I always wanted to be one of those parents whose kids would grow up to say that their dad never yelled or snapped at them, that he was always cool and collected, disciplining out of love rather than reactivity. Unfortunately, I’m already ten years into this parenting thing and have botched it too many times to count.
So what do I do when I screw up and snap at my kids? I can think of only a few options.
The first is to blame. Use a lot of ‘buts’, such as “I know I yelled at you, but ____.” Blame work, blame the mess of the house, blame the noise level, etc., etc. Unfortunately, this option leads a kid to believe other people’s reactivity is their fault and responsibility.
The second option is to ignore it altogether. Pretend nothing ever happened. Move on through the day as if everything is ‘just fine’. The downside to this is that it leaves a child confused and frustrated, making it difficult for them to learn how to take responsibility for their own messes and mess-ups.
The third option is to live in denial, by making up a bunch of excuses for yourself. This usually means making yourself untouchable. Regardless of how your child feels, they know that you can come back and say just how much worse it was for you. Regrettably, this eventually leads to your child feeling either resent towards you or superiority over you.
The fourth and final method I’ll mention is to take ownership. Simply take responsibility for your mistake- no if, ands or buts. This can be as simple as going to your kids and saying something like, ‘The way I snapped at you was wrong of me, and you didn’t deserve that. I allowed myself to get stressed out and reactive. I regret the way I treated you and am going to work hard at changing it in the future.’
This approach, combined with real change, does a multitude of things for your child.
For one thing, you teach your child how to take responsibility (isn’t this our goal after all?). For another, you help your child develop character and integrity. As they see you take ownership for your flaws, they learn to do the same for themselves, which in turn gives them freedom to not hide their flaws but to put them in the open where they can be changed, hence the integrity of their outside and inside being the same. You also allow them not to be over responsible for your mess, so that they can be truly responsible for their own. If they believe that they are responsible for their parents emotions and reactivity, they have very little capacity left to be responsible for their own mistakes.
Tangent: Why do I yell in the first place?
This is such a difficult question, with as many different options as there are people who ask it, but I’m going to take an overgeneralized stab at answering it.
In my own life, I’ve begun to see that when I am snappy and reactive towards my kids, it’s typically due to a lack of power on my part. What I mean is this, there are a multitude of areas in my life that I am powerless over, and yet I continually try to control these areas. When I can’t control them (which is always) I end up trying to control or make up for that lack of power in other areas. I have found that more often than not, when I am snappy at my kids, it’s because I am trying to gain power which I don’t have. This absolutely breaks my heart, but what can I do about it? Trying harder is usually not the answer, after all my dilemma is a lack of power not a lack of options. What I have found is that when I lack power, I need to ask for power from someone who has it, and in my experience that someone is God.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. James 1:5-6 (The Message)
In summary, when you mess up and snap at your kids, go to them later on and own your actions. In taking responsibility for your mistakes, praying and actively seeking to change, you repair your relationship while also teaching your children how to take responsibility and develop their own character.