Steubenville

“It is tempting to point fingers while ignoring some of the root causes that are much more difficult to resolve. The extent that youngsters (and some adults) spend endless hours being entertained by violence says more about lack of supervision and control as well as disengagement. It isn’t that the entertainment media are so powerful, but that other institutions — family, school, religion and community — have grown weaker. Banning violent entertainment seems like an easy fix, but would do little to avert the next mass murder.” – James Alan Fox, Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University

It is strange that I would find the most enlightening comment about the Steubenville sexual assault case on the NY Daily News website (not exactly your top journalistic contender), and not in an article about the case but in a related link about violent video games and mass shootings.

Violence is pervasive in our culture, and there is no one root cause or easy fix, as Professor Fox says. It seems that our institutions have grown weaker, and it feels like little we do will stop the next assault and ensuing social media/entertainment news circus.

Fox is also right about disengagement. With everyone having a screen in their face all the time, whether or not that screen is showing us violent images, we are disconnected. And the screen enables us to post a horrific picture online without thinking twice. This is why all those institutions, as well as our human interactions, are weakened.

One of the tenets of human interaction is seeing the consequences of our behavior on the faces of those around us. We learn how to behave with others’ approval or disapproval. When we’re staring at a screen we don’t see the person on the other end. Or the one right in front of us, for that matter.

I’d been thinking about consequences before the Steubenville case blew up. Parents today are frantic to create a world for their children that is painless, and somewhere along the line some expert told us we can have that. We’ve bought into the notion that life can truly be a bowl of cherries, and for our kids that means no consequences.

In our effort to remove everything hard or painful from our kids’ lives, we’ve also eliminated their feelings. Their natural emotions and responses are tamped down and hidden. There is no appropriate place for letting them out. We don’t play in the neighborhood. We don’t ride our bikes unless it’s on paved trails. We barely even have recess anymore.

Kids rarely have interaction without adults telling them how to behave. They need to learn with their peers, outside of the protective bubble. They need to be wild, get in scrapes, and let their friends show them what’s acceptable. They need to kill a frog and feel how downright awful it is in the pit of their stomach. They need to learn this before the teen years, when we assume they’re ready and give them more freedom. And they should be doing it without social media at their fingertips 24/7.

I want to tell my sons to never ever do anything stupid, because it will be on every kid in your school’s cell phone the next morning. You will be damaged. But never making a mistake is impossible. We all do stupid things (thank God there were no pocket videorecorders around when I was young). I’m not sure how they’re going to make it through unscathed.

The atrocities that happened in Steubenville are not just about the sexual assault – they are about the overall treatment of another human being. Not just what was done to the victim’s body, but to her emotions and well-being. With all the disengagement that Professor Fox speaks of, young people are simply not learning how to treat each other.

I teach a brain development class in which I talk about the fact that the teenage brain is often incapable of seeing the consequences of actions, and exhibits deep denial behaviors (“We’re indestructible!”). How the moral centers in the brain have not yet developed even though the emotions and hormones are churning. That teens have an adult body with all the capabilities, but are still using a child’s brain. The U.S. Department of Justice tells the scary statistics: one-third of all crime is committed by children under the age of 18.

Still, one would hope that we’ve taught our kids well enough to know when to draw the line. We hope they’ll make good choices, and the work we’ve put into that will show when it counts. But alcohol plus a bunch of kids standing around cheering always leads to one hell of a dangerous situation.

Kids need consequences from adults and each other. They need to know that everything they do isn’t the greatest thing ever to hit the planet. It’s why I spend so much of my energy railing against the cult of sports. I’ve seen eleven-year-old boys being praised to the sky because they ran down a field with a ball. From that moment on, that boy knows he has every adult in the room wrapped around his finger. And if that’s true, what can he get away with among his peers?

Steubenville can and will happen again – precisely because there are cameras in every person’s pocket. While the images were used in a horrifying way to humiliate one young girl, they’ve also shed light on the type of activity that kids are participating in. The same images also led to the consequences that these kids so desperately deserve, and I applaud the local authorities for taking action and continuing their investigation.

