Can Kids Talk to an Angry Dad?
by Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC
We were going to be late.
My kids were dawdling, even though I’d asked them to get ready on two occasions. “Come on!” I yelled. “How many times do I have to say this?”
As they picked up their pace and came down the stairs, my kids both gave me a “look.” “Geez, Dad, you don’t have to yell,” my son told me.
My dark side had a number of responses to this comment. All of them defended my yelling and placed the blame squarely on my kids. And they were all wrong. My ego badly wanted to be protected from taking responsibility for this outburst. After all, I was the one who would take the “heat” for being late. I was the one trying to move things along. And they were the ones who weren’t listening, right?
Angry outbursts from fathers are one of the main reasons kids don’t feel like confiding in them. And besides being frightening, and damaging relationships with your kids, angry outbursts have been shown to shorten your life. In fact, a large study at Johns Hopkins University , following young men for an average of 36 years, showed that young men who quickly react to stress with anger have three times the normal risk of developing premature heart disease. Also, these men were five times more likely than men who were calmer to have an early heart attack, even if they didn’t have a family history of heart disease!
Another recent study asked a group of teens and young adult women to anonymously identify why they wouldn’t confide in their fathers. The reasons:
• “He would blow up.”
• “His reaction.” “I’m scared about his response.”
• “He would start yelling at me.”
• “I’m afraid of what he will do.”
• “He will reject me.”
• “He will freak out.”
Fathers aren’t the only ones guilty of angry outbursts, but they have more than their fair share. In the case of many fathers, impatience and anger surface when they’re faced with situations that feel “out of control.” Men feel most comfortable when there’s a sense of control. When they’re at work, they feel comfort from a familiar atmosphere that stresses a “bottom line mentality.” At home, this mentality fails miserably, because it doesn’t address the question that’s really important for families: “What does my family need?”
Fathers with a “bottom line mentality,” and a need for control, often find themselves struggling with their patience and anger. And if they want to avoid angry outbursts that will distance them from their kids and shorten their lives, they should consider the following steps:
• Take responsibility for your anger. Nobody causes you to be angry except you. Accept this without compromise.
• Prepare well with your kids. Do your best to avoid situations that stress everyone. Start preparing your kids early to get them out the door, and make sure you give them warnings, so you don’t take them by surprise.
• Find someone whom you’re accountable to for your anger. This can be your spouse, or it can even be your child. They’ll help you to stay aware of it, and they’ll help you remember the steps.
• Become more aware of the physiological signs of your anger—mind racing, sweaty palms, etc. Speak up when you feel these signs—“I’m beginning to feel angry,” is a great thing to say to increase control of your anger. Make this part of your “plan” to reduce your anger.
When I yelled at my kids, I hadn’t taken any of these steps. But I was still able to muster up some blame for them. Part of me was still convinced that they “caused” my anger.
As we drove off in the car, things became clearer. My apology helped me feel better, and my kids were quick to forgive. Of course, I gave up the right to feel justified for my anger. I guess I’d like my kids to feel like they can confide in me.
And I guess I’d like that even more than being “right."
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches busy parents by phone to balance their life and improve their family relationships.