Anger Causes Chaos for Families

The "Supernanny" helps parents and kids handle extreme and aggressive anger.

Jan. 29, 2008 — -- What parent or child doesn't lose his or her temper at home from time to time? It's usually just the result of stress and frustration, but in some cases it can become dangerous and rock a family to its core.

Kimberly Williams, a pediatric psychologist at the NYU Child Study Center, says that "anger is something that happens to everybody."

"It's natural," she said. "It's healthy, but it does become a problem when it lasts a long time. When it's pervasive, when it's aggressive, and there's violence, that's extreme and needs some kind of intervention."

CLICK HERE to read Williams' answers to viewers questions about family anger.

Many families struggle with pervasive anger issues, and that's where Jo Frost comes in. Frost is best known as the "Supernanny," the star of an ABC hit reality show. She's also a trained British nanny who's written two best-selling books and seen her share of family conflict. Frost says that there is anger "lingering around in every household," but that sometimes it's extreme and destructive.

"I have had a brick thrown at me, a glass vase thrown where kids are just totally out of control," Frost said.

In one episode of "Supernanny," Frost traveled to Las Vegas to meet a very aggressive 7-year-old named Dylan Shumacher, who was belligerent and foulmouthed. His parents, who worked different shifts during the day, couldn't control his anger.

Frost believed Dylan was actually bored and didn't have an outlet for his energy. She suggested that Dylan's parents put him in a martial arts class where he could channel his anger into physical activity, which turned out to be lifesaving advice for the Shumacher family.

'Everybody Was Unhappy'

But dealing with out-of-control children isn't always that easy for families like the Weinsteins, whose home in Amherst, Ohio, had become a battleground. The four Weinstein children yelled, hit their parents and destroyed their playroom, wrecking toys and punching holes in the walls.

"When the kids were acting up like that and they were hitting you and yelling at you or swearing or something, it hurts your feelings," said father David Weinstein. "It was like, 'No, you are definitely not going to hit me and you're definitely not going to hit my wife.' And that's what provoked me a lot!"

After observing the family for a few hours, it was clear to Frost that David Weinstein and his wife, Chia, were causing most of the chaos.

"I realized very quickly that the mother was very passive and the father was very intimidating," Frost said, "and he used his physicality and his strength to intimidate his own children, hoping that they would be in fear of him and do as he said."

"Life here was loud, disorganized," said Chia Weinstein. "Everybody was just unhappy and miserable, because nobody got along."

"There was a lot of just chaos," said her husband. "I was looking for a fight, and I was getting it — a lot of arguing, fighting, yelling."

The more the four children misbehaved, the more their father yelled and screamed, making matters even worse.

"That breaks spirits and also leads to a breakdown in their relationship with their children," said Frost. "It's destructive. It's not necessary."

Dealing With Problems Without Blowing Up

Frost showed David Weinstein how his children felt by screaming at him. She also explained that his behavior only teaches his children to cope with their anger in a similar fashion.

"[The parents] fed into the anger," Frost noted. "And so the children would behave the same way. They knew what buttons to push and they pushed them."

Frost says that anger in children is often the result of "frustration" and of "children watching their parents arguing, battling to and fro, not feeling stable, not creating that stability, not giving enough love and time."

"When I saw myself on tape, I was like, 'Man, I gotta tone it down,'" he said. "I mean, I scared myself. I'm yelling at a kid. That's about the dumbest thing to do. I hated it. I didn't like it one bit."

"That led him to a better place," said Frost, "a place where he became conscious about the way he behaved and what kind of father he wanted to be to his children, and it certainly wasn't the man that he was projecting at the time."

One Year Later, Improvement

It's been a year since the visit from the Supernanny, and today the Weinstein household is a different place. David Weinstein is better at controlling his anger and communicates with his wife and kids.

Williams, the pediatric psychologist, agrees that working as a team is essential to families.

"What that does is that it helps your child recognize that you understand how they feel, and then together you all are building tools that your child as an adult will use to solve bigger problems without blowing up," she said.

David and Chia Weinstein say they can't believe that they were once so out of control and that they battled over the simplest things.

"If we see another family arguing, it kind of makes you think back and you actually get disgusted and can't believe that we were actually like that," Chia Weinstein said. "It turns your stomach, and you feel for the kids. They are so much more impacted than anyone else."

While it might take years for some families to overcome their anger, Frost's mission is to help them begin the process and lose the heartache that once filled their lives.

"You don't want to say to a child, 'It's wrong to feel anger, it's wrong for you to feel that emotion,'" Frost said. "It's our place as parents to raise them with consequences, with knowing there are boundaries to create good character. It's our responsibility to do so!"

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