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Transforming Anger with My Children

January 2, 2011

… and that’s what I did this morning.

Our household was like a war zone last night.  My kids were treating each other absolutely atrociously.  They were screaming at each other at the top of their lungs and calling each other vile names.  It was so upsetting.  In an attempt to regain order and peace in the house, I stepped in.  Much to my regret, I added only more anger to an already chaotic situation.

When all was said and done, I grounded them and told them if they could not communicate with each other properly, they could not communicate with others.  I removed all cell phones, laptops, xbox live, ipods, etc. they use to text and talk with the outside world.  Of course, this was not received well at all.  All kinds of remarks were hurled at me… making me feel like as a parent… I have completely lost control (as if we ever really have any right?).

As I went to bed, I pondered the whole situation realizing that some of those remarks hurled at me were in fact true.  How could I expect my children to treat each other with love when they’ve witnessed very little of that between their own parents lately? How could I expect them not to lose their temper and display anger towards each other when I was capable of doing the very same thing in my attempt to regain order? 

Then other questions came to my mind…

  • How could I expect them to improve their communication by taking away all their means of communication? 
  • Am I asking too much of an 11 and 12 year old to have a healthier relationship when they are siblings and probably need to be able to vent their anger somewhere? 
  • How healthy is it really to ask your kids not to display such anger for each other if that is truly what they are feeling? 
  • How unhealthy is it for them to repress these emotions for fear of losing their stuff or to fake happiness with each other in order to earn it back?  
  • Don’t we already have enough problems in this household with people being unable to express their feelings and those feelings not being heard?
  • How effective am I really being here by diminishing such opportunities because the feelings are simply ugly? 
  • And finally… God, how do I make this better… what can I do differently?

After my meditation this morning, an idea came to me which I’m hoping was a gift from God… an answer to prayer.  I decided that in order for my kids to earn their stuff back, I was going to have them do an exercise.  I wanted it to be a journaling exercise that would allow them to get in touch with their feelings and to really feel them and express them… to discover what was behind their anger…. to challenge them to look at themselves… and to put an intention in black in white about how they could do things differently. 

So I asked them to each get a notebook and a pen.  While they were doing that, I asked God to PLEASE direct me on the questions I should ask them. I then asked them these questions one by one…

  • What are all the things that bother you about the other person?
  • Why do these things bother you?
  • How does it make you feel that the other person does this?
  • How does it make you feel when you express your anger towards them in return?
  • What good things do you see in the other person? (they both said nothing and refused to write)
  • So I asked… what would you miss if the other one was gone?
  • What can you do differently to express your anger in a healthier way?
  • How are you going to treat each other better in the future?

When we were done, I asked them to exchange notebooks and read what the other one wrote.  Neither could decipher each other’s writing so I volunteered to read their answers to each other one question at a time (another blessing by God I think). 

Well let me tell you… it was an experience for all three of us!!!  While both children had done the writing with total attitudes, a hesitation to be open to the other in any way, and a conviction they were still in a place of justified anger for the other… it all began to melt as I read their answers and added my own insight to what I was reading on the paper… to what I saw they were really both saying… since they are much too young to understand that behind their anger is pain and hurt.

It was just so sad to read it and I tried to keep myself composed emotionally as I read and conveyed what I saw.  Rebecca was angry with Frankie because he stares at her and he is loud playing his video games and will never let her play with him.  Frankie was angry with Rebecca because she makes fun of him when he looks at her and she threatens to humiliate him and tell people about his Tourette’s if she doesn’t get her way. 

So I explained first to Frankie that what I see is that Rebecca cares about you and just wants to spend time with you and alligator tears began to form in his eyes.  Then I explained to Rebecca that Frankie cares about you and wants to look at you and Frankie’s began to cry harder.  Then I said… what I see is they both have a desire for connection with each other and love each other and Rebecca began to cry.  All of this was too much for me and broke my heart as I realized that I am living in a household full of people who just want love and connection to others and cannot seem to have it with each other and it broke my heart and I began crying too.  

After I was done explaining the rest of their answers, I told them they had one final exercise to complete in order to get their stuff back…. that they had to do the 30-second hug therapy which we had all seen posted on Facebook.  It was a video of two young kids whose father had made them hug for 30 seconds as therapy, which seemed like an eternity to me watching it, and was so touching.  

I had asked my kids to do this the last time they had a brawl and they flatly refused but this time, it was a condition of getting their stuff back so they were willing.  I told them I would only do 10 seconds (my thought was eventually to work up to 30 seconds if we needed to do this again).  As the seconds clicked away, I couldn’t get enough of seeing them hugging.  Since they couldn’t see the timer and are too young to be really aware of time, I let the timer go… and go… and they got their 30 second hug therapy without even knowing it. 

So long and short, my kids have their stuff back.  I have no idea if any of what I did will change their behavior.  But for me… the miracles that happened were that both my kids were crying… in touch with their feelings… expressing them not repressing them… and the feelings were sadness not anger… a longing for love and connection… not hatred… and they each got the opportunity to be heard, even if it was through the voice of their mother…. and finally… watching them have a piece of that loving connection in that 30 second hug. 

May God please guide, bless and direct my family every day… as he did today. 

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