My hus­band has a very short fuse with kids

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The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family - John Sharry

Q My hus­band can get so an­gry with the chil­dren some­times, es­pe­cially when he is stressed and frus­trated. He is oth­er­wise a caring, in­volved dad and I don’t doubt that he loves our chil­dren. How­ever, when they mis­be­have he can have a short fuse and ends up shout­ing and threat­en­ing them.

It has never come to vi­o­lence but he has dragged our six-year-old son across the floor to put him on a time out when he was re­ally bold.

While my hus­band is some­times de­fen­sive about his be­hav­iour af­ter the event, fre­quently he is re­morse­ful and ad­mits he has a tem­per prob­lem. He came from a very volatile house­hold grow­ing up and his own mother al­ways shouted at him.

Also, a lot of the prob­lems are due to our six year old, who can be re­ally chal­leng­ing. I tend to give in or work around him but my hus­band holds his ground, which can end up in a stand-up row.

What way should we ap­proach the prob­lems?

A Par­ent­ing can be very stress­ful and most par­ents are at times pushed to the pin of their col­lar. This is es­pe­cially the case when deal­ing with tantrums and be­hav­iour prob­lems, when feel­ings are high and anger is ex­pe­ri­enced by both par­ent and child. At these times, the temp­ta­tion is to re­sort to shout­ing, co­er­cion and phys­i­cal dis­ci­pline to get chil­dren to be­have.

How­ever un­der­stand­able these strate­gies are, they are also counter-pro­duc­tive and only model to the child a neg­a­tive way of re­solv­ing con­flict as well as be­ing dam­ag­ing to the child’s self-es­teem and the par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship. Mak­ing a de­ci­sion to re­spond calmly What­ever anger is be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced, the key to good par­ent­ing is to learn to re­spond calmly and pos­i­tively, even when you are dis­ci­plin­ing a child.

It is very help­ful that your hus­band ad­mits that anger is a prob­lem and that you are able to talk about this to­gether. You want to find a way of “hold­ing your ground” with your son that does not in­volve you re­sort­ing to ar­gu­ing or shout­ing. Make a de­ci­sion to­gether that you will sup­port one another to use pos­i­tive strate­gies (such as those be­low) in over­com­ing be­hav­iour prob­lems. Learn­ing to pause The first step in over­com­ing an an­gry re­sponse is learn­ing to “pause” in the heat of a row. Rather than re­act­ing, you want to take a step back so you can think calmly how to re­spond.

Some­times tak­ing a phys­i­cal step back can be help­ful – “I’m too an­gry to deal with this at the mo­ment, we will deal with it later” – or it can be a case of keep­ing your voice down and manag­ing your feel­ings in the mo­ment. Sep­a­rat­ing feel­ings from ac­tions Feel­ings of anger are nor­mal and hap­pen all the time, but feel­ing an­gry does not mean you have to re­act an­grily. It is un­der­stand­able that you might be­come frus­trated but you don’t have to shout or lose your tem­per.

By nam­ing your own feel­ings and then not act­ing on them, you model to your chil­dren how they can man­age their feel­ings. It is ac­cept­able for your child to be frus­trated when a rule is im­posed but it is not ac­cept­able for him to hit out or be­come ag­gres­sive.

You can be sym­pa­thetic to your son’s feel­ings but still in­sist that he be­haves ap­pro­pri­ately: “I know you are an­noyed, but let’s calm down now and we can talk”; “I know you are frus­trated but take a break now.” Nam­ing feel­ings in an em­pathic way helps chil­dren un­der­stand and man­age them. Ef­fec­tive be­hav­iour man­age­ment In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the main rea­son par­ents get an­gry when deal­ing with prob­lem be­hav­iour is that they are not sure how to en­force rules and re­sort to shout­ing as a means of co­erc­ing chil­dren to be­have.

Fre­quently, par­ents labour under the false idea that dis­ci­pline is best-de­liv­ered an­grily when the re­verse is, in fact, true.

Ef­fec­tive be­hav­iour-man­age­ment cen­tres on hav­ing a small num­ber of clear rules with your chil­dren (eg be­ing re­spect­ful) and ef­fec­tive con­se­quences for when rules are bro­ken (no TV un­til you ask po­litely).

Think­ing up good con­se­quences that work for an in­di­vid­ual child is al­ways a chal­lenge but what­ever you use, they work best when of­fered as a choice and never used co­er­cively. As you have dis­cov­ered, it is ex­tremely counter-pro­duc­tive to “drag” your son to a time out.

A con­se­quence such as time out will work only with some de­gree of co­op­er­a­tion – “Un­less you calm down now you will have to take a time out” – and only en­forced by us­ing a back-up con­se­quence that the par­ent can carry out calmly – “Ei­ther you take a time out now, or you will miss your TV pro­gramme tonight.”

A key dis­ci­pline mantra for par­ents is to use good con­se­quences and not anger to dis­ci­pline their chil­dren. Pre­vent­ing prob­lems Think­ing through a good be­havioural sys­tem takes time and ef­fort to plan and put into action.

It is im­por­tant to plan in de­tail how you will re­spond to chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions and to think through each “what if” sit­u­a­tion to en­sure you have a calm re­sponse ready. In ad­di­tion, it is im­por­tant to think how you can pre­vent prob­lems in the first place.

Think how you can avoid flash­points for your son by em­ploy­ing good rou­tines. For ex­am­ple, you may no­tice he is tired in the evenings (which can fuel an­gry ex­changes) and es­tab­lish a more re­lax­ing rou­tine ac­cord­ingly. Or en­sure you have more time in the morn­ing to avoid too much pres­sure on the way to school.

Sit down with your hus­band and dis­cuss how you can pre­vent prob­lems aris­ing in the first place. Seek­ing sup­port Manag­ing be­hav­iour prob­lems in a calm, ef­fec­tive way takes a lot of hard work and ef­fort. Of­ten the best way to do this is to at­tend an ev­i­dence-based par­ent­ing course where you will be sup­ported to im­ple­ment pos­i­tive strate­gies over a pe­riod of time.

In ad­di­tion, your hus­band may be in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing a stress-man­age­ment course or coun­selling to man­age his own spe­cific anger is­sues. Con­tact your lo­cal pri­mary care team or fam­ily re­source cen­tre to see what help might be available. Dr John Sharry is a so­cial worker, psy­chother­a­pist and di­rec­tor of the Par­ents Plus char­ity. His new book, Par­ent­ing Teenagers, (¤7.99) is now out. See so­lu­


The first step in over­com­ing an an­gry re­sponse is learn­ing to ‘pause’ in the heat of a row.

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