Getting Angry at Your Kids Doesn’t Make You a Bad Person


We’re all doing the best we can, a leading expert explains

Today, Wake-Up Call (subscribe to our newsletter here!) is featuring helpful advice from Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, MD. He’s a leading child and adolescent psychiatrist, and the founding president of the Child Mind Institute. Read on.

We are in the middle of a pandemic that will have an unknown and staggering effect that touches every person on the globe: lives lost, families disrupted, futures deferred. In this context I am grateful to be safe, healthy and at home with my family. Having two of my three adult sons and their significant others living with us is one of the unexpected “silver linings” of this crisis. Having family dinners and spending lots of time with our 19-month-old grandson is a special bonus.

Still, just like none of us asked to be born, none of us asked to be forced into close quarters with our families with no end in sight. The first message I’d like to impart to anyone reading this is: being frustrated is not the same as being ungrateful. Every one of us is a human being thrust into a “new normal” of uncertainty and extreme circumstances. We are all doing the best we can.

And yet! I still find myself getting angry with my sons — and my wife, my daughter-in-law, even my grandson. And then I get angry at myself for being angry, and then I get angry at the virus, and the world, etc. This is understandable, but it’s not helpful for their mental wellbeing or my own. So, here are some quick tips that I try to employ for myself. Maybe they’ll help other parents calm down, let go of frustration, and be the best help to their kids. Remember — our kids didn’t ask for this, either.

Be reasonable and kind to yourself.

Give yourself permission to ratchet down parenting self-expectations. Choose not to die on any hills today. “We can explain to our kids that this is a unique situation and re-institute boundaries when life returns to normal,” says Dr. Dave Anderson, my colleague at the Child Mind Institute.

Hold your tongue.

You’ll be happier.

Encourage kids to open up.

For many, the most painful part of the crisis will be missing out on their lives. This is a real problem for teens whose main developmental task is to separate from you and go their own way. This is frustrating for you and your teens and also dangerous — so we have to talk about it. Give them room to share their feelings and listen without judgment.

Ask for help — and delegate.

It’s easy as parents to blame kids (particularly teenagers) for not pitching in. But did you ask? Particularly at a time like this, do not expect anyone to read your mind — especially your kids. Everyone who can pitch in, should. Give kids age appropriate jobs. For example, teens might be able to help mind younger siblings when both parents have to work.

Who are you actually angry at?

If you have a partner at home, agree that you’ll trade off when it comes to childcare. Don’t get angry at your kids because your partner isn’t supporting your need for some me time. It may feel good…but it doesn’t make sense. Particularly not to your kids.

If you’re beating yourself up about home life right now, put down the baseball bat and pick up a feather. The same applies to how you treat your kids. Ask for help — and say it out loud, too. And don’t keep your emotions bottled up.

If you need more help, we have tons of resources here, including links to twice daily Facebook Lives where you can ask your questions and get answers from our experts — many of whom are parents in the same boat as you.

Oh, one final tip: Don’t forget that we’re all in this together.

Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and the founder and president of the nonprofit Child Mind Institute.

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