To exasperate means to “stir up”. To frustrate, vex, annoy or make angry. There might be battles, children with parents; there might be struggles within. If we find that we are warring with our children – fighting battles with them on the home front, or if we see signs of unhappiness, or difficulty, we might discover that one or more of these 30 Ways is the cause:
1. Physical Abuse
Nobody would argue that harsh physical abuse is a one way ticket to a broken child, but physical abuse is so much broader. It ranges in anything from violent beating to repeated hitting. Parental authority should never be abusive. No child should ever be subjected to cruel punishment. Physical violence has no place in the family. A parent needs to ask themselves what their discipline accomplishes and be concerned about the after affects. No child should feel frightened or abandoned, or that they are inherently wicked.
There is a very strong argument that says that there should never be a raised hand to a child – be it a spanking, a caning, use of the hair-brush or slipper.
Being sent to boarding school, I was subjected to corporal punishment, several times subjected to the cane and leather strap. There are some who have the, “it didn’t do me any harm” view, but I can not subscribe to that. It did me a lot of harm, affecting my self-esteem and my view of authority. I harboured feelings of resentment and revenge. In my young mind I wouldn’t have cared if some of those masters had met an untimely demise. This is not a feeling I would want any child to have to deal with.
2. Verbal Abuse
Words Are Powerful. The written word carries much weight, but the spoken word is extremely powerful. Words can embolden and strengthen – but words can also cut like knives. When there is little thought given to how words might affect a child, we could be in danger of saying things which could harm our young ones. Given the more definitive list of fractious words that gain entry to these 30 Ways, this point is somewhat broader. It might include the snarled “Come on!” to the child lagging behind, the hissed “Shut up!” to a child who is too loud for comfort. The gradual wearing down of a little one’s spirit, the relentless chip, chip, chipping away at their self-esteem. The Chinese speak of Death By A Thousand Cuts, and verbal abuse in all its forms could result in the decline of out children’s self worth and desire.
I wonder whether this would include words said in jest, or teasing. If a young child declares, “I want to be a surgeon,” is she met with, “You can’t even cut the bread straight. Did you not see the mess you made of the play dough?” Or the young boy who dreams, “I want to be a fireman!” Is he ribbed, “But you can’t even hit the toilet!” Surely these would be examples of taking away a child’s hopes and dreams, and that is not something we, as parents, would want to do.
Perhaps it is best if jokes are left in the playground. A child needs to return home to a safe haven, knowing that everything said at school can be taken light-heartedly because, at least at home, Mum and Dad believe in me.
In summary: A parent who uses abusive and hurtful speech may raise an angry child, who in turn may grow up to become an adult full of rage. I don’t think anyone would argue that children who are continually screamed at and subjected to psychological indignities, emotionally battered and constantly criticized are having their spirit destroyed.
Surely it would be best for parents to refrain from calling their children names. Idiot, dolt, clot, chump, stupid and names of this sort are the mental equivalent of water torture. It might be funny to begin with, but before long it begins to irritate, then aggravate, then anger. I also wonder whether some terms of endearment might be guarded against. Names that we think of as affectionate, might be too much for children to bear. Prince or Princess – more especially, “My Prince/Princess” – terms that might become a habit for us, can begin to irk. I said to my daughter, “Hey, Gorgeous,” and, at two-and-a-bit, she replied, “I’m not gorgeous.” For me, I had to take that seriously, not question it, or argue it, just cut back or refrain.
It made me think that we need to be careful of terms that we understand, but are alien to our children, or terms that might be misunderstood. I still remember being called “pointy-head”. I have lived with it for years. Only recently I looked it up, and it discovered that it’s a reference to being intelligent. However, I know that it was one of those witty reverse-name type things, like when you call a tall child “Titch”. And even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t alter my perception of it. I wonder why a person should have to live with something as simple as name-calling for so long? It is evident to me that the names we call our children – even when we stop using them, can very easily be picked up and continued by them.
Name-calling can easily turn into labeling. We should not underestimate the power of our words. Children may call each other “stupid” and know it is a joke, but when your mother, father or teacher calls you stupid, then you think it’s true because they ought to know. Labeling a child’s personality could be a factor in a teenager’s low self-esteem, depression and non-communication.
Is our child “lazy”, or “clumsy”, “shy”, or “sensitive”? Have we considered that we could be prompting a self-fulfilling prophecy? If we see our child in a particular role, then we could be inviting the danger of the child adopting the role by default
We might not label them to their face – a tragedy of great proportions – but if we see our child in that role, privately labeling them in some way, then it will make itself known in one way or another. Our child will pick up the vibes, the signals, and and this could cause them to begin to wilt under the branding.
It has been called a sound barrier to learning. The trouble with sarcasm is its invitation to a stinging comeback. It might stir children to a preoccupation with revenge fantasies. There is confusion, resentment, a feeling of being made fun of. Are any of these mental challenges welcome in a family home?
