Is dad's anger affecting preschooler?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 31, 2012 06:00 AM

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[This letter has been condensed. BFM]
Hi Barbara,

I am concerned about my 18 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

About me quickly, I am mostly a good guy, I am a gentleman, kind, caring, thoughtful, empathetic, emotionally available and passionate and loving toward my wife, which I am sure is why she puts up with me. I need you to first know this, as I suffer depression, anxiety and histrionic personality disorder, which sometimes heightens my aggression beyond any reasonable level, heightens my imaginative state and lowers my rationality and decision-making skills....I am sure it affects our family.

I am aware of it and now know the warning signs, but sometimes when we are in the car, I cannot walk away from an argument with my wife, and I go through the roof, yelling at her, swearing at her sometimes, and saying irrational things....harassing her to a point of her becoming confused....and she cried a couple of times, which my son has seen me do. ....Which brings me to my main issue.

I am highly concerned about our 3 year old son. He has a Peter Rabbit toy which he hurts, sits on and pulls his arms etc, nothing verbal, all physical, and when I ask him about it, he smiles awkwardly and says, "I can't tell you." This scares me so much. My instincts are telling me this is a massive warning sign. On another occasion my son wrestled his baby sister to the floor by her neck, which I have read is very normal, but I saw it as bullying and in a moment of stupidity, I did the same thing to him to show him how it felt. My wife was with me and immediately corrected my actions, she is a primary school teacher.

I immediately hugged him and appologised, telling him that what I did was wrong, and that I love him very much. Whenever my wife and I fight, we usually try and make up in front of him...but kids don't have the ability to understand what has happened, "sorry son, daddy is sick and gets cranky sometimes," is the best I can do, which is sad at best, as he is such a good kid, they both are...

My point is, I know I can change what I do today and tomorrow, but what about yesterdays mistakes, will they stay deep in his psyche, and mold his later years? I saw my parents fight a lot, and I want to break the cycle, any advice you could give me might make all the difference.. ..My son and I have a healthy relationship outside of the arguments he witnesses, we cuddle in front of the TV, we play in the park, he loves me very much, we read books, he instigates fun play with me. The only thing that makes me question his mental state is the way that he treats his Peter Rabbit ( and he loves rabbits by the way). He also ran a little plush toy over today with his toy train, he was doing it quietly and did not want me to see him doing it, when I caught him he felt silly about it, I did't want to make him feel silly, so I let it go.....I want to be a better dad/partner and am taking steps to achieve this.

From: Jonas, Sydney, Australia


Dear Jonas,

When children witness an argument between parents and witness the apology and the making-up, at least one major study shows it can actually be a positive influence and role model. The problem is when they don't see the apology. With that study in mind, it sounds like you are on the right track.

It's also great that you have time-alone time with your son as well as cuddle and fun time. What's more, I also give you points for getting professional help; that's really important.

What worries me most, then is the repetition of the fighting, its intensity and, especially, that you bring mommy to tears. This is troublesome. Here's where your professional counseling ought to be helpful in guiding you to recognize your triggers so that you can catch yourself before you blow. I hope you're putting in the time and effort you need to develop a number of strategies. In the meantime, perhaps you need to avoid altogether situations that are likely to set you off. You mention the car, so I would consider not having the kids in the car with you until you get this under control.

That your son is beating up on Peter Rabbit, however, doesn't worry me as much as it does you; it's healthy for children to use their stuffed animals and other toys (the trains) as an emotional outlet. My suggestion is to try engaging him in some dialogue: "Oh! I wonder if Peter did something naughty for you to be so angry with him....." See where this takes you but certainly don't be unhappy or chastising him for these behaviors. Getting emotion out in the open is always better than bottling it up.

What I would worry about are signs that he thinks he's to blame for the fights you and your wife have. This is called magical thinking. It's irrational and, if we could get inside a child's head, it might sound something like this: "I was bad and that's why dad and mom had a fight."

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8 comments so far...
  1. You could try talking to your doctor to see if you can get on some medication to control your anger. I am married to someone who went through this and the medication helped him. There were some initial side effects till he adjusted to the correct dosage but he has benefitted from being able to control his temper as needed.

    Posted by LevelHeaded May 31, 12 02:59 PM
  1. You are out of control, and if you think that your deluding yourself as being, ”...mostly a good guy, I am a gentleman, kind, caring, thoughtful, empathetic, emotionally available and passionate and loving toward my wife,” then the best thing you could do would be to get out of their lives forever, except to send them a monthly check.

    Posted by Casserine May 31, 12 05:51 PM
  1. I think the real main issue has not been mentioned in this letter.

    Has the LW made sure that his physician knows about these symptoms? Has the LW insisted on being screened for adult ADHD as well as other professional assessment and CARE? Has the LW tried psychotherapy to resolve some of his own childhood issues? Have possible nutritional deficiencies like vitamin B malabsorption/genetic errors been tested for---these are well known to contribute to mood swings similar to the LW's.

