This excerpt from ‘When Good Kids Do Bad Things‘ talks about the value of getting angry, that it must be paired with allying (showing your love and support), and relates one of Katherine’s always relevant and always revealing stories from when she was a foster parent to troubled teens.
Some parent education books, like Parent Effectiveness Training, urge you to keep your parenting conflict-free. Not me. As I discussed in the Gotcha Wars, a good kid doing bad things sometimes needs an angry parent. Also, there are times when you simply cannot help getting so fed up and frustrated that you blow like Moby Dick. That’s life. You’re human.
Yes, blowing signals a failure to communicate, but it also signals the start of an unplanned Caring Response… as long as it is followed by an effort to ally. A blowup can mean that you care enough to sound your angriest. It won’t damage your child unless you neglect to ally right away, showing that you want to understand her needs and point of view. Repeat: Confronting (with or without blowing up) and allying must always be linked. Like the old saying that you should never go to bed angry with your spouse, you should never let your child walk away from a confrontation convinced you don’t care about her. Never.
This is hard to do, I grant you, when your child is determined to play a heavy Gotcha War game. Making sure you ally in that situation requires practice. Worse, a kid can sometimes resist your peacemaking efforts because she wants to create a blowup that will give her an excuse to break your rules.
When pretty little Coralee followed me around one afternoon trying to pick a fight, I was magnificently serene. From other kids I had learned that she wanted to party that night. Her conscience would not let her be bad unless I was bad. For a gruelling five hours the contest wore on—and finally she won. I blew. Even now, I can conjure up the Gotcha War victory smile she flashed when she shouted that she was leaving “this shit-hole.” While she was packing upstairs, I had just enough time to calm myself down. She stormed down the staircase, still spouting obscenities, but I was ready with an allying statement:
“I’m really pissed right now, but when you come back, we’ll talk about this. I do care.”
No, she did not melt. In fact, she got angrier and flew out the front door. But she did hear me, and that is what mattered in long run. Soon she was back with us, ready to look at what had happened and why.
Sometimes, when a confrontation with a kid was rapidly deteriorating from bad to worse, the best allying I could do was to say loudly:
“I want this settled, but right now I’m just getting more and more upset. We’ll have to talk later. I care enough to work this out . . . but not now!”
When a youngster became familiar with this message, I could shorten it: “Time out. I’m pissed. I care.”
The most bloodthirsty of Gotcha Warriors might continue, despite my call for a recess. Some kids have followed me to the bathroom and stood outside pounding on the door. Sometimes I could only escape by leaving the house. It took time, but eventually I learned, even in those hellish situations, that the child needed my anger but I had to remain detached. I practiced until I could say, “I still care. I need to get away for a while. We’ll talk later.”