The connection has been made that parents who habitually make mountains out of molehills, nagging their children mercilessly about trivial matters, are inevitably going to have children who not only lie but are good at it. Habitual, long-winded, or cruel nagging rarely stops the children from doing the things they’re being nagged about. It could, however, stop the children from taking responsibility for their own actions.
This might include the relentless words of warning – every pen or pencil picked up is accompanied with the reminder not to write on walls, or not to run with it. Every plug socket is dangerous, every radiator and oven is hot, every step taken is with a charge to “be careful”. Perhaps, all a child is thinking is “nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, nag.”
If we have a nagging suspicion that we are nagging – we probably are.
7. Threats and Bribery
“If…then…”, “Wait ’til your father gets home.” Predictions on how a child will turn out if they pursue a certain course. “You’ll never get anywhere with grades like that.” “You’ll never if you…”, “If you carry on behaving like that you’ll end up in prison.” Promising a child a beating or some other punishment. Counting – to whatever number – is perceived as a threat. Threats are very likely to be met with the defiant retort – spoken or not – “Let’s see you try.”
Bribery is the promise of some reward if something is accomplished. Sweets for good behaviour. The problem with this could be the child only doing something because of the promise of reward. The added danger of “If…” is the message it sends: “I don’t think you can.” This might, in turn, lead to a child’s doubting their own abilities.
Above all, a child should never be threatened with abandonment. It can be too easy to let slip, “Okay, well you stay here then. We’re going.” Or jokingly, “Right, I’m calling the removal people, and they will come and take you away.” Threats like this unnecessarily draw on a child’s fear of being abandoned.
8. Blaming and Accusing
“You’re always answering back”, “you never listen”, “You are a real embarrassment to me.” Phrases like these could encourage an atmosphere of blame and accusation. They focus on the individual, rather than the problem to be addressed.
Blaming and accusing would also include those questions which could be described as The Invitation To Lie: The parent knows the answer to something, yet they ask their child about it to see what answer they get. It can be confusing and irritating for a young one to be faced with this no-win situation. “Who did it?” is also a question which rarely has a satisfactory outcome.
9. Fault-finding, Being Overly Critical
When our child makes an effort at something, do we first point out the flaws? When the child puts on their own shoes: “Oh, you’ve got them on the wrong feet.” Every defect must be highlighted. The child successfully feeding themselves is told, “Look at you, you’ve got it all down your front, you messy little thing.” The result could be children who are frightened of taking any kind of spontaneous action, helpful included, because they worry that their parents will find some fault in what they have done. They might be criticized, or even punished. Criticism by parents might lead to deep-seated insecurity, or play a part in developing a child’s shyness.
10. Rules, Rules, and More Rules
Do we have rules for everything? Rules which then have to be adhered to, repeated and barked. Rules which tie down and constrain. Rules which have to be explained and numbered. Rules which make living at home seem like living under a dictatorship, under the family society. Already I feel hemmed in and unable to breath. At the same time, children need boundaries, which means that their parents need to set rules and sometimes enforce these rules by discipline. Even so, children must be helped progressively to see the underlying reason for these rules: their parents love them.
It seems as though praise of any kind would be a good thing. However, broad, unspecific praise – “You are such a good boy”, “You are always so kind to your sister” – could result in tension and misbehaviour. A child may not be able to accept this kind of praise because his own idea of himself is quite different. Try it on yourself: “You’re a great father!” How do you deal with that? You didn’t feel so great when you snubbed your child because you wanted to complete some task, or you unthinkingly called him a name. And you know it probably won’t be the last time you do it. Now imagine a child trying to cope with those feelings.
On the other hand, a lack of praise can also lead to insecurity. Sometimes praising in a new way, or praising at all, can take a conscious re-education of the way we parents think and speak. We have to find a more insightful method of praise, one which draws attention to the child’s accomplishments, rather than his personality.
Comparing to a sibling. Comparing to others at school. Comparing to ourselves as parents. The danger with making comparisons is that it can lead to competition, and experience tells us that intense competition can lead to physical symptoms, emotional troubles, anxiety and hostility. As parents, we want our homes to be havens from this kind of stress.
13. Ignoring Uniqueness
Ignoring uniqueness is not the same as comparing, but it is closely allied with it. It differs, though, in object. Wise parents likewise find ways to express appreciation for each child’s unique qualities, abilities, and accomplishments.
14. Not Respecting Their Struggle
One way to exasperate children is to fail to understand their daily problems and tests.
Growing up is hard work, learning how to do things, how to cope. When parents express how easy certain tasks are – even the ones easy for us, like buttoning a coat, or getting the lid off something – it can be exasperating for children. Homework is not that easy, learning to play the piano or guitar is not that easy.
15. Not Listening
Communication is a two-way discussion. Parents cannot really get to know their children’s needs unless they listen to them. If parents constantly tell children what to do without encouraging them to express themselves, their children may become less and less willing to communicate.
16. Being unreasonable
Are we flexible? Open to discussion? Can we be reasoned with, so that if a child feels that something is unfair, we are approachable and can reason on a matter, perhaps even changing our mind or making an exception to a rule. The inability to do this – the “my way or the highway” approach on all matters – is likely to cause warfare and rebellion in the house.
