Anger is certainly a destructive force. It leads to harmful words and behavior. I like to compare acting out of anger to the shooting of a gun: It only takes a second to happen, but the damage can be permanent.
There is a great gift in anger when it comes to raising our children. The gift is not in our anger, but in their anger. Many children have difficulty expressing themselves when something is bothering them. They might be resentful about something we have done, but are uncomfortable or afraid about saying something.
Often, gems of inner feelings are revealed during these fits of anger. They express something so important for us to hear, validate and discuss, but we dismiss it because it was said in anger. Either we don’t take it seriously because it was said in anger or we become too defensive, so we quickly dismiss their words. We become hurt and angry ourselves, and therefore cannot take to heart the messages conveyed in their anger.
If our child says something meaningful to us, even in anger, we should not dismiss it. We should say something like, “I didn’t realize that this had upset you. I feel bad. I would love to discuss this with you when you are ready.” The child may not want to talk now, but we can approach them a few days later and say, “I could see that you are very upset about this. Can we talk about it?”
In terms of condoning the chutzpah, first of all, the pain being expressed is too valuable to ignore because we want to decry the chutzpah. Furthermore, if there is deep resentment toward us, then the chutzpah will continue anyhow. Finally, in my opinion, the best way to teach children to have derech eretz is by role modeling the upstanding behavior we expect.
When we respond in anger, we inadvertently teach them to lower themselves to the level of others attacking them. We are not teaching how terrible chutzpah is, but are actually encouraging it by doling out some of our own. By staying calm and deescalating the conversation, we are truly role modeling for our children good middos and derech eretz.
It is important to realize that just because something was said in anger doesn’t mean that real feelings aren’t being expressed. Yes, sometimes we know based on the circumstance that the child is just angry about something meaningless and it’s not reflective of anything consequential. However, there are times when the child is clearly conveying something meaningful and we don’t pay attention.
I have seen teens who feel anger toward their parents, and when I ask them if they convey their feelings, they say, “When I am angry, sometimes I let it out.” I tell them that their parents will likely be less receptive to communication out of anger, and I encourage them to talk to their parents when they are calm. Nonetheless, I tell parents not to ignore the messages being conveyed in times of anger. They often contain valuable information about where their children are holding.
So, while it is hard to listen when our children are angry, we must know how valuable and precious the opportunity is to learn their innermost feelings and build the relationship. This idea is certainly relevant to marriage as well. Listen to your spouse even when he or she is not communicating in the most sensitive manner and do not retaliate with anger and or harsh words.
May we have much nachas from our children.