As I write this, there are three boys wrestling rather violently in my play room. I’m not stopping them. They don’t want me to. Part of this play is learning limits to how far you can go with someone else’s body. When they hurt each other, they stop and check if the hurt person is OK. Someone said, “Time out,” and the others immediately let him go sit down.

I said, “I will let you continue this if timeout is sacred,” and they all accepted that rule without me even having to explain any further. They want to push the limits, but they also want to know the rules. If everyone is safe, they know that individually they’re safe too.

I hope and pray that as the boys in my playroom venture out into the teen years, where I can’t be there to supervise, that they will remember the lessons of these wrestling matches. And the lessons they see me working on from day one in my profession: We don’t put our hands on people in a harmful way. We don’t take things from them. We don’t hurt people’s bodies. No one is allowed to do these things to anyone else. It is unacceptable. And there will be consequences.

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Help! I’m Surrounded by Children!

When I was 16 I swore to my boss at the ice cream shop that I would NEVER have kids. I hated them and everything to do with them. I’d had a series of failed babysitting gigs and was convinced that I would never have what it took to be with children.

All I had to do to prove my point was show him the behavior of the whining little ones and their overly-doting parents as they held up the line of fifteen people for ten minutes, choosing their sprinkle color while their cone melted down my wrist.

He used to love teasing me about this, saying, “Just you wait and see,” while his infant napped in the baby swing that was installed in the back corner of the serving area.

Today not only is my professional life riddled with kids, but I’ve found that the rest of my life is as well. The neighborhood kids know that I’m here after school, and it attracts them to my house. In the past week we’ve had snowball fights in my yard, indoor basketball tournaments, Nerf gun battles, and fights over who gets to eat the rest of the raspberries. All impromptu, because they were looking for something to do and we were here.

So my boss was right. I love being this mom to everyone, having all the kids know that if something goes wrong, Amy is ALWAYS there. Just show up and you’ll be taken care of. My parents’ house was like this growing up, and now I’m here. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But the funny thing is, besides all the fun and games, I do spend most of my day arguing with all these kids. For the littles, it’s why you have to put on your shoes, why it’s time to go inside, why you have to get your diaper changed now whether you like it or not. And we go right on up the line to why you can’t have a sleepover every weekend and why you have to do your homework NOW, before video games.

They fight with me simply because I’m in charge. That’s what humans do, fight the power. But being in charge isn’t a natural state for me, I have to work at it. I want to say yes to everything but being mom means setting boundaries. I’m not always the strictest person in the world, but I am the most trustworthy. I don’t care if you say a swear, as long as I never see you bullying anybody, ever. And I’ll love you no matter what, but you will pay for bad behavior.

This parenting thing really forces you to grow up.

I had a realization last week while I was making them eat apple slices instead of Thin Mints. The reason they love it here – all kids, all ages – is not just because I’m here, but because of the arguing as well. They’re safe. They may want to eat a whole bag of Cheetos and have a Harry Potter movie marathon but I’m here to tell them why they can’t. And even though that sucks in the moment, they know someone is taking care of them. (Deep down. Really. That’s what I keep telling myself.)

This weekend I saw a sad exchange between a father and his teenage son. The father was storming out, staring at his phone, and the son was running after him, calling “Dad!” The father barely looked up and when the son reached him he said, “I knew you would just be humiliated to be seen with me.” I could see the son trying to make peace with the father, and I knew that dad was angry because his son had done something that every typical teenager does. But instead of just accepting that, he was taking it personally.

We have so much misunderstanding in how we deal with our kids. It’s so sad how we view kids, especially teenagers. They’re bad, they’re cranky, they’re crazy, they fight us. They invent languages so we don’t know what they’re saying. They keep secrets and tell lies. Us vs. them.

I wanted to tell both the dad and the son not to take it so seriously. Kids aren’t bad, they’re just kids. When they fight us or act out it’s because they have to establish their own identity separate from us. This is a healthy, natural, and necessary developmental process. And it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t need us. Inside every tough pose is a scared little person just trying to figure out their way in the world, and they always need our support and guidance.