17. Silent Treatment
Sometimes we need to be silent. Sometimes we feel angry about something, and need moments of silence to collect our thoughts, or even to let the young child recognise that what they have said or done is unacceptable – it has caused a grievance. The danger comes when we use silence as a weapon. Filling the house with an unsettling atmosphere of power and fear.
18. Quick to Anger
Do we fly off the handle quickly? Are the children scared to do anything because of our wrath? Do they need to tiptoe around us lest they set us off?
19. Withholding Independence
Right from the start children naturally desire more independence. This manifests itself from a very early age – putting on their own shoes, taking off their coat, which may be painfully slow to the adult trying to get out the door. However, when a child is often prevented from engaging in activities and assuming responsibilities for which they are ready, this can lead to frustration and resentment
20. Unrealistically High Standards
Being constantly put down by a parent or being measured by unrealistically high standards can be exasperating for children. The inability to live up to high parental expectations could cause significant loss of self-esteem. Our children need to feel it is safe to come to us when they have failed at something, or when something is making them unhappy.
Parents must be fair and set good examples, but children need regulations and discipline. A growing child needs a sense of boundaries and limits. If parents condone wrongdoing in their children, they are bound to lose the children’s respect. As parents, we may later find that we have compromised the line of communication.
22. Lack of Headship
When the father – or other significant adult – lives up to his responsibility, the whole family is drawn closer together and strengthened. When parents give in to children, or rely too much on their child’s giving of love, if they are scared of losing their child’s love and affection, or if they are scared of upsetting them, the child might end up assuming the position of head of the house, “ruling the roost”, as it were. It is a position the child does not want and emotionally cannot handle.
23. Inconsistent Discipline
This can consist of disciple that bears little or no relation to the crime being punished – it might include the naughty step, or naughty chair. It can include meting out discipline for a misdemeanour one time, and then not doing so when the same thing is repeated. It does not mean we cannot listen to our child, and our instincts, and sometimes make an exception.
24. Public Discipline
Punishment by ridicule before friends makes the child downhearted, even hostile. It is embarrassing and annoying for children to be disciplined in front of people, the danger being that it is done for the benefit of onlookers rather than the child. As parents we do not want to be viewed as “letting them get away with it” and this is a moment that can tax our determination not to expose our child to public shame and humiliation.
Demanding good manners in a public forum can be demeaning to children, and an affront – “Say ‘Thank You’ to Auntie (Whoever)” or “What do you say?” Of course, we want our children to be polite, so this is another challenging area for parents.
Chastising children in front of their friends, reminding them about an assignment, finger-wagging, can all be terribly embarrassing for a youngster.
It is irritating and frustrating for children to be told that they should be kind and considerate, and yet they see their parents argue, gossip, act rudely, or get easily upset. Can they be blamed if they act in the same manner? Children can spot hypocrisy from a long way. They are not so young that they cannot spot double standards in adults. As an example: The grown-up who smokes, but fumes when they discover their child smoking.
This invitation to battle is closely allied with hypocrisy. How can it fail to be. When we demand certain standards we will soon find ourselves unable to meet them. Self-righteousness shows itself in parents ability to lecture and moralise. Going on and on about something. Needing to appear as if we never do a thing wrong, and yet pointing out wrong-doing in others. A self-righteous attitude may not be demonstrated against our children, but if they hear us speaking in a self-righteous way about others this might have a detrimental effect.
27. Passive Aggression
This emotion can often be seen when we act against our better judgment. Then we have pent up feelings of anger which seep out into our activities. We might say we’ll do something when we don’t feel like it, and then sabotage efforts to get ready. Or allow the irritation to build up within us, until it explodes into something else entirely. A good rule of thumb: We can be a little bit nicer than we feel, but not much.
If we disappear from our children’s lives, if our job routinely takes us away from the family home for days, weeks or months, we cannot be surprised that our children will react negatively. Not only will we exasperate them but we may well undermine their self-worth, making them feel unloved and unlovable.
29. Lack of Self-Control
A lack of self-control is not just seen in an ability to get angry quickly, reacting to the merest hint of wrong-doing. It is not only seen in an overindulgence in alcohol or some other habit. A lack of self-control can be seen in a variety of areas, it manifests itself as a general character trait. Self-control is the ability to say “no” to yourself, to be self-disciplined. The parent who lacks self-control, cannot be surprised if he has a child who resists discipline.
30. Spiritual Neglect
Children are curious. They want answers. At some point, they are going to want answers to the big questions in life: “Who are we? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life?” Parents who avoid these questions, or show that such things are unimportant to them, could find themselves with difficulty at home, especially through the teenage years, when young adults are at their most vulnerable.
Between Parent & Child and Between Parent & Teenager Dr Haim G Ginott
Liberated Parents, Liberated Children and How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.
Rory Sullivan writes Hamelife, a website dedicated to helping parents negotiate the unpredictable waters of parent-child communication. With the 30 Ways at its heart, Hamelife encourages parents to avoid exasperating their children by embracing empathy, respect, and patience.