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Do your kids lie to you or hide things from you?
Do they blame others for their mistakes?
Do they look away or fall silent or seem to shrink when you come into the room?
Do your kids cry even before you yell at them?
Do you yell at them? Or hit them? Or make sarcastic remarks?

Too many children are afraid of their parents. Mom and Dad mean well. They’re just trying to get the day accomplished and it seems to them that the kids are getting in the way. So they lose their tempers. But the children are the real losers. If your children are afraid of you – if you see the kind of behavior listed above – then you’ve got to turn things around, and fast.

This turning around is something for you to do. It’s not true that you’d be a better parent if you only had better children. It’s not true that the way to have better children is to destroy them so you can build them into people who are nicer. What is true is that our children were created by us. The problems we see are problems we created.

Which means the problems we have with our kids are problems we can solve.

If you have a short temper, if you get stressed and overreact, if you want everything to be perfect and things are never perfect, then your children are your victims. This is a hard thing to realize. We love our kids and we’d never do anything to hurt them. We only want the best for them. But the demands we make, the blame we assign, and the punishments we mete out take their toll. If your children are afraid of you, you’ve got to begin to back off.

Children who believe the important adults in their lives are dangerous have only two outlets. They can become small and timid, afraid to shine, afraid to try. Or they can become even more dangerous than you are, to their siblings, to other kids they know and, eventually, to you.

If what you’re yearning for is the perfect family, then making your children afraid of you and afraid of your anger and your unhappiness is the wrong way to go. Make a change.

  1. Give up your electronic devices. The constant pinging is like having an insistent puppy always demanding your attention. Give your children your attention. Put away your phone and your tablet while your children are home. See if you don’t feel calmer.
  2. When something goes wrong, make your first reaction a smile. See setbacks as opportunities to work together with your child to solve things. Help your child get back on track in a way that is supportive and loving. When you quit assigning blame and quit being angry all the time, your children will become more responsible and happier.
  3. When anger bubbles up, take a deep breath and strive for self-control. Don’t take things out on your kids. There is nothing, nothing, that matters so much over the long term as your relationship with your children. Whatever just happened is a momentary distraction. Don’t let it become more.
  4. Speak in a quiet voice. There’s no need to yell. You don’t need to shout to be heard. If your children are used to you fighting to be heard, if your kids are used to being out of control until the moment you scream at them, it will take time for both of you to get back to a more normal interaction pattern. But it has to start with you. You’re the grown up.

When we realize the damage we’ve inflicted, to the point that our children are actually afraid of us, we’re embarrassed. We’re sad and ashamed. We want to hide. But none of that solves anything.

The way to repair the hurt we’ve inflicted is to become the parent we wanted to be all along.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

Do you know this mother? She won’t let her children dress themselves because “they do it wrong.” So she lays out their outfits each day, even though, at ages three and six, they are pretty much capable of dressing themselves.

How about this dad? He likes to shoot baskets in the driveway with his kids but he keeps criticizing how they stand and how they shoot, to the point they don’t like to play basketball at all anymore.  Do you know this guy?

Parents don’t have to be mean and controlling. They can be overly helpful and controlling. But the result is the same – unhappy kids who feel unloved instead of feeling loved a lot. These parents are wonderful people. They have high standards and they  try to do everything perfectly. Yes, okay, maybe they’re really perfectionists but why not?  What’s wrong with striving for excellence? What’s wrong with trying to be the very best?

Let me tell you what’s wrong. Let me tell you why being a perfectionist backfires on you and on your kids.

No one likes to be manipulated. You don’t like it and – guess what? – your child doesn’t like it either. Just as you rebel when someone tells you all your faults and seems to know exactly how to fix you, your child rebels too. It doesn’t matter that she’s the child and you’re the grownup. It doesn’t matter that you have more experience and vision. Nobody wants to be someone else’s project. Everyone wants to belong to herself.

Your child is not your property. She’s an independent human being.

So, being controlling and having a lot of rules will create a barrier between the two of you.  It won’t “fix” her but will make her more committed to her own point-of-view. Or, even worse, it will make her completely unsure of herself and totally dependent on you. For life.

A better plan is to guide your child in feeling great about herself, competent, capable, and smart. Give her opportunities to try new things and to see how they work out. Help her develop her ability to pay attention, to solve problems on her own, and to think ahead.

Children who are under someone else’s control never know what to do. Left to their own devices they either go crazy and wind up in detention somewhere or they are too fearful and uncertain to do anything at all. Neither way is perfect. Neither way is the way you envision your child growing up to be.

So, if you’re inclined to fix people, start with yourself. Learn to appreciate and nurture, learn to guide and support. Give up being in control of your child and gradually, with your loving help, let your child be in control of herself.

You and your child. Together you can be the perfect family.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.