Your daughter brings home a history test with a terrible grade. You're furious, and while you're telling her about the new no-TV rule you're instituting, she's texting her friend. In a rage, you grab the cell phone and stomp your foot on it, smashing it beyond repair.
Overreaction? Um, yeah -- but knowing that doesn't exactly help you now. And you're actually in good company -- the chairman of the public education committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics knows your pain. It's what you do next that matters most.
Step away from the situation
When you've reached your boiling point, don't even try to behave rationally. Tell your child, "I'm too angry to handle this properly. Let's deal with this in 15 minutes."
The time limit is important, because it lets both of you know what to expect. You can begin to expel the rage from your body, and your daughter isn't walking around waiting for a death sentence for hours or days. Do what you need to do to get to a calm state -- call a friend, post to your blog, or throw darts at your daughter's picture if that's what it takes, but get it out of you. Then it's time to face the music -- for both of you.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
When you sit down with your child, the first words out of your mouth need to be an unequivocal apology. "I'm sorry; I was wrong to smash your cellphone." Let that sink in, and do not make excuses for your behavior. You wouldn't accept those excuses from anyone else, and your child deserves the same respect you give yourself.
Most teens will be surprised by an apology from a parent, and they might sit in silence. If, however, your teen comes back guns blazing, "Of course you were wrong! Are you crazy? I'm calling CPS!" you need to bite your tongue and hold up your hand to stop the tirade. Smashing a cell phone, despite what your teen may think, does not constitute child abuse. At any rate, now we move on to the discussion of your child's transgression.
"I was very angry, and I acted inappropriately, and I'm sorry. We'll deal with that soon. But first, we need to talk about why I was angry. That grade tells me you didn't bother to study for this test, and that's going to change."
Be very careful here, because you'll be tempted to fall into familiar speech patterns that excuse your behavior, which you're not trying to do. The idea is, "I was wrong, and you were wrong -- but your being wrong doesn't excuse my being wrong." So it's not, "I'm sorry I broke your phone, but you made me so angry!" It's, "I'm sorry I broke your phone. I shouldn't have done that. Now, we need to talk about this test."
Sorry for the small things
Sometimes our parenting mistakes aren't so dramatic. You send your son to time out and then discover that he's not the one who made the mess or broke the plate or whatever. Go to his room and apologize. "I'm sorry. I was wrong."
These are powerful words for a child to hear. Think about the message you're passing on: "People make mistakes. Even I, your parent, can be wrong. And when I am, I take responsibility for it, and the world continues to turn on its axis."
By admitting your own errors, you give your child the strength he needs to admit his, today and tomorrow.