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Giving Your Child the Freedom to Express Hostility and Resentment

Author : Tom Graneau

Little girl sitting on a couch and upset with something

There is much to say about the proper discourse between parents and children. Emerging from an era where many people believe that children were verbally suffocated and physically abused and ushering one of hypersensitivity on political correctness, many parents are confused about how to allow their children the freedom to express themselves with some degree of saneness and respect.

Where should you draw the line with your child between freedom of expression and respect?

Your child’s acceptable and unacceptable conduct

Your child should have the freedom to say anything he or she desires. This includes having the liberty to express anger and resentment such as “I don’t like you. Daddy, you hurt my feelings today,” or “Mommy, you lied to me.” In fact, children should be encouraged to share these emotions instead of allowing them to fester and develop into bigger problems later.

In contrast, you should forbid your child from resorting to abusive language and open rebellion. “Daddy, you hurt my feelings today by what you said in front of my friends,” is an acceptable expression. “You senseless buffoon, why didn’t you shut up until my friends leave the house? You embarrassed me today!” This is clearly unacceptable.

Children who use unruly language to communicate their feelings to their parents, as in the latter statement, have been indirectly permitted to do so. In other words, they did it once without a disapproving rebuttal from their parents and felt that it was okay to continue using this style of communication in the home. One can only assume that offspring who frequently speak to their parents in this fashion have had no pre-set limits on self-expression, which means that they could say anything whenever they want without concerns for others. Sadly, this form of language often leads to disrespect for members of the household while undermining the authority of parents.

This means that as a parent, you must establish rules of communication early in the home. That way, the child grows up with the understanding of what is acceptable and what is not. Then, when he or she crosses the line, the situation provides an opportunity to reinforce the rules without harsh consequences.

What is good for children is good for parents

It is pointless to tell a child to do, or NOT to do certain things while you, as a parent, actively participate in the same prohibited behavior. For example, while it is proper to encourage children not to use profanity to express themselves, if parents don’t follow the same guideline, the rule becomes embarrassingly ineffective. Children have a deep sense of honesty and the ability to detect biases and hypocrisy instantly, though it may take them a while to reveal their observation. In this case, what is true for profanity is also true for lying, cheating, deceiving, and other immoral conducts.

This is one of the reasons why parenting is possibly the most difficult responsibilities on this side of heaven. If you want your child to develop into the model image that you have in mind, your behavior, as a mother or father, must reflect the conduct that you desire in him or her. The Bible says it this way: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The phrase “do not provoke your children to wrath” suggests caution as you work with their impressionable minds and body. For example, your personal behavior can give rise to, stimulate, or arouse a strong, unwelcome reaction or emotion in your child. And though you may blame the child for the unpleasant outcome, you may overlook your contribution to the problem. Notice that the quoted verse highlights the term “fathers,” as though they are the most likely parent to instigate disagreeable exchanges with their offspring. But you and I know this not entirely true. Mothers can be equally responsible for certain behaviors that may excite negative, emotional responses in their children.

Parent-child reconciliation

In a case where a child blames a parent for doing something wrong, the parent is responsible for reconciling the problem. He or she must be matured enough to address the issue in a positive way. If you happen to be in this situation and have truly conducted yourself in a displeasing manner, apologize for your involvement in the matter: “I’m sorry, honey. This will NOT happen again. I promise.” Then keep your promise. If you violate the promise, it will be as though you’re repeating the offense or doing something similar, and you will begin to lose respect in the household.

On the other hand, if you feel justified in your behavior, you should calmly explain why you acted in the accused fashion. You should also tell the child how this collision can be avoided in the future.

There is no question that children need the freedom to express their hostility and resentment. Often, they feel the same emotions as adults, and they should be given the same flexibility to express themselves when necessary. However, the way they do it is the direct responsibility of their parents.

Since children frequently mimic their parents’ way of life in language and behavior, parents have both the responsibility and opportunity to model the desired results in their offspring.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

The Bible says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Is there truth to this statement? Do you see positive or negative implications of the verse in your life? Have you been applying the concept in your children’s life?

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