Dads, I’m sure this is a familiar scene.
You get home from work, exhausted from a long day. As soon as you walk through the door you hear your baby wailing or your toddler screaming, or maybe another argument between your teen and your spouse. Eyes turn towards you and your wife immediately asks/tells you to step in, pick up the baby, play with your toddler, talk with your teen or take out the garbage. You haven’t even put down the car keys and your attention is being demanded. You’re frustrated and you wind up saying something you don’t mean, or worse, yelling things you don’t mean.
Losing your temper is completely normal as a parent, but when you lose it you have to be especially careful because your words are so powerful, they can actually make or break your child. Whatever you tell your child, she internalizes. Trust me. I know this because I hear your children talk about themselves every time they come into my office. If she knows you love her, she feels loved. If she thinks you only criticize her, she criticizes herself. If you add a raised voice on top of this - she’ll be frightened of you. She’ll walk on eggshells around you, worried that if she says or does something “wrong”, she’ll get yelled at. Ultimately, she won’t feel safe around you.
This may be a brand new realization for you - and you’re probably ashamed remembering some of the things you’ve said or done in anger. Believe it or not, your kids are still pro-you. And so am I. My goal here is to get you to understand what your child is taking from your words (and your anger) on a daily basis - and how to turn it around.
I’m going to give you some examples of things you might say to your child and then translate them into what your child then believes about themselves.
When what your child hears repeatedly is POSITIVE:
“You’re so kind with others. That’s amazing!”
Translation: My dad believes in me! He thinks I’m a good, kind person.
“You’re smart and you know how to keep going when it’s hard. I’m proud of you.”
Translation: I bet I can do anything that I put my mind to! No matter what, I know my Dad is proud of me.
“I’m always here for you. I love you so much!”
Translation: I deserve love! I don’t need to prove myself to anyone to know that I’m special and wanted.
When what your child hears repeatedly is NEGATIVE/said in ANGER:
“I can’t deal with you right now.”
Translation: I don’t want to annoy Dad. I hope he still likes me.
“You’re still working on that math problem? It’s really not that hard.”
Translation: He’s right, I should have figured this out by now. I’m stupid.
*Anything with a raised voice and/or expletives*
Translation: This is all my fault. I don’t know why Daddy gets so angry with me.
This is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Your words and your tone are POWERFUL. You can build your child up with positive affirmation, or you can tear your child down with abusive language or harsh words.
So, how do you fix the damage done from yelling or getting angry? I’ve got some suggestions.