Dad for Beginners

Amateurism at its best

Role Modeling Rage


Unless you’ve lived the entirety of your life as a noble and pious beacon of humanity and altruism, surely there are at least a few undesirable qualities that you possess. Qualities that likely are not considered ideal in raising a child – things like lying or being sneaky. Even if it’s done in the interest of surprising someone or hiding a truth that’s potentially hurtful to another human, everyone has lied. Sometimes many things that adults just simply do as a function of their lives are not things anyone would blatantly attempt to teach a child. These are things like drinking, swearing, or judging. Surely at some point you’ve done these things and just as certainly as a parent, you likely don’t want your toddler drinking, swearing, or judging. You certainly don’t have to take the moral high ground in every situation to be a good parent but the observations of a child in daily like are unpreventable. That said, parenting is ripe with failure as even the most upstanding role model is human.

My son has some issues with his temper. In a general sense, he’s a kind and polite 3-year-old. He has good manners and seems to generally understand right from wrong, yes from no, and how to interact with both family and strangers in socially appropriate ways. Seemingly without much guidance, he’s developed a keen awareness for how others feel and how he perceives them. What he hasn’t yet developed in any awareness whatsoever for how people perceive him. That’s ok for the most part, as typically he’s a normal kid with likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, and real, controlled emotional responses.

Where the temperament comes in is when there’s something to stimulate dissatisfaction. Literally the most benign inconvenience causes him to react in a way that can only be described as extreme. There is no sliding scale of irritation, frustration, anger, and rage like is typically common with most adults and many children. His demeanor seemingly drops from pleasant satisfaction into volatile hostility in fewer than two seconds and in doing so, has a tremendous effect on his worldview at any given moment. Perhaps because he’s only three, he hasn’t developed a full command of his emotions but by comparison, when the emotion elicited isn’t anger the result is different. Even less desired emotions like sadness, longing, or even physical pain do not seem to cause him to fall as steeply as rage. He tends to go through permutations of emotional reasoning so long as the emotion brewing is anything besides rage. With rage, he just drops off that cliff.

As a parent it is a difficult course to navigate simply because firstly, I don’t understand it and secondly, I too have a short fuse in certain situations. While I have learned over time how volatility can stimulate negative consequences in reality, it doesn’t make me any more qualified to try and teach a toddler how to negotiate his rage. I am not a trained rage role model. I’m not a trained role model for anything. He’s typically quite receptive to suggestions and tends to realize after the fact that he may have responded a bit too intensely. It seems that simply discussing these things with him afterward is beneficial to both of us.

However at times I can mess this up more than I can improve it. It’s been well-document on this blog and in life in general that raising a child can be a frustrating existence. The tolerance and patience required is high and not always available round the clock for many adults. It is also well-documented that being a role model isn’t something you’re just born with. Last night he dropped into a moment of rage and I, purely out of shameful adult instinct, ripped his iPad out of his hands and put it where he couldn’t reach it. I spent some time wondering how one act of wrongful parenting may have erased any good I had done in instances prior. I essentially validated his rage with my own. I, as the physically stronger being can dominate him whenever the need arises. That isn’t something I should ever have to prove or exercise, but I did.

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