    It's OK to tell your kids that "daddy is sick" or "mommy is sick". What leaves scars on the kids is when the sick parent does not seek effective medical help. That sends the unspoken message that the kids will also be neglected if they become sick for any reason...

    Sticking names like "histrionic personality disorder" onto problems is useless if there is no followup treatment that shows progress over time. The treatments for most vitamin deficiencies are simple and safe: one supplement a day. The treatment for adult ADHD is also safe and happens to make a world of difference according to the people who have insisted on correct assessment. The understanding that ADHD occurs in adults is a very recent development.

    The only useful diagnosis is the one that leads to a truly effective improvement of symptoms.

    Posted by Irene May 31, 12 09:21 PM
  1. You choked your son to "teach him a lesson". What would have happened if your wife wasn't there?

    In my opinion, your children are not safe with you in the home until you get your disorder under control.

    You can apologize all you want after your outbursts, but every time you lose it, you are damaging your children by making their world a scary place.

    You might think you're an awesome guy with a disorder, but I think your wife would have a different opinion.

    I know this may seem harsh, but sometimes, when you put the facts in black and white, they're a lot clearer than when they're in your head.

    I urge you to seek additional professional help to get your outbursts under control. You must break the cycle. I wish you the very best!

    Posted by just cause June 1, 12 12:56 PM
  1. Wow.

    Honestly, if I chose to tolerate this for myself I could live with this if I rationalized it enough. But if I decided to marry a man with problems like this, that decision would have been paired with a decision to NOT have children.

    I'm sorry if that is not constructive or helpful - but you are kidding yourself if you think good manners and the other positive qualities you list make it ok to demostrate the negative qualities you go on to list.

    Not every person needs to be a 'breeder'. Why would you subject a child to these genes and this environment? It makes no sense to me.

    Posted by Montyy June 1, 12 03:48 PM
  1. I think that this man should be praised that he has the guts to ask for help and recognise that he has anger issues. Unlike number 2 comment above which is cruel and hurtful. This person has onviously never had depression. I think- jonas keep seeking the advise of prefessionals and perhaps getsome medication for anxiety/depression. Dont feel like you are a failure if you need help as a parent. I am a parent and it is the hardest job in the world. As with your relationship with your wife- keep working at it, maybe once you get your own feelings under control that will improve but try and walk away instead of staying and fighting. All parents fight in front of their kids at some point and yes its horrible for kids to listen too but they will get over it, noone is perfect and i think as a society we need to start recognising that as human beings we have faults and that includes parenting. The sooner we do that, the sooner parents can stop beating themselves up and start realising the good things they do- the little things we do day in and day out. Just love your kids- tell them you love them and show you love them, but dont beat yourself up if you slip up once in a while. Best wishes..

    Posted by Anne June 1, 12 06:49 PM
  1. I agree with many points above.But at least this LW recognizes the problem and is trying to take responsibility for his mistakes. While there are cases where the monthly check(as another commenter pointed out) is the best in many situations, It may or may not be in this one. I am glad that this LW wants to change. Many people don't even see themselves as having a problem. LW, you NEED professional help and maybe meds like another commenter mentioned ( Then again,I am not a doctor) But seek it and continue on with it. Involve your wife too. But yes, if no REAL efforts are taken, I don't see how your wife and children will trust you. Talk to your doctor and he/she can help you find a program and/or therapy. Don't wait.
    None of these commenters are the perfect parent and neither am I.
    I agree with many comments about how "not every person needs to be a breeder"..... among some other comments.....I do typically wholeheartedly agree with those statements. But the fact is, these children do already exist and time cannot be turned back. Best of Luck to you and your family. I hope you break that cycle because you certainly don't want your children to become how YOU are now. They will if you don't do anything.


    Posted by jd June 2, 12 11:30 AM
  1. Question rephrased:

    Is it okay to abuse my wife in front of my kids as long as I explain why I'm abusing her to my kids?

    No. Ralph Waldo Emerson said this on behalf of your kids: "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." You've defined the abuse cycle in your actions: Be a good guy, abuse, apologize, explain, promise to get help, be a good guy, abuse, apologize, explain, promise to get help, be a good guy, abuse...

    Good for you for seeking help. Be serious about it, and actually get help, because talking about how you need it and ACTUALLY following through are two different things, and they're the difference between bad husband/dad who talks a lot, and good husband/dad who acts in the best interest of his family.

    Good luck.

    Posted by NoName12345 June 3, 12 02:56 PM
 
8 comments so far...
  1. You could try talking to your doctor to see if you can get on some medication to control your anger. I am married to someone who went through this and the medication helped him. There were some initial side effects till he adjusted to the correct dosage but he has benefitted from being able to control his temper as needed.

    Posted by LevelHeaded May 31, 12 02:59 PM
  1. You are out of control, and if you think that your deluding yourself as being, ”...mostly a good guy, I am a gentleman, kind, caring, thoughtful, empathetic, emotionally available and passionate and loving toward my wife,” then the best thing you could do would be to get out of their lives forever, except to send them a monthly check.

