Sad Instead of Mad

Often parents have a poor repertoire of discipline techniques so they do what comes naturally—they use anger as a consequence. Anger becomes the punishment that children learn to fear and the result is distance in relationships. Parents want to express disapproval for misbehavior and anger becomes the vehicle for showing it.

Imagine this scenario: You're making dinner and your six-year-old daughter, Amy, comes into the room complaining that she’s hungry. You tell her that you're making dinner and that she needs to wait. She persists and complains that she hasn't eaten all day. You remind her that she had a snack a few hours ago and then encourage her to leave the room. Instead of leaving, she begins to whine, "I’m starving." Finally you sigh and offer her a banana or an apple. "I don’t like bananas! I don’t want an apple!" Okay, you give in. You offer her some milk and a cookie. Amy is so excited she jumps up…and knocks over the milk! You’ve had it! That was the last straw. Now you're really angry and yell, "What's the matter with you? Now look what you've done!!"

Think a minute. What caused you to lose control? Was it the spilled milk, or was it the fifteen minutes of whining and complaining? If we wait until we become angry to discipline, then we end up responding like a time bomb. Our children can never be sure when we’ll explode.

In this situation, Mom needed to take action earlier. "Amy, it makes me sad that you keep asking after I said No. You need to go play in your room until I call you for dinner."

In honor-based parenting, anger and its accompanying distance are not appropriate consequences. Instead, parents learn to reflect sorrow. Some parents may feel like hypocrites because they don't feel sad, they feel mad. But it doesn't take long for a parent to recognize that the sorrow is there. It's just masked by the anger. If you peel away the anger you will genuinely feel sad that your child is acting out or choosing to disobey. You see that the misbehavior will lead to an unhappy and unsuccessful life. Reflecting sadness is much more beneficial to the child and to the relationship.

Try it; you may be surprised. Children often open up in response to sadness and you may end up with a productive conversation. Sadness opens relationships; anger shuts them down. It may take some practice, and self-control, but your relationships with your kids will benefit in the end.

This idea is honor-based parenting skill #2 from Chapter 6 in the book, Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes, In You and Your Kids by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN.

What are some ways you've been able to reflect sorrow to connect with your child's heart?

Milan Tomic

Hi. I’m Designer of Blog Magic. I’m CEO/Founder of ThemeXpose. I’m Creative Art Director, Web Designer, UI/UX Designer, Interaction Designer, Industrial Designer, Web Developer, Business Enthusiast, StartUp Enthusiast, Speaker, Writer and Photographer. Inspired to make things looks better.

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  1. This email came to us from Nora:
    My ex-fiance split up with me completely unexpectedly 2 months ago. This devastated not only me but my 5 year old daughter who had never had a daddy. I adopted her out of the foster care system when she was 3 days old. After the break up my daughter started acting out terribly in school. I felt beside myself and after one particularly hard day as I was trying to talk to her about that day's acting up, I broke down and started crying. She was shocked and concerned at seeing me cry and asked me why I was. I told her it hurt my heart that she was hurting others and it was making me really sad. She felt very sad that my heart was hurting and said she didn't want to hurt me. I then told her she needed to tell someone if she felt so angry or sad that she wanted to hurt someone else. I've had virtually no problems since then and that was about 4 weeks ago. Being sad DOES seem to work.

  2. We received this comment in the office from Sarah:
    Telling a sensitive child that their behavior makes you sad is too close to manipulation. Instead, parents should simply take action sooner (as the post pointed out), with no comment on how the child's behavior has affected the parent personally. If sadness is a natural by-product of a child's behavior, then it's absolutely fine and productive at times not to go to extraordinary means to hide it (as demonstrated in the post above); I just don't think informing a child of how their behavior makes you feel should be a tool to influence behavior. It's too much burden on the child's emotions, when all they really need is a timely consequence.