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'Sometimes I just hate him!' - Using an Anger Inventory to Help Parents Monitor their Emotions
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In the last section, we discussed Communication and Children’s Responsibility. This included Depersonalizing, Discrediting Elective Behavior and Always Giving 100% Credit.
I stated to Lisa, mother of Joey, age 7, if you make a statement like "How many times have I told you…"; this statement does not achieve the desired behavior. Lisa, had mentioned in our session that she would use this phrase, "How many times have I told you…" over and over again. Lisa stated, "He is such a brat sometimes! He’ll run around, won’t listen, kicks me, and yells at other people. My son is a little monster! Sometimes I just hate him!"
Do you agree... with me that Lisa may have not developed the skills required to better communicate with her son who is starting to exhibit characteristics of childhood-onset conduct disorder? In this section, we will discuss communication issues surrounding equivocal, vague or ambiguous statements. Communication issues surrounding vague or ambiguous statements include: Ambiguous statements and using emotion as a communicator.
2 Communication Issues
♦ #1 Ambiguous Statements
The first issue is pinpointing a parent’s Ambiguous or vague statements. One communication barrier between parent and younger child is that the parent says one thing, but the child hears another. To help Lisa at least begin to communicate with her disorderly son, I asked her to make a list of her common command statements.
Over the next few weeks, Lisa created a list of such which included the following phrases:
How many times have you done thus-and-so?
Do that again, and you’ll see what happens!
What did I just say?!
I then stated, "Lisa, when Joey hears such phrases, he doesn’t hear what you want him to do. For instance, when you say, ‘What did I just say?’ Joey is thinking to himself, ‘Well, you just said ‘Don’t hit my sister.’" Lisa then stated, "Why doesn’t he stop, then?!" I replied, "Because you didn’t follow up with your question with a definition of the behavior you would like Joey to do. You asked an indirect question. He doesn’t hear another command or a warning, so he doesn’t feel the need to stop what he’s doing if he doesn’t feel like it."
Communication with children who demonstrate signs of conduct disorder is essential. By equivocating, parents increase child confusion, quite possibly infuriating the child into further acts of violence and acting-out.
Think of your Lisa. Is he or she using equivocal statements instead of commands?
♦ #2 Using Emotion as a Communicator
The second issue regarding communication with difficult children involves using emotion as a communicator. Tom, thought he could intimidate his son Kyle, age 8, into obeying him. Tom stated, "I’m a big guy. Most men can be frightened of me. But Kyle here, not one bit. The biggest problem is that he refuses to do his homework! What do I have to do to get him to be scared of me?"
I stated to Tom, "When you use anger to try and manipulate your son, you are in fact fueling his own feelings. His acting out might be a way of showing his own anger or confusion. Some children begin to interpret anger as a way to manipulate others and get their own way. In other words, you might have a bully on your hands."
Parents who express themselves through anger can be a contributing factor in difficult children developing conduct disorder. As you know, conduct disorder involves repetitive patterns of aggression, being destructive and displaying cruelty toward people and animals.
♦ Technique: The Anger Inventory
To help Tom evaluate his own anger threshold, I asked him to complete "The Anger Inventory." I gave Tom a list of sixteen common situational anger triggers and asked him to rate them with the numbers one through five. I stated to Tom, "One means when Kyle disobeyed you in that particular situation, it did not make you angry at all. Five means the situation made you extremely angry."
Some of the situations that Tom rated as either a four or a five included the following:
--Your child defies or disobeys you at mealtimes.
--Your child defies or disobeys you while you are on the phone.
--Your child defies or disobeys you in public.
--Your child defies or disobeys you when asked to do chores.
--Your child defies or disobeys you when asked to do homework.
--Your child defies or disobeys you at bedtime.
--Your child defies or disobeys you while in the car.
Because of Tom’s anger issues, I asked Tom about use of physical punishment. Tom stated, "I never spank my son. Ever. I don’t believe in it, and I don’t believe it accomplishes anything. My old man beat me till I was red and it didn’t do anything for me. I would never hit, spank, or slap my son." Although this situation was non-threatening for Kyle, you might agree that it can be beneficial to check a child’s arms and back for any signs of mistreatment if his or her parents seem predisposed to anger as disciplinary action.
Think of your Tom. Do you think he or she would score highly on "The Anger Inventory"? The entire sixteen-item Anger Inventory I used with Tom is located in the back of the Manual that accompanies this course. Do you think this exercise would put his or her own anger into perspective?
In this section, we have covered a parent’s use of vague or ambiguous statements with a child that is being defined as "difficult." These vague or ambiguous statements have included indirect statements and using emotion as a communicator.
In the next section, we will discuss the Omnipotent Powerless Child Syndrome. This will include Real Power vs. Button-Pushing, Children Want Adults in Charge, and Disempowering Button-Pushers.
What are two common causes of miscommunication through vague or ambiguous statements with difficult children?
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