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We've all lost our cool at one point or another. We all know its terrible to raise your voice at your kids, but every once in a while we slip. I've occasionally raised my voice to my teenager and to my younger kids (5.5 and 3.5 year old).

This is a very occasional thing that usually happens when the kids are misbehaving and I've lost my patience. I usually just separate myself for a few minutes to calm down, then briefly apologize by saying "I'm sorry I raised my voice at you", and move on.

Is this good enough? Is there a better way to handle this situation.

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BTW - I can't think of what to tag this question with, so any help would be greatly appreciated. –  Javid Jamae Apr 26 '11 at 6:03
    
I think you grabbed a good pair of tags to start with. –  cabbey Apr 26 '11 at 7:20
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Just to pick a nit, raising your voice is not the same thing as losing your temper. Sometimes it's necessary to shout or be stern in order to get the child's attention or make him understand how serious something is, but it's possible to do so without losing your temper. –  JSBձոգչ Apr 26 '11 at 17:57
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6 Answers

My wife and I struggled mightily with a strong-willed girl, who is now 18. When she was young, we found ourselves losing our temper and fighting with her and with each other.

A wise friend of ours, who at the time had three kids in college, gave us a very valuable insight. It eased our minds and helped us to get control of ourselves, and then our daughter.

Parenting is like baseball; you get lots of at bats. If you spend too much time focusing on the last at bat, you won't be ready for the next one. No one at bat matters by itself, but they matter together.

You are going to make mistakes. Learn from them, and make adjustments, but don't spend much time dwelling on them or trying to fix them. Absent the obvious, an individual mistake will not have a huge negative impact. Worry more about the next situation then the last one.

All that said, I think your approach is fine. Apologize if an apology is necessary, and move on.

Two other points:

  • Do not let the kid off the hook for whatever bad behavior triggered the episode. The kid doesn't earn a pass by goading mom or dad into an emotional outburst. "I'm sorry I went crazy. However, you did hit your brother, and that requires punishment. You will remain in your room alone until dinner."
  • If you issued an overly harsh consequence in anger, it is OK to adjust it later. "I apologize for losing my temper. I realize that grounding you all summer is overly harsh. I can't let you off the hook. You are grounded for two weeks."
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I have down voted this for contradicting yourself above: "An apology with conditions or excuses is not an apology" –  Hairy Jul 7 '11 at 6:42
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@Hairy .. There is no contradiction. There is a huge difference between "I'm sorry I over reacted, but I only overreacted because you did X" and "I'm sorry I overreacted, it was not OK and I will try not to do it again. Nonetheless, your doing X broke a rule and the punishment is Y." The first implies the the child is responsible for my losing my cool. The second doesn't. –  tomjedrz Jul 8 '11 at 6:32
    
Sorry Tom, but I don't see it that way, I see it as a massive contradiction. –  Hairy Jul 8 '11 at 7:26
    
@Hairy .. "massive" is a bit hyperbolic, don't you think? Parsing of words aside, the key distinction is taking responsibility for your own errors. If you really believe it is your fault, your child will know it when you have the discussion. My points are that you really need to believe that your bad reactions are your own fault, and that you still need to apply consequences for the child's initial misbehavior. –  tomjedrz Jul 8 '11 at 16:00
    
This discussion reminds me of the scene in Forrest Gump when the stoner hippie boyfriend smacks around the girl lead and then apologizes by blaming it on Johnson and Vietnam. Was he really sorry? Was he likely to change? –  tomjedrz Jul 8 '11 at 16:01
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Whether you apologize for raising your voice depends on why you did it. Was it to get the child's attention? Or was it just because you got angry? There is nothing wrong with getting angry over disobedience. If you got angry and yelled because your child accidentally broke a glass, that is something to apologize for.

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If I do lose my cool, I tend to have a time out myself, then approach the child, explain I am sorry about shouting, I let them know I have no right to shout at them, that no one does, but then I explain why her actions led me to act like that.

But if I feel I have done wrong, I will always apologise.

If it feels wrong, it generally is.

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I would stop before the "explain why her actions led me ... ". An apology with conditions or excuses is not an apology. –  tomjedrz Jul 6 '11 at 19:24
    
well, we'll disagree on that tom. I believe if you've reacted badly to something, it is important to explain why you reacted badly, regardless if how inappropriate it was; if they are doing something, something that has led you to snap, you have to apologise for the snap, but remind them why you snapped and ask them not to do it anymore. –  Hairy Jul 7 '11 at 6:40
    
It is vitally important that you not do anything to give the child the impression that your losing it is their fault. Any putting a "but" after the apology does exactly that. DON'T MAKE EXCUSES WHEN YOU MESS UP. –  tomjedrz Jul 8 '11 at 6:39
    
However tom, you then go on to say: "I'm sorry I went crazy. However, you did hit your brother". Contradiction, no? However, is a fancy 'but'... –  Hairy Jul 8 '11 at 7:27
    
You can parse the words all you want, and convince yourself that it is OK to blame the child for your losing it. That's my point. I put in one sentence here what is delivered in a couple of sentences, with a pause (or acknowledgement) in between. You have to BOTH take responsibility for your losing your cool and punish the child for the child's transgression. There can be no "why her actions led you to ..", because that is blaming the child. –  tomjedrz Jul 8 '11 at 15:46
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I personally wouldn't tell my daughter I'm sorry I raised my voice at her, because I'm not. I would disagree with your contention "we all know its terrible to raise your voice at kids." Sometimes you hurt your kids' feelings. I don't feel bad about it.