So I’ve come from hating kids to being constantly surrounded by them. And I’m happy. I know that these are the fullest, most complete years of my life, because I’m contributing my little part to raising all of them. Maybe I reached that level of understanding after all.

What to Do When Sports Get Ugly

“You suck.” – Nine-year-old boy at soccer game

Wow. Yes, believe it or not, this was uttered after our last game by a kid on the winning team to someone on my son’s team. We only lost by one goal, and stayed right with them. If you didn’t count the goal where they tackled our keeper, we would’ve tied. Oh and by the way, they don’t keep score at this level. But somehow we suck.

I have learned that as a sports parent there are many games where all you can do is set a good example. It can take a serious effort to resist getting dragged down by the ugliness that’s happening around you. Many times you have to head home after the game trying to find the positive lesson for your kids.

So, like in the case of this game, a lot of those lessons are about rising above. This kind of flat-out bullying shouldn’t be accepted anywhere, but it kills me how easily people shrug it off on the playing field. It’s just part of the game!

I’m not naive, I know what kind of ugly exists out there in the world. But I’ve worked hard to put some distance between it and myself. I moved to the area I live in because we’re a happy, mellow community. I work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. I am, as my best friend likes to say, a marshmallow.

So I really have a hard time when I see such bold aggression. I actually have a physical response – it’s probably fight or flight. I get shaky and upset when I see parents and coaches screaming their kids into submission and berating referees and anyone else in the near vicinity.

Then the kids behave the same way because that’s the example that’s being set: This is how we act when we’re playing sports. It’s ok to be a complete animal, because after the game’s over (and we’ve danced in the blood of our enemies) we can all pat each other on the back and say, “Good game.” No hard feelings. We left it all on the field.

Sometimes I think I’m just a sore loser. But I don’t mind losing to a team that plays fair. And I have to think I’m a better sport than the “You suck” kid. I do try not to write them off. I know they’re a product of their environment.

Until now I’ve been unable to think of a way to just watch the game, not get involved in the atmosphere, and enjoy seeing my kids play a sport they really love. So I googled “parenting and sports” looking for some ideas. There were a couple of good articles, like this one, in which coaching expert Bruce Brown says you should “Let your child bring the game to you if they want to.”

I love this idea. Last year we banned re-hashing the game during the ride home in the car, and it was genius. But at some point either my husband or I couldn’t resist the urge to talk about it and give our two cents. I have to accept that when the game’s over, my son might not want to talk about it at all, and that’s OK. It’s not my job (or what they want) to dissect the game, good or bad.

Many of the other articles I found were a mix of “Don’t over-do it with youth sports,” followed by “How to maximize your child’s athletic potential.” The usual bag of mixed messages. We give a lot of lip service to fairness, but secretly we know you’re just in it to get your kid into the pros.

That’s not what my kids want out of sports (which is probably why they aren’t out there trying to dominate everyone). They love the exercise, the challenge, and being with their friends. I have a feeling that many of their teammates feel the same way.

So all I can do is keep taking deep breaths and teaching my sons how to deal with idiots. The best advice I found was that when the game is over, they just want Mom. And being my best Mom means shutting my mouth and listening to what they have to say. Sometimes it means letting them be quiet and resisting the urge to invade their privacy. And no matter what, always be on their side.

A footnote to this post: In response to reading it, a friend of mine sent me a link to this video, which has been making the rounds this weekend. I don’t want to spoil it so please just watch – it’s well worth the three minutes. Everyone in that gym was a better person for what they saw. If only…

Moving On

The time has come to write again but I can’t think of any topic other than Newtown. I know I need to focus on other things, but it still hangs heavy for me. Every time I sit down for a snuggle with my kids it feels like a privilege, and more fragile than ever before.

What else should I write? Oh, woe is me, getting ready for Christmas was so hard. Day care is crazy and wacky! I can’t find the silly details and complaints to focus on and make funny when all I can feel is gratitude for what I have. And I don’t think anyone feels they have the right to complain about anything yet.

