A few days ago I was talking to my son Mike on the phone, and he described an interaction with his two children, Sydney, six years old, and Jack, four. In the next room, Mike heard Sydney steadily elevating the tone and volume of her voice as she spoke to Jack. They've both received considerable instruction and modeling from their parents about the loving ways to speak to each other, so they know that anger is not a productive mode of communication.
Mike called out, "Sydney, do you need some quiet time to yourself?" Notice that he didn't criticize her, he didn't waste time on who did what, and he didn't add his own irritation to hers. He simply implemented one of many possible solutions. When people are angry, they're temporarily insane, and sometimes they just need some time to consider their behavior and adjust their choices. Mike also did not specify how much time Sydney needed to be by herself. She needed only as much time as required to recover her sanity.
Sydney left the room, and Mike returned to his reading. Within seconds, Jack stomped into Mike's room and said, "You're the one who needs a time-out."
"Oh?" Mike said. "What did I do?"
"It was MY fault," Jack said, explaining that Sydney had become irritated only when he intentionally knocked over a tower she'd been building with blocks. He wasn't trying to annoy her. He just loves to knock things over. He told Mike that he'd made a mistake in giving Sydney a time-out. He should have given it to Jack, so Mike deserved a time-out himself.
Mike explained that no matter what Jack did, Sydney was not justified in being angry. There were many other things she could have done to handle the situation with more kindness. Nobody ever has to be unkind.
The laws that govern happiness are not different for adults and four-year-olds. Anger never helps. We can always find a more loving and productive choice than anger. So, the next time you feel irritation welling up inside, you might ask whether you need a time-out. And don't wait until your anger is easily identifiable. Take a time-out as soon as you feel anything other than peaceful. Oh, what problems you will avoid.
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