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Dear Anti-SuperNanny: My issue is my almost-9-yr-old daughter getting mouthy. She has some serious anger issues. We’re actually just started seeing a therapist who is AMAZING! Just wondering if you have any pointers on how I can chill the eff out when she is flipping out on me. She can be so mean & hateful sometimes, it breaks my freaking heart! She treats me the way my mother treated me growing up. It’s scary!

Anti-SuperNanny: That does sound scary, and painful, too. Therapists love to tell parents, “Itll get worse before it gets better,” but that’s really not a whole lot of consolation, is it?

Without knowing any backstory, it’s hard to say much. As parents, though, it’s almost like it’s built in for us to take everything our kids say and do personally, either as a reflection of our personal wins and failures, or as a direct attack on us as individuals.  Really, if we want to lend the strength to our children that they need in finding their own identities (because isn’t that what this is all about?), we can’t afford to do that. Somehow, we have to find a way to emotionally remove ourselves from their attacks (real or perceived), and respond appropriately.

This is especially challenging when we have psychological and emotional wounds from our own childhoods that are still healing.  Many parents find themselves stopped in their tracks when something their child does sends them traveling back in time to a similar or related incident from their own childhood.  It’s important for us all to remember:  We (and our children) are not our parents, and furthermore, we are not the same people we were in childhood.  Most of us have developed more refined coping strategies to deal with stressful situations, and if we haven’t, as adults, we’re equipped to learn.  One advantage you have in your situation is that your daughter is a child – she can be taught more appropriate ways of self-expression.  It is much harder to teach your parent.

Here are some ideas other parents have found helpful:

  • Visualize yourself dealing with an irate customer:  Keep calm, work to find ways to de-escalate and defuse the conflict, and know when to step out and call for reinforcement, or say, “I see we’re not getting anywhere with this now. Let’s schedule a time to sit down with this tomorrow.”
  • Prayers and mantras: Repeat the mantra, “This too, shall pass,” like a prayer. Some find comfort in the Serenity Prayer (even the non-religious): “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  • Always and consistently enforce your family’s values. Values trump rules. Rules are made to be broken, but values are unbending. If a value, for example, is “In this house, we do not hurt one another with words or bodies,” then that must be upheld. Even at the age of 9, modeling is a most effective tool. Modeling alternate approaches to hurting words and bodies is extremely effective.

Good luck, Mama.  I hope you find peace and healing from your own past, for your sake and your daughter’s.  The therapy sounds like it is helping your daughter, and you seem to be excited about that.  Hang on to those small successes.  Eventually, they all add up!