It’s a difficult topic, but let’s talk about it: Raging at children.
I sat with a cluster of women, each one sharing about her struggle with anger and control. One spoke of rage—how it came over her like a flash flood, and the next thing she knew, she’d be screaming bloody murder at her small children. All she could feel was the complete out of controlness of the moment, the thwarting of her much-better-plan, the awareness that how it should go was not at all how it was going. The fact that small children were cowering didn’t slow the lava flow of verbal assault. She’d give in to it until she had exhausted herself…and wounded her kids.
It took years before she could appreciate that her kids really had been harmed by the yelling, the screaming, the cursing.
The next one spoke of holes she’d punched in walls, “things” she’d hurled in anger that shattered menacingly in front of her trespassing offspring. This mild-mannered friend listed the ways she dressed down her kids when they got in her way—took my breath away. I would never have known.
Another mother talked about the obsessive nature of her need to know that her adult daughter was taking her medications. She found herself nagging and manipulating and finally yelling down the telephone line.
I was used to hearing about rage in marriages—usually men toward women. Or if in families, fathers toward kids. It was startling to listen to mothers, and painful, too.
The rager rarely notices the impact of the rages. The rager feels out of control and justified in venting it. When the children comply out of fear, the rager may even feel reinforced in the strategy. “If I yell and scream, stuff gets done and relieves my anxiety.”
The secret of many families is that volatile anger is a constitutive part of their family culture but no one talks about it. It’s as though we’ve all cooperated in this huge silent secret—we show smiling photos of our assembled families at holiday meals, and yet behind the smiles is the memory of screaming and yelling with insults and character evisceration five minutes before the camera shutter clicked.
I honestly don’t know how to cure rage. It must come from within the rager, it seems. Conversations don’t work. Some awareness of how damaging it is to the victims needs to get across the transom from wounded to wound creator. Then steps need to take place that help the rager reign it in and heal whatever pain in her causes the outbursts.
What I do know, however, is the devastating impact of cumulative experiences with rage. The victims carry that shattering experience inside—it’s as though they can come apart at the hint of criticism or raised voice. They take that pain into their adult relationships.
It’s bad enough when adults hurl insults at each other. They are peers, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
What is not talked about enough, however, is verbal abuse that is unleashed by parents on children. If a grown adult woman can feel as though she’s been beaten by the loud booming accusing voice of a peer (her husband/partner), how much more must small children feel fractured by the assault of anger and control, rage and cursing from a parent they love and want to trust?
When your home is the daily full-time residence of your children (they don’t go to daycare or school), preserving that space as the sacred, safe place to live is even more paramount. Everyone loses their cool occasionally, but a habit of using anger, rage, and shows of violence to control children is a step way beyond frustration or momentary anger. It’s our job as parents to protect our children from demonstrations of rage.
I know this is a more somber post than I usually write. I know that it veers uncomfortably into territory that is far afield from writing and language arts, or even run of the mill homeschooling issues.
Yet I can’t ignore it because it keeps coming up (in emails from customers, in phone calls, in in-person conversations). To thrive in learning, a child needs to trust the educator. Risks, missteps, failures, and childishness must be permitted and welcomed for homeschooling to thrive. Raging against children undermines everything. According to some experts (Stephen Stosny is one), a full recovery from being on the receiving end of a rage is a full year (12 months!). The victim carries the “anxiety” of the rage in their bodies and can’t let go of the need to “protect self” through fight, flight, or freezing for an entire rage-free year.
If a child is on the receiving end of rage several times a year, you are creating a condition for the child that is ongoing and doesn’t heal, even if they don’t tell you and appear “okay” on the outside. They live with rage-created anxiety.
My hope is that this little PSA will give you a moment to pause and reflect, to find support, to grow…if this is you.
It’s good to remember how vulnerable our little charges are and how much they do depend on us…for everything.
Image © Sergiyn | Dreamstime.com