OliphantI was back home in the Newtown area for Christmas to visit family. For the most part we had a lovely time, but you could still feel sadness. Every business with a sign out front had a message for “our neighbors in Newtown,” there were notices for vigils and donations, and all flags were at half-staff. Christmas candles took on more than their usual meaning.

Usually after an event like this happens the tributes seem false. As my husband pointed out, people have this weird response where they all rush to find their connection to the place (well, I did). But this one feels different. It really does feel like everybody’s mourning. As a friend of mine said, it felt like this was happening to all of us – we were all damaged.

At the same time, it didn’t. I was able to get through Christmas pretty normally, and busy myself with packing, wrapping, cooking, hosting, traveling, visiting, being distracted by (and appreciating more) the time with family. It was the day after Christmas that the sorrow hit me again, and I wondered how the Newtown families got through it.

Our brains do this weird thing when tragedy hits, focusing on that one detail that maybe keeps us from thinking about bigger things. For me it was worrying about gifts that had been bought and wrapped, only to be returned. I think about Christmases to come, and how it might feel to be a symbol of a national tragedy. Every December holiday season will be a double-whammy for the people affected by this.

Adam ZygusI’ve been listening to the news on the sly, still trying to shield my kids from most of it. I hear the negative chatter about gun control and runs at gun shops for those who feel it’s their last chance to buy a semi-automatic. But then my heart actually swells when I hear about police buybacks where they run out of rewards because too many people brought their guns to turn in.

We’ve heard from friends who live in Newtown and are tired of the hoopla. There are well-meaning people who come to try and help, but then there is a dark side: they’ve seen people taking pictures of themselves in front of memorials, and others who were actually looking to mooch free food and presents for their kids. People are weird.

In the moving on, everyone immediately rushes to blame, fix, and point to their own reasons for why these things happen. Any logical person (especially one without a political agenda) knows that these things happen for a number of reasons, and we have much work to do to address them. But we can, and we should. In many ways, we are a very sick society, and in others, a very strong one. We have the ability to make change and help each other – we simply have to remember to do these things on a daily basis.

While embracing my firefighter uncle and cousin, I thought of the first responders who are always in harms’ way. After the shootings I read this comment: “Joel Faxon, a member of the Newtown Police Commission, said the trauma experienced by the officers should be treated no differently from physical injuries.” (Hampshire Gazette, Dec. 21)

This is profound and true. I bear witness to traumas beyond imagination that both my firefighter relatives and my ER nurse mother have dealt with throughout the years. Perhaps the discussion on mental health care will finally change, especially when we see the ravages brought on by those who fall through the very big cracks in a wildly broken system.

I wonder if Wayne LaPierre would have to see what first responders see in order to really understand the reality of what happens to people at the wrong end of a gun barrel. Would that get through to him? I wonder if the NRA is finally, a bit pathetically, taking themselves out of the discussion with their own ridiculously stupid response to this situation. We can only hope.

I know we will move on, and we should. The story is already gone from the top of the news cycle. But we should also not forget. I don’t want our collective memory to be short on this, as it is on so many topics in the 24/7 news and information world. (Does anyone remember Hurricane Sandy?)

During the crush of media coverage and the confusion of the first days after the shooting, I heard a quote that stuck with me. It was a father in Newtown who said, “We’re going to do our business (of grieving) here, and then we’ll be back. You haven’t heard the last of us.” I truly and sincerely hope that was a promise.

Kids and Violence

“There’s so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?” – The great Dick Cavett

I don’t want to write about Aurora. But sometimes you can’t write about anything else until you write about the thing you don’t want to and get it over with.

I have no expertise in this area and don’t intend to comment about that event. In fact I’ve been doing my best to put it out of my mind (though I was reminded by my dear friend who lives in Aurora that we don’t all have that luxury). These three articles explain it far better than I could ever attempt to.

What I do have expertise in is kids and violence. In the rush to explain why someone would do this, out come the statistics and quotes from all the children’s groups. It’s TV, it’s movies, it’s children being desensitized to violence.