My parents raised me with (what I see in hindsight to be) a healthy balance of a wide variety of emotions, all of which I had to learn about eventually. As a result, I was consistently viewed by adults as having a more advanced emotional structure than my peers all through school. Why? Because my parents didn't hide anger or displeasure or disappointment just as they didn't hide joy or pleasure or pride in me.

They weren't perfect by any means, but as I look back on it, their introduction of the wide range of emotions and behaviors (including anger and violence) taught me how to handle these naturally occurring phenomenon in a responsible manner. (You wouldn't believe this, there is actually violence in the real world. You should've seen how shocked my wife was at the world when we moved to Cleveland, Ohio for my first job out of uni - turns out her upbringing had protected her from the mere existence of the level of violence, racism and hatred we saw there.)

So the bottom line is, embrace these opportunities as learning experiences. I'm not suggesting you consistently raise your voice, all day, every day. But when you do on occasion, (I feel) you're making your child stronger in the long run. Yes she may start to cry because mommy or daddy raised their voice. That's part of life. It has happened before, it will happen again, it will happen from a wife variety of people throughout his or her life. (She perceives all voice-raising as yelling and screaming, which is not necessarily the case, it's important for her to learn the difference between different magnitudes and durations of yelling and what implications they have.)

Disclaimer:

Like all posts on this site, this is entirely my perception gained by self examination both as a parent and as a child. If someone has a system that contradicts this (which millions will have, I'm sure) please know that I respect what works for your delicate balance between you and your kids, and what relationships you had between you and your parents, and I would appreciate the same.

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@glowcoder I upvoted your response because it's a brave and un-populist thing to say, and we need more such answers to give a wide perspective for parents. +1. –  Uticensis Apr 26 '11 at 19:14
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I think that's a relatively healthy attitude to adopt as long as you don't punish your kids for echoing your behavior. –  Karl Bielefeldt Apr 26 '11 at 21:44
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I didn't up or down vote because I respect your difference of opinion, but I disagree. While I agree that your child needs to see a range of emotions, I don't think they need to see that range from you the parent. I think a parent does best by teaching their child how to calmly and maturely react to people who can't control their temper. –  Javid Jamae Apr 27 '11 at 13:37
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Interesting perspective. I haven't voted because I'm not convinced your answer, while honest and representative of a very valid, albeit likely minority opinion, actually answers the question. I understand that you feel there's no need to apologize, but I'm not clear if you feel there's any benefit for any sort of follow-up after tempers have cooled off. How do you feel about opening dialog with "do you understand why I got so upset?" rather than apologizing? –  Beofett Apr 27 '11 at 19:24
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@glowcoder - after reading your last response to me, I upvoted. Nice perspective :) –  Beofett Apr 29 '11 at 0:23
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I was raised in a situation where there was no follow-up after one of my parent lost their temper. Because of this, I was never taught to apologize for losing mine. This is a very hard thing to learn when you're older...

When I lose my cool towards my 2yo son, I try to apologize and explain (not justify) my response. When he loses his cool, I ask him to do the same. I think this symmetry is a healthy way of showing that no-one is perfect.

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So far, with my 3.5 year old, I've attempted to complete that apology with an explanation of why I lost my temper with him. Like "when I tell you not to play with that, it's because I don't want you to get hurt, it's a very dangerous tool. When you repeatedly ignore me and play with it anyway, it hurts daddy's feelings that you're not listening to me trying to help you stay safe." Since he's 3.5 it really doesn't mean much to him yet... but I'm trying to get MY head into place to do that so that when he is old enough to understand I'll still be doing it and he'll understand.

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+1 I do this sometimes, I miss a few times but mostly that's when my son is really just trying to get a reaction out of me. I believe explaining will sometimes go over their head, but kids pick up things and repeat them later so I always think its going to come around in the future. –  MichaelF Apr 26 '11 at 12:00
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I think this is good as long as you don't associate losing your temper with their behavior. I think the apology should be done, then separately have a discussion about their bad behavior. But if you try to explain the two in one conversation, then your child will start to learn that someone else's bad behavior is justification of losing of one's temper. –  Javid Jamae May 2 '11 at 4:37
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