It's so easy to get angry at children. They break our crystal, lose money, coats and bus tickets, wail as if the world is coming to an end because they don't get what they want, refuse to do the smallest thing to help, embarrass us, fail us, taunt us and sometimes hate us. One can have a doctorate in child psychology and still feel helpless and enraged at times. Often our nerves are taut and we can be sent over the edge with any small act of defiance or disrespect. What can you do?

First, realize that if the child is tired, then he is feeling a bit insane. Exhaustion destroys his limited ability to make intelligent choices – just as it does with us! Reality becomes distorted and he is gripped with a terrible anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, confused and helpless. At this point, many parents scream at him to stop this nonsense, smack him to get him to behave or threaten some consequence. Remind yourself that the child does want to stop, but does not know how. It is a terrible feeling to be out of control, but he has not yet acquired the tools to calm himself. To help him, we need to remain calm. But how? When those piercing sobs arouse in us the same feelings of madness and utter helplessness which we experienced as children, it is time for some inner repair work.

Take a minute to recall feeling out of control as a child. How did your parents deal with you? If they did not respond positively, then take the time now to imagine being a wise and compassionate parent. Imagine holding yourself tightly in a loving grip. Tell yourself, "I know just how you feel. You are so hungry and tired. You're feeling all mixed up. You just can't stop. I know you can't help it. Let me rock you and sing to you. Soon we'll be asleep and the bad feelings will be gone." If you can empathize with what your own "inner child" experienced, and acknowledge those feelings you experienced long ago, then you can do it in reality. Practice this for a few minutes today, so that you can respond positively when they get out of control.

Remember, all you need to do is empathize and acknowledge, over and over again. Even if the child does not calm down immediately, you will remain calm. If you are in a store, take the child aside for a few minutes and do this. If you are on the street, sit on the curb and hold him. Every time you respond with patience and kindness, you are also nourishing a secret part of yourself that has been waiting for this nurturing for many years.

When a child is nasty, disrespectful and defiant, your urge to strike back will be overwhelming if you think of him as a spoiled, ungrateful child who is trying to drive you crazy. Because you feel like a failure when he acts like that, you will want to make sure that he feels like a failure as well. Then you will both be caught in a storm of guilt, shame and rage. If, on the other hand, you think to yourself, "This is an opportunity to display good character traits and repair the hurt in my own heart," you will avoid being vengeful and punitive. When my children misbehaved, I trained myself to say, "Thank you for the opportunity to work on my character." The words would usually stun them into utter silence, at least for a few seconds, so that I could think of a mature response. Even if they mocked me, I would say, "Oh, wonderful, another opportunity to work on my character traits!"

Children assume that we have far more wisdom, money and strength than we actually have. They don't realize that we can feel exhausted, bored and frustrated. They look to us to learn how to react in a crisis. By looking at these crises as opportunities to tap into the inner wisdom which we all have, our feelings of rage, guilt and shame will dissipate. By recognizing the child-terror and feelings of vulnerability which we once experienced as children ourselves, we can begin to receive the inner nourishment we need, and gain the strength we need to get home from the shoe store or get through the meal in a way which makes us feel proud of ourselves and makes us feel that G‑d is proud of us.

Each time we respond to others with sensitivity, the child crying for comfort within each of us gets another chance to receive inner nourishment. We cannot nourish others unless we first nourish ourselves. So the next time any unpleasant feelings arise within you, make sure to tell yourself, "It's okay to have these emotions. I'm human. I don't have to be perfect. I don't have to be outstanding. No one has to like me, not even my own children. I just have to do my best to be loving and kind and to deeply and completely love and accept myself as I am, right now." The compassion you give yourself will be expressed in greater compassion for others.