Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the book The Soft-Spoken Parent: The Top 10 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath.
Very often we judge children’s behaviors based on their effects on us. If their actions (or inactions) irritate me, then the children are malicious – or at least careless and irresponsible.
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This is much like blaming my extra weight on the fat calories in Reese’s peanut butter cups. How much sense would it make to sue the manufacturers of Reese’s for making them too delectable? Their recipe is not a carefully devised conspiracy against my weight. It is my lack of moderation that is my enemy.
Likewise when children forget to close the door, turn off the lights, or to keep cookies out of the living room, they are generally not making a concerted effort to make us poor or crazy. They are probably being children. (By the way, do we sometimes take cookies in the living room – hoping not to get caught?)
Children’s motives are much like ours – only probably a little purer. They are trying to find ways to get their needs met and enjoy life. They probably even want to do what’s right as much as they can.
Sometimes their mistakes are simply the result of not knowing better, or being tired, or feeling thwarted and frustrated. To treat them harshly for their humanness is counterproductive.
So the wrath we aim at them is probably unnecessary and unhelpful. We can scald them with our unhappiness and we will all be the poorer.
When Elder Holland was president of BYU he told a poignant story of overreaction.
Early in our married life my young family and I were laboring through graduate school at a university in New England. I was going to school full-time and teaching half-time. We had two small children then, with little money and lots of pressures.
One evening I came home from long hours at school, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. Everything seemed to be especially demanding and discouraging and dark. I wondered if the dawn would ever come. Then, as I walked into our small student apartment, there was an unusual silence in the room.
“What’s the trouble?” I asked.
“Matthew has something he wants to tell you,” my wife said.
“Matt, what do you have to tell me?” He was quietly playing with his toys in the corner of the room, trying very hard not to hear me. “Matt,” I said a little louder, “do you have something to tell me?”
He stopped playing, but for a moment didn’t look up. Then these two enormous, tear-filled brown eyes turned toward me, and with the pain only a five-year-old can know, he said, “I didn’t mind Mommy tonight, and I spoke back to her.” With that he burst into tears, and his entire little body shook with grief. A childish mistake had been noted, a painful confession had been offered, the growth of a five-year-old was continuing, and loving peace could have been wonderfully underway.
Everything might have been just terrific – except for me. If you can imagine such an idiotic thing, I lost my temper. It wasn’t that I lost it with Matt – it was with a hundred and one other things on my mind; but he didn’t know that, and I wasn’t disciplined enough to admit it. He got the whole load of bricks.
I told him how disappointed I was and how much more I thought I could have expected from him. Then I did what I had never done before in his life – I told him that he was to go straight to bed and that I would not be in to say his prayers with him or to tell him a bedtime story. Muffling his sobs, he obediently went to his bedside, where he knelt – alone – to say his prayers. Then he stained his little pillow with tears his father should have been wiping away. 
When we know we are tired, we should be especially cautious about our reactions – and over-reactions. In all cases we should look on children not as annoying little people who are tormenting us deliberately but as children who are doing the best they know how to do.
Stay tuned for another strategy next week. Or purchase the book (which is arriving in the warehouse this week) by clicking here.