuart looked up at me and said, “Thanks a lot.”
That is as good a compliment as you get in New York. In other words, he was the next one up. Keep in mind that many of these kids were angry, see the discrepancy and how we treat the kids in the family. We tend to over identify with the kid that’s most like us in the family which sometimes causes friction. It is the differences that make as a couple, it is the differences that help us get along in parenthood. It’s sort of an interesting.
Kids form alliances where number one and number three might be best buds and number two and number four, or it might be number one and number four against two and three when there is a fight about something. It is interesting.
Doug: What I find interesting about this that is very uncomfortable is we are not really talking about the kid. We are talking about us parents. A, What are we modeling for the kids and B, How are we treating the kids? Are we actually setting our kids up to be angry within our own home?
And if I hear what you are saying correctly is sit down one on one with your kids every now and then and be real with them. Do not be fake, do not be a phony. Identify with them and speak their language, be with them.
Andrea: Let that anger off bit by bit rather than squelch it.
Dr. Leman: Well, there is an appropriate way for anger. Sometimes these kids, like in athletic contests, they just kick themselves around the field because they made an error or they blew something. You can say to a kid, “Honey, I know this is a huge thing to you but I got to tell you the truth. It is not a huge thing to me.” and walk away.
In other words, do not feed the perfectionism. The kid wants to feel like it is the end of the world, he can feel it is the end of the world. Nothing you are going to say is going to dissuade that. But you can simply say very glibly, “It is not that big deal to me.”
Doug: That is great. You did say a couple times is it is often the perfectionist that would be the angry child.
Dr. Leman: Oh, yes.
Doug: And help them be set free from that perfection.
Dr. Leman: We should probably do a whole thing on perfectionism because it is slow suicide. You will never get there. You are like the donkey looking for the carrot in the stick. You are going to walk the walk and you are going to try but you are never going to get there. That is what’s fruitless about perfectionism.
Let me remind you, if you are a person if faith, a guy named St. Paul called himself wretched. Now if St. Paul is wretched, please tell me what is Andrea, Doug, and Kevin Leman if St. Paul is wretched. There are so many schools named after him. It is unbelievable. He has got to be important.
Doug: Let us add that to the list. I think that would be a fabulous one to set people free from.
Andrea: Perfectionism, okay.
Doug: We hope that we helped you today get a grip on anger in your children and a way to get around it. And the idea of getting one on one with your kids and analyzing your own responses to your kid’s responses would be great. I encourage you to listen to some of the earlier sessions that we have done that really talked about how we, as parents, either inflame it by our responses or even we escalate it.
Dr. Leman: Simple things. I see you are upset.
Doug: I see you are upset.
Dr. Leman: You seem angry. Hey, I can tell by the expression on your face this was not a good day. Do you want to talk about it? We can talk about it now, we can talk about it later. But I just want you to know, I am all ears if you want to talk.
Podcast Transcript from Podcast 078: www.birthorderguy.com with Dr. Kevin Leman. Used by permission.