Of course we’re trying to understand why it happened and how we can stop it from happening again. We want to be able to predict it, avoid it, or even see it coming and do something about it. And I think as time goes on it becomes less and less easy to say “that will never happen here.”

There are ways to teach our kids that violence is not acceptable. We do it every day by being non-violent people. I have to agree with Mr. Cavett. We deny a child’s capacity to know the difference between reality and imagination when we say “if they see it on TV they become it.” Kids actually don’t like violence, and they don’t like to be hurt or see their friends get hurt.

I have two boys. They’ve been playing with guns since they were five. I’m not proud of that, and I wasn’t very happy with it, but I realized it was inevitable. Now they love watching the WWE, witnessing some of the ugliest behavior and nastiest hand-to-hand (or table, ladder, chair, 2X4, sledgehammer, whatever’s handy) violence you can see on television.

But my boys are also sensitive, kind, thoughtful, and caring. They’ve learned it because it is my number one priority to raise kids who have compassion. Good grades, what they eat, how they do in sports, it’s all secondary to being a good person. I pick my battles with other subjects, but meanness is never allowed.

They’ve also learned it because they’ve watched me for ten years now using compassion every day, all day, when dealing with my day care kids. I demonstrate for them over and over again how anger does not work in interpersonal relationships. In fact it pretty much never works (or if it does, the momentary success isn’t worth the hard price you pay trying to clean up the mess).

At the same time we learn what to do when we are angry, because we sure as hell get angry. And that’s completely natural and normal, and you’re not wrong to be angry. But you can’t take it out on someone else – and there are very good ways to get the anger out of our body without hurting another person.

My boys certainly fight, to the point of pain and tears sometimes. Without this book I wouldn’t know how to handle that. It saved my life. So I recommend that EVERY PARENT OF SIBLINGS read it. Now.

When I was young and my future husband started taking me to grimy clubs in New York to see groups like the Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, and the Butthole Surfers, I told our friend I didn’t understand the allure of punk music (I have since seen the error of my ways). He said, “Look – we’re angry young men. We’re full of testosterone. We’re sexually frustrated. Isn’t it better to be here taking it out on the music than picking fights with people?”

That one little comment spoken on a drunken night at 2AM changed the way I see the human animal. And now that I’m raising two small (male) human animals, I remember it often. I have no answer for mental illness and psychosis. But I do know that depression – some say the leading cause of shootings – is anger turned inward. If we could learn to handle our anger we’d be a happier society.

So How’d You Spend Your Saturday Morning, Part 2

I am sitting in my kitchen with the doors closed, music on, trying to drown out the screaming of my Older Son.

*Possibly the best line I’ve ever written on my blog.*

He’s losing his mind over Mario Super Sluggers and screaming so loud that even Younger Son said, “He needs to take a break.”

He did the same thing last night and we eventually left him to go upstairs and read Harry Potter (yes, thank you Lord, my son is finally reading the books after owning them for three years, because the endless unanswered questions left by the movies drove him to it).

Anyway it’s such a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning. I had to give Older credit because he was up an hour before me and didn’t make a peep so that I could sleep in. Holding that in must have been hard but he did it for his dear old Mum. And for that I have to hold in my urge to tell him to “KNOCK IT OFF!!!!”

I thought we were finally past this phase. He used to do the exact same thing when he was younger, venting his frustration at seemingly impossible video games. Then he finally grew out of it and it was like a cloud lifted.

But now he’s back to it and I think I’ve figured out why: hormones. He’s getting flashes of pre-teen angst, snide comments here and there, running up to his room and hiding. ANYTHING my husband says to him is taken as a personal attack.

Dad: You made a great save.
Older: I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!!!!!

I knew all of this was coming and I’m not surprised or upset. I’m really quite sympathetic (well he’s my kid, of course I’m on his side). I think part of why I work well with children is because I remember quite vividly what it feels like to grow up. Not the exact details or events, but the VERY BIG FEELINGS that made everything seem like your life was about to end dramatically.

