Q. Every time I have a fight with my child I die a little inside. At 27 I know I ought to be able to keep my temper. I ought to be able to remember that she is 5 years old. And so the next time I do remember - and the next - and then wow! My brain goes out to lunch.
Is there any one thing I can do to remind myself that I'm a grownup?
A. What's wrong here is your basic premise. It really is all right to get mad, even at little children. Quite often they deserve it, and sometimes you deserve the chance to sound off, even if you're wrong.
It is a matter of what you say and how, and where you say it. There are ways to get angry, just as there are ways to do anything. As long as your child knows that it is her behavior that you don't like, and not herself, as a person, she can accept it when you are cross.
Perhaps the best reminder you can have is the image of yourself in an office. Imagine a boss, twice your height and maybe triple your weight - someone you care a lot about. And when you confuse an order, or break something, or get in late or goof off, he yells at you, maybe right in front of your colleagues. The only thing you learn is that humiliation teaches very little.
Any correction, no matter how mad you are, should be made in private; it should be made eyeball to eyeball and - in a technique we wished we had learned years ago - it should be made when you are holding hands. You will feel so much love flow between you that a lot of your anger will dissipate before the worst of those words get said.
Finally, be sure to make up quickly. And if you still feel guilty when you look at your sleeping beauty, wake her up with a kiss, and tell her again that you're sorry you got so mad. Nothing gives a child sweeter dreams than to know that parents make mistakes too - and nothing makes you fell better than to know you have the right to make them.
While abuse - physical or verbal - can devastate a child, anger is a healthy emotion, and arguments, alas, are just part of life.