    Posted by Casserine May 31, 12 05:51 PM
  1. I think the real main issue has not been mentioned in this letter.

    Has the LW made sure that his physician knows about these symptoms? Has the LW insisted on being screened for adult ADHD as well as other professional assessment and CARE? Has the LW tried psychotherapy to resolve some of his own childhood issues? Have possible nutritional deficiencies like vitamin B malabsorption/genetic errors been tested for---these are well known to contribute to mood swings similar to the LW's.

    It's OK to tell your kids that "daddy is sick" or "mommy is sick". What leaves scars on the kids is when the sick parent does not seek effective medical help. That sends the unspoken message that the kids will also be neglected if they become sick for any reason...

    Sticking names like "histrionic personality disorder" onto problems is useless if there is no followup treatment that shows progress over time. The treatments for most vitamin deficiencies are simple and safe: one supplement a day. The treatment for adult ADHD is also safe and happens to make a world of difference according to the people who have insisted on correct assessment. The understanding that ADHD occurs in adults is a very recent development.

    The only useful diagnosis is the one that leads to a truly effective improvement of symptoms.

    Posted by Irene May 31, 12 09:21 PM
  1. You choked your son to "teach him a lesson". What would have happened if your wife wasn't there?

    In my opinion, your children are not safe with you in the home until you get your disorder under control.

    You can apologize all you want after your outbursts, but every time you lose it, you are damaging your children by making their world a scary place.

    You might think you're an awesome guy with a disorder, but I think your wife would have a different opinion.

    I know this may seem harsh, but sometimes, when you put the facts in black and white, they're a lot clearer than when they're in your head.

    I urge you to seek additional professional help to get your outbursts under control. You must break the cycle. I wish you the very best!

    Posted by just cause June 1, 12 12:56 PM
  1. Wow.

    Honestly, if I chose to tolerate this for myself I could live with this if I rationalized it enough. But if I decided to marry a man with problems like this, that decision would have been paired with a decision to NOT have children.

    I'm sorry if that is not constructive or helpful - but you are kidding yourself if you think good manners and the other positive qualities you list make it ok to demostrate the negative qualities you go on to list.

    Not every person needs to be a 'breeder'. Why would you subject a child to these genes and this environment? It makes no sense to me.

    Posted by Montyy June 1, 12 03:48 PM
  1. I think that this man should be praised that he has the guts to ask for help and recognise that he has anger issues. Unlike number 2 comment above which is cruel and hurtful. This person has onviously never had depression. I think- jonas keep seeking the advise of prefessionals and perhaps getsome medication for anxiety/depression. Dont feel like you are a failure if you need help as a parent. I am a parent and it is the hardest job in the world. As with your relationship with your wife- keep working at it, maybe once you get your own feelings under control that will improve but try and walk away instead of staying and fighting. All parents fight in front of their kids at some point and yes its horrible for kids to listen too but they will get over it, noone is perfect and i think as a society we need to start recognising that as human beings we have faults and that includes parenting. The sooner we do that, the sooner parents can stop beating themselves up and start realising the good things they do- the little things we do day in and day out. Just love your kids- tell them you love them and show you love them, but dont beat yourself up if you slip up once in a while. Best wishes..

    Posted by Anne June 1, 12 06:49 PM
  1. I agree with many points above.But at least this LW recognizes the problem and is trying to take responsibility for his mistakes. While there are cases where the monthly check(as another commenter pointed out) is the best in many situations, It may or may not be in this one. I am glad that this LW wants to change. Many people don't even see themselves as having a problem. LW, you NEED professional help and maybe meds like another commenter mentioned ( Then again,I am not a doctor) But seek it and continue on with it. Involve your wife too. But yes, if no REAL efforts are taken, I don't see how your wife and children will trust you. Talk to your doctor and he/she can help you find a program and/or therapy. Don't wait.
    None of these commenters are the perfect parent and neither am I.
    I agree with many comments about how "not every person needs to be a breeder"..... among some other comments.....I do typically wholeheartedly agree with those statements. But the fact is, these children do already exist and time cannot be turned back. Best of Luck to you and your family. I hope you break that cycle because you certainly don't want your children to become how YOU are now. They will if you don't do anything.


    Posted by jd June 2, 12 11:30 AM
  1. Question rephrased:

    Is it okay to abuse my wife in front of my kids as long as I explain why I'm abusing her to my kids?

    No. Ralph Waldo Emerson said this on behalf of your kids: "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." You've defined the abuse cycle in your actions: Be a good guy, abuse, apologize, explain, promise to get help, be a good guy, abuse, apologize, explain, promise to get help, be a good guy, abuse...

    Good for you for seeking help. Be serious about it, and actually get help, because talking about how you need it and ACTUALLY following through are two different things, and they're the difference between bad husband/dad who talks a lot, and good husband/dad who acts in the best interest of his family.

    Good luck.

    Posted by NoName12345 June 3, 12 02:56 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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