I look at the challenges he’s facing and they’re pretty big for an 11-year-old boy. His team gets crushed every Saturday and Sunday. He’s dealing with a whole new set of fears that have just appeared after a long time of feeling overly confident about the world and his capabilities to handle it. He has a huge burden of homework, some of which he doesn’t understand and no one can seem to explain to him. He wants to feel capable and strong, not confused and emasculated.

Of course none of this compares to my Polish neighbor, who was in a German POW camp at age 11, so we do try to keep it in perspective.

But still, the pain of the screaming. I have a hard time relating to Older’s outbursts because well, first of all the sound makes me want to do horrible things to him. But it’s also not how I handle anger. I hold it all in until I lose it and have to go in the basement and punch the heck out of Nubs. Older vocalizes his pain.

But then I remember, I learned this technique when I was in labor and it really worked. Someone (probably my pregnancy yoga teacher) told me it’s the worst pain of your life, you’re allowed to yell. But do it in a growling way to release it instead of shrieking like a banshee. And it actually did work.

Nowadays if I stub my toe (or slice my hand with a knife, which I did last week while cutting the cantaloupe and yelling at a day care kid to stop hitting someone), the rumble comes up from my gut and actually eases the pain, or at least takes my mind off it.

So I have to accept for a while that this is Older’s outlet. I know it will pass because it has before (and then God knows what he’ll use to soothe the pain).

It seems that my banshee finally won the level so he’s calm for the moment. But I know he’ll be back.

When a Crying Baby Makes You So Angry You Might Hurt Them

A reader sent in one of the most heartfelt and brutally honest comments I’ve had, and I needed to respond right away.

One of the most popular posts on this blog has always been Don’t Feel Bad When Your Crying Baby Makes You Crazy. This is clearly a universal problem: people really do struggle when a baby is crying.

The reader, a man, said how much he loves his one-year-old daughter and that she rarely cries, but when she does, he gets so angry that he has to leave the room and punch furniture. He is afraid that he will scare and possibly hurt her with his anger.

First I want to reassure him that he’s doing the right thing. Go away, get rid of your anger, and come back when you can deal with the child. It’s far more upsetting for them to see you lose it in front of them or, clearly, to take your anger out on them. Your anger makes the moment more intense. The goal is to remain calm, and therefore calm the baby.

This is the hardest challenge of parenting – this is where you really have to dig deep, and I’m not just being facetious. You have to grow and change, which is really hard. You have to push yourself to find a place where you can be calm even when all hell is breaking loose around you.

If you lose control of your anger you can very easily hurt a little one, and it is terrifying for parents to think they have this capacity. Because no one talks about anger when it comes to little ones. We see the rosy pictures and the quiet moments and the joy joy joy we’re supposed to be feeling, when really we’re exhausted, emotional, scared, and sometimes just can’t handle the drastic (and irreversible) life changes we’ve just been through. Babies open up a whole new world we can’t possibly understand until we’re there, at 3AM with a screaming child, and we’ve got a major presentation at 9:00.

First let’s try to explain why all of this is happening. We get so noticeably upset by our baby’s cry because it is designed by nature to get your blood pumping – to get you to respond to its distress. It’s a survival instinct that we’re both physically wired for and there’s nothing we can do to change it.

But I also think that today we have immense pressure to never let our babies cry. All the gurus tell us to do everything we can to soothe our baby and stop the crying right away. But sometimes you simply can’t. And as the reader described, he then feels guilty because he can’t stop her crying and because his own emotional reaction feels out of control. Then the whole situation escalates quickly.

Sometimes being forced to stop crying is not the best thing for a child. Babies feel stress too, and they need a way to let it out. When we run in and force them to calm down we’re saying don’t cry – it’s not good for you. That emotion you have is bad and we need to stop it. A baby feels what they feel, they can’t analyze it.

