Do your children get silly when you are angry?

Children can easily feel overwhelmed by other people’s emotional displays.  This is especially the case if they feel responsible for the other’s negative emotions.  This is often the set-up in a parent-child discipline exchange.  Child misbehaves, parent feels angry, child feel responsible for parent’s anger.  When children feel overwhelmed by other’s emotions a natural defense mechanism is to get silly and play.  In this moment they are trying to diffuse the situation, to distract from the anger.  It tends to be a pretty poor way to diffuse, it tends to fail.

Let’s say your arms are full of groceries, you are trying to get the kids in the car and your four year old is running circles around you.  Next thing, she knocks groceries out of your hand.  You bark, “Get in the car!”  Your face is red and your voice is angry.  Your child feels overwhelmed so a natural defense mechanism kicks in and she gets silly.  She laughs and runs off saying “You can’t catch me!”  She is trying to change the situation, to calm things.  Unfortunately it’s a very poor choice for getting to calm, being silly tends to kicks things up a notch.

The trick is to recognize the pattern for what it is.  If your children get silly and play in response to your upset at least consider, they may be feeling overwhelmed and trying to diffuse your emotion.  Take it as a signal to calm.



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