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How to Talk to Your Child When You’re Losing Your Temper

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Dads don’t always understand just how great an impact they can have on their children’s lives. One of the most powerful ways you dads can have an effect on your child is with your words. Your words are so powerful, they can actually make or break your child. You can build your child up with positive affirmation, or you can tear your child down with abusive language or harsh words. 

Most dads want to be good fathers who raise great kids. A great place to start is with your words.

Whatever you tell your child, she internalizes. Trust me. I know this because I hear your children talk about themselves every time they come into my office. If she knows you love her, she feels loved. If she thinks you only criticize her, she criticizes herself. 

A lot of dads are great at building their child up with their words until they get angry about something. Losing your temper is completely normal as a parent, but when dads lose their tempers, they have to be especially careful because their words mean so much. This is where taking a step back and considering your words can be incredibly helpful for both you and your child.

Next time you are tempted to lose your temper and yell or criticize your child, try my CAAR method instead. Correction. Affirmation. Attention. Respect.

Correction

When correcting a child, use the fewest words possible. Your toddler only knows a few words anyway, and as she grows older, she’ll tune out long speeches of correction. All kids do this because if you correct them at length, they feel ashamed, hurt and embarrassed, and in self-defense, they try to stop listening. Using fewer words also keeps your temper in check. Anger has a habit of escalating, so cut yourself off. Stop talking. Leave the room (and don’t slam the door).

Affirmation

Dads, you may find it easier to affirm your daughter than your son, but he needs affirmation from you, too. What exactly do I mean by affirmation? Start with vocally communicating how valuable he is to you (and to God). To express affirmation, use what I call “power words.” They help build character. For instance, tell your son that he is (pick one): strong, kind, capable, patient, loving, lovable, valuable, considerate, smart, courageous, persistent or tenacious. Be sure to invoke yourself and say, “I admire you, respect you, love you, believe in you, care about you, have confidence in you.”

Attention

Your relationship with your children is dependent on the attention you give them — and they want your attention desperately because it makes them feel important and because they have important things they want to share with the most important person in their lives, whether that something is a movie or a personal triumph or simply the joy of playing in the yard or the basement.

Respect

It can be frustrating when your children give you attitude and don’t give you the respect that they should. I’ve mentioned frequently in my practice that more is caught than taught. You have to model respect for them. Teaching respect doesn’t have to be a battle, and it doesn’t mean you have to act like a drill sergeant. In fact, you shouldn’t, because quiet discipline, speaking in a strong, firm, respectful tone, is the best way to get the same response back. Kids respect strength, and self-control is a great example of strength — one that your kids will want to emulate if they see it in you. Simply put, if you want respect from your kids, show it to them.

Dads, your words are powerful. Use them for good. Even if you feel yourself losing your temper, you always have a moment to take a breath and think about how to correct your child in a productive and uplifting way. It’s hard work, but it is worth it.

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