Put her in a safe place and walk away. You both need a timeout, and that’s OK (and sometimes the safest thing to do). In fact I will often tell my day care kids, “Amy needs a timeout!” and run and hide in the kitchen. We can only take care of our kids if we take care of ourselves first. (This rule applies forever, at any age, in all situations.)

A little bit of crying has never hurt or permanently scarred a baby. It lets them deal with their own big emotions and learn how to self-soothe. There are times in life when Mom and Dad simply don’t know how to stop the pain. We can’t always fix everything, and it’s OK for a child to feel sad. Crying is a release.

Let’s face it, we are not a culture that deals well with ugly emotions. We don’t know what to do with our anger so we bottle it up until it explodes at the wrong time. It scares us, and that’s a healthy thing, but that also leads us to hide it away. When we’re sad we try everything to stop the crying, to hold that feeling in, rather than letting it out. Sometimes your body just can’t do that, even though we try to put our societal norms on it and say we’re too civilized for this ugliness. It’s not true. We need to be able to face it and then let it go, and teach our kids how to do that as well.

Therefore, I would like to introduce you to my friend Nubs. The boys named him that because he doesn’t have arms (or maybe something dirty but I chose not to delve any further). When we got him I thought it would be a hoot – but basically a joke – that I would be able to take my anger out on him. One day I half-heartedly punched his face. In a few minutes my hands hurt so badly that I had to go back to the store and get sparring gloves. When I’m not punching Nubs, I pat him on the head and thank him for taking my abuse, because honestly, there are some days when he saves our lives.

One of the most important things I do with my day care kids is teaching them how to deal with anger. There are many books out there on the topic, and one of their favorites is If You’re Angry and You Know It. I developed a song chart they can pick from and we sing, “If you’re angry and you know it growl it out!” Grrrrrrr, with lots of roars and gritted teeth from the crowd.

The reader asks if he should seek professional help and I would say I don’t think you’re at that point right now. The baby’s cries will get less intense as she gets older (and in case they don’t, remember that the best thing you can do with a tantrum is WALK AWAY – ignore it and don’t feed it, whatever you do).

But I’m glad that you realize that if it doesn’t get better, and you find yourself raging at your child, that you will need to ask for help. You are on the right track, and you’ve tapped into something very strong – the way our kids can push our buttons until we rage. As they grow it might not be crying, but other very sneaky ways they know to get us going.

It’s OK to show our kids that we’re angry. It’s an honest emotion and sometimes they push us to it. They have a part in the dance and need to learn why misbehaving is wrong. It’s part of growing up, and parents teaching their kids right from wrong.

Still I had the hardest time with this because of those messages – life is beautiful, never ugly, our children are precious, never let anything scar or hurt them, and NEVER tell them “No.” My son was a wild three-year-old and I battled him. One day I screamed so loud that it scared even me. I called my friend Pam and cried. I told her I don’t know what I’m doing but I know it’s wrong. I’m afraid I hurt my child.

She said, “Amy, what is he doing right now?” I looked out the window and said, “He’s running up and down the driveway with his Power Rangers cape on.” Pam asked, “Did you crush his spirit?” I had to admit that I didn’t. And what a relief that was. And accept the knowledge that our kids are far more resilient than we give them credit for. I waited until I collected myself and went and gave him a big hug. But I remembered that the next time he was getting me upset, I would let him know before I became a screaming monster.

I’m not much of a yeller now. I’m direct and honest, and address issues before they get out of control. I’m firm but loving. It’s been the hardest process of my life to learn how to handle my emotions, and the kids, and their emotions, in a healthy and productive way.

There is a quote that comes to mind every time I feel my anger rising at my kids. When I remember that they are the most precious and important thing in my life, and that I am the God of their world. That my response is literally going to shape their lives and teach them the emotional strength for how to get through the toughest times:

“Your defining act of love for your child will not be the 2:00 AM feedings, the sleepless, fretful night spent beside him in the hospital, or the second job you took to pay for college. Your zenith will occur in the face of a withering blast of frightening rage from your child, in allowing no rage from yourself in response. Your finest moment may well be your darkest. And you will be a parent.” (Michael J. Bradley)