Dear Yaw

Why Do I Hurt My Child?

Dear Yaw

Sometimes my child Fati does things that make me really angry. Part of me knows that she cannot do everything right. She is only four years old. But Fati’s misbehaviour annoys me so much that I scream at her and, sometimes, hit her to teach her not to do these things. I sometimes feel guilty about this; at other times it just feels like the right thing to do. My husband thinks that I should not scream at or hit Fati but I cannot help it. How can I get Fati to behave herself so that I don’t have to get angry with her?

– Asana

Hi Asana

Well you have described a couple of problems that are each quite common. So let me identify each of these problems and suggest how you might go about fixing each one.

First, it sounds like you believe that Fati is misbehaving; that is, behaving in a way that you believe is wrong in the circumstances. However, every child is born with a genetic capacity to behave functionally in any circumstance. The child will do this provided they are not interfered with by the adults and older children around them. However, because every human society has a set of beliefs about what they think that they should teach each child, from a very young age every child is subjected to an endless variety of pressures (including violence), of one sort or another, designed to make them behave in a particular way.

Unfortunately, while this might produce an obedient and ‘socially-approved’ child – that is, one that behaves as their society wants – this is not functional from an evolutionary viewpoint.

You see, evolution did not ‘genetically program’ any child to behave as others want, whether those ‘others’ are parents, teachers, religious leaders or anyone else. Each child is genetically unique and, if we are to allow each child to manifest their own incredible uniqueness, then we must nurture them in a way that facilitates this. This can only be done by listening to them or, as I call it, nisteling to them –  see ‘Nisteling: The Art of Deep Listening’ – and then allowing them to do as they, not you, decide.

I am well aware that this is not the sort of information that you have been given previously and that it might even sound preposterous: Let a child do what they want?

But I am only telling you how it ought to be. Terrorizing Fati into doing what you or others want her to do is not the way to make her functional or into someone who is uniquely capable of contributing to her society.

So let us get back to the second issue: your anger and guilt, as well as any feelings that might be ‘hidden’ underneath these.

Because these feelings are driving your behaviour now, we need to give them an outlet that does not impact on your behaviour in relation to Fati. So, are you able to find time in your daily life to include giving yourself the attention you need to feel and express these feelings, including any other feelings that surface while you are feeling the anger and guilt? If you are able to do this, you will gain a clear understanding of why certain behaviours of Fati make you angry but also why you feel guilty later.

In order to feel these feelings, I have explained what you can do in the article ‘Putting Feelings First’. I have also explained more about anger, and how to express it without harming those we love, in the article ‘The Importance of Being Angry’.

Because feelings are a vital part of our evolutionary inheritance, they are crucially important in guiding us to lead a functional, meaningful and healthy life. But every time we are forced to suppress feelings as a child, so that we can do what adults tell us to do, we suppress our most important guide to behaviour.

This might ‘work’ for society: Obedient children, obedient adults. But it doesn’t work for human beings who are meant to live powerful, self-directed lives.

So I hope that you will give yourself the time you need to heal from the violence that has been inflicted on you which will also make it much easier for you to no longer inflict violence on Fati.


Robert J Burrowes

Biodata: Robert J. Burrowes (Yaw) has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is and his website is here.

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