We’ve all got our temperaments and our children do too. It easy to pick out which of my children is the heart-on-her-sleeve mini-me of her father and which one is the spitting absent-minded image of myself. But our children don’t just get their nature from us, they get their nurturing from us. Take for example, the occasions in which we become stressed out and yell. Our children pick up on that and learn that the response to stress and anger is to yell at people. So when your 7-year-old tells her little sister to, “Come here now” in a not-so-patient tone, you can probably guess where she learned that pitch.
We aren’t wrong to discipline our children for acting like mini-versions of ourselves, but we are wrong to not see or acknowledge those same behaviors in ourselves. I still remember the first time I heard my daughter talk to her sister in a tone that sounded exactly like I sound when I’m stressed, and she used the same words that I lean toward. It wasn’t pretty to hear it and realize it’s exactly how I sound.
What’s a parent to do?
Correct it. Even though you realize you taught your child to behave this way, you still need to correct it. Explain why it’s wrong and tell her that you know she has heard you act this way but that doesn’t make it OK.
Acknowledge it. Take a long look at how you act when you get frustrated, angry, or stressed out. Figure out what your triggers are. Understand how you got to that point of frustration and try to be proactive in a way that not only allows you to avoid reaching those high levels of frustration but allows you to notice when you do and regroup before you do or say something you regret.
Apologize when you do it. When you do slip up, swallow your pride and apologize to your children. It will teach them that parents make mistakes too and it will show by example that saying we’re sorry is not only important but easier than they think.
Get to confession. It can only help to get to receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and tell your priest about your struggle with frustration and stress. Ask for forgiveness for any yelling you have done and move forward to make changes to your life with the grace and forgiveness you have received. Then extend that forgiveness to your children.
Pray. We are always praying for others such as for their health, for their safety, and for their souls. Take time to pray for yourself. Ask for more patience. Ask for help in dealing with stress and anger. And in those moments of frustration, call out to God or Mary or your patron saint for help.
Change. In the end, we are all trying to get ourselves and our families to heaven. To do that we have to aim to not just be “good” people but be saints. We will fail from time to time. But that’s why we have the sacraments and prayer.
Love and empathy can help us to be better parents as we learn to respond to those stressful moments with compassion in our hearts. Our children are growing up quickly and we are teaching them how to behave in a big and scary world. Let’s send them out into it with love in their hearts for others instead of with impatience and anger.