When Upsets Get Physical

Someone in a fighting stance, with a fist in your faceAs our kids get older, the way they express frustration, anger and other strong feelings can get harder for us to handle.  It’s the kind of thing we parents don’t always talk about in public – as we seek to maintain our children’s confidentiality and protect ourselves from harsh criticism or judgement.  But If the door-slamming, yelling and general destructiveness is getting you down, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone in having these challenges, and that you can get support as you navigate this stage of parenting.

They don’t want to hurt us

When our children are big – sometimes bigger than us – it can get harder to remember that our children don’t want to hurt us or damage anything. To release feelings – often frustration, accumulated over years – they will probably need to push up against something – us, a limit etc. They may also need to have it be “all our fault”. Be assured – they are having you “stand in” for hard times the details of which they may not even be able to articulate.

This can be really hard not to take personally -we’ve tried sooooo hard for soooo many years. It isn’t always clear where the line is between “understandable venting” and abuse that is “off-track”.

It’s an Emotional Project

You do need to respond. But in my experience, by the time a child is this volatile, it’s in the category of what we call an “emotional project”, for them, and for you.

An emotional project is where you and/or your child are returning to an upset, over and over. It takes time, and the Listening Tools used in tandem, for things to start to shift.

First, it will help if you understand the approach.   I can highly recommend Hand in Hand’s short online course for parents of pre-teens and teens Raising Happier Tweens.  It describes the Listening Tools, how they work together and how they may need to be modified as your children get older.

It is also really helpful to be able to talk to a Hand in Hand Instructor – Madeleine is one – who has experience of parenting older kids, and using the Listening Tools.  Book Parenting Consultation to explore the details of what is happening in your family, and how the Listening Tools can work in your particular situation.  A Parenting Consultation or two will help you develop a plan, and will provide support as you implement it.

You need emotional support

In particular, you aren’t likely to be able to keep thinking and respond flexibly to your child without regular Listening Time. You may be able to find a Listening Partnership – a mutual sharing of listening support, which will allow you to download your tensions without being judged or criticised.   Parenting Consultations also offer professional guidance as you seek to navigate your own feelings and experiences, giving you the space to download current tensions and frustrations, and understand how old hurts and experiences are triggered by what is happening now.

Try to keep everyone safe

White swan parent shelters signet on it's back while floating on waterIf at all humanly possible, you definitely need to keep yourself, your child, and anyone else who is around, safe. It doesn’t make sense to get hurt.

Take Listening Time, in a Parenting Consultation or with a Listening Partner,  on how hard it feels, and explore what it reminds you of.  Your own experiences, earlier in your life, of times when you felt afraid or powerless will probably be triggered by your child’s physicality.  Telling those stories, and releasing the feelings wrapped up in those memories, will reduce their “charge”.   This will help sharpen up your ability to see trouble coming and speed up your reflexes when it arrives.

It’s challenging territory

Parenting takes us places we never expected to go – both good and bad.  If your child is volatile you may find it helpful, with an experienced and sympathetic Listener, also to work through thoughts and feelings about:

  • Your fears & worries for your child (i.e. my boy won’t know this is not the way to behave/what will happen if he does this outside the home/he’s going to turn into a monster/etc).
  • How the behaviour makes you feel. Once our kids are teens, this often includes feeling “over it”, fed up, tired, disappointed and overwhelmed. (This isn’t fair/I don’t feel up to this etc).
  • The sense that you aren’t physically up to it, are scared and feel intimidated. Any early experiences you had involving physical violence or abuse – extraordinary or routine (older siblings overpowering you etc.) – are likely to get triggered if your older child is acting aggressive.Fit woman doing a plank exercise in blue tights
  • Building your strength – I’ve used my Listening Time to do push-ups til I didn’t think I could do any more. With the attention of a Listening Partner I could get to deep feelings right at the spot where I didn’t think I could do another push up. I got strong much faster with those old feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness out of the way.
  • The feeling that it is your fault, or that you have done something wrong (can I say, welcome to parenting!).  While there may be things in your relationship with your child that you could have done better, the sense of being at fault is corrosive.  Getting caught there is a trap – because even if it is true, it isn’t a place from which it is easy to garner the strength to repair your relationship with your child.  Every parent needs a place where they can download about how bad it feels, to a Listener who holds out that these are feelings which need to be offloaded, and that under those feelings is a smart resourceful parent who can get the help that they need.
  • Getting smart about getting help.  We didn’t get enough help when we were young.  And we get told, as parents, that we should already know how to handle things, and if we don’t then it’s our fault. None of this is true.  In Listening Time, we need to work through our fears and despair about getting help.

Go well – you deserve support

So go well, dear parents. Get support. Get help working out what is going on. You can get your relationship with your child to a place where you are able to manage it better. You can enjoy parenting. And someday, you might get a little rest!

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The image above is “Tiger Cubs Playing” by Frida Bredesen
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© 2021 by Madeleine Winter