How to Deal with Parental Anger
Sometimes our kids make us feel angry. We will come home after a tough day, step on one of our children’s toys or they will spill something on the carpet and we cannot help but feel angry towards them. Parental anger is normal to experience sometimes. The important part is knowing how to react when we feel overwhelmed with this emotion. When you are angry it is important to stay calm and not take that anger out on your children.
1. Heal Your Angry Past
Parenting can be therapeutic. It can show you where your problems are and motivate you to fix them. If your past is loaded with unresolved anger, take steps to heal yourself before you wind up harming your child. Studies have shown that children whose mothers often express anger are more likely to be difficult to discipline. Identify problems in your past that could contribute to parental anger. Were you abused or harshly punished as a child? Do you have difficulty controlling your temper? Do you sense a lack of inner peace? Identify present situations that are making you angry, such as dissatisfaction with job, spouse, self or child. Remember, you mirror your emotions. If your child sees a chronically angry face and hears an angry voice, that’s the person he is more likely to become.
2. Keep Your Perspective
Every person has an anger button. Some parents are so prone to parental anger that when they explode the family dog hides. Try this exercise. First, divide your children’s “misbehaviors” into smallies (nuisances and annoyances) which are not worth the wear and tear of getting angry about, and biggies (hurting self, others, and property) which demand a response, for your own sake and your child’s.
Next, condition yourself so that you don’t let the smallies bother you. Here are some “tapes” to play in your mind the next time you or your child spills something:
- “I’m angry, but I can control myself.”
- “Accidents happen.”
- “I’m the adult here.”
- “I’m mad at the mess, not the child.”
- “I’ll keep calm, and we’ll all learn something.”Rehearse this exercise over and over by play acting. Add in some lines for you to deliver:
- “Oops! I made a mess.”
- “I’ll grab a towel.”
- “It’s OK! I’ll help you clean it up.”
You may notice a big contrast between this and what you heard as a child. You may also notice it won’t be as easy as it sounds. When a real-life smallie occurs, you’re more conditioned to control yourself. You can take a deep breath, walk away, keep cool, plan your strategy and return to the scene. For example, a child smears paint on the wall. You have conditioned yourself not to explode. You’re naturally angry, and it’s helpful for your child to see your displeasure. You go through your brief “no” lecture firmly, but without letting parental anger get the best of you and yelling. Then you call for a time-out. Once you have calmed down, insist the child (if old enough) help you clean up the mess. Being in control of your parental anger gives your child the message, “Mommy’s angry, and she has a right to be this way. She doesn’t like what I did, but she still likes me and thinks I’m capable enough to help clean up after myself.” We find going into a rage is often harder on us than the child. It leaves us feeling drained. Oftentimes, it’s our after-anger feeling that bothers us more than the shoe thrown into the toilet. Once we realized that we could control our feelings more easily than our children can control their behavior, we were able to endure these frustrating stages of childhood, and life with our kids became much easier. And when we do get mad at a child, we don’t let the parental anger escalate until we become furious at ourselves for losing control. The cycle of parental anger usually goes like this:
- Mad at child
- Mad at self
- More mad at child for causing you to get mad at yourself
- Mad at being mad
You can break this cycle at any point to protect yourself and your child.
3. Make Parental Anger Your Ally
Emotions serve a purpose. Healthy parental anger compels you to fix the problem, first because you’re not going to let your child’s behavior go uncorrected, and second because you don’t like how the child’s misbehavior bothers you. This is helpful parental anger. I have always had a low tolerance for babies’ screams. At around age fifteen months our eighth child, Lauren, developed an ear-piercing shriek that sent my blood pressure skyrocketing. Either my tolerance was decreasing or my ears were getting more tender with age, but Lauren’s cry pushed my parental anger button. I didn’t like her for it. I didn’t like myself for not liking her. It might have been easier to deal with the problem if I had not been feeling angry. But because I was angry and realized it affected my attitude toward Lauren, I was impelled to do something about her cry, which I believed was an unbecoming behavior that didn’t fit into this otherwise delightful little person. So instead of focusing on how much I hated those sounds, I focused on what situations triggered the shrieks. I tried to anticipate those triggers. I discovered that when Lauren was bored, tired, hungry, or ignored, she shrieked. She is a little person who needs a quick response and the shriek got it for her. My parental anger motivated me to learn creative shriek-stoppers. I’ve become a wiser parent. Lauren has become nicer to be around. That’s helpful parental anger. Anger becomes harmful when you don’t regard it as a signal to fix the cause. You let it fester until you dislike your feelings, yourself, and the person who caused you to feel this way. You spend your life in a tiff over smallies that you could have ignored or biggies that you could have fixed. That’s harmful anger.
4. Quit Beating Yourself Up
Often anger flares inwardly, as well as outwardly, over something that you don’t like; but upon reflection, after a lot of energy is spent emoting, you actually realize that the situation as it stands now is actually better for everyone concerned. This “hindsight” keeps us humble and helps us diffuse future flare-ups. Our motto concerning irritating mistakes has become: “Nobody’s perfect. Human nature strikes again.”
5. Beware of High-Risk Situations that Trigger Anger
Are you in a life situation that makes you angry? If so, you are at risk for venting your anger on your child. Losing a job or experiencing a similar self-esteem-breaking event can make you justifiably angry. But realize that this makes it easier for otherwise tolerable childish behaviors (smallies) to push you over the edge. When you’re already angry, smallies easily become biggies. If you are suddenly the victim of an anger-producing situation, it helps to prepare your family: “I want you all to understand that daddy may be upset from to time during the next couple of months. I’ve just lost my job and I feel very anxious about it. I will find another job, and we’ll all be okay, but if I have a short fuse and get angry at you sometimes, it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because I’m having trouble liking myself…” If you do blow your top, it’s wise to apologize to your children (and expect similar apologies from them when they lose their tempers): “Pardon me, but I’m angry, and if I don’t appear rational or appreciative, it’s because I’m struggling—it’s not your fault. I’m not mad at you.” It also helps to be honest with yourself, recognize your vulnerability and keep your guard up until the anger-causing problem is resolved. There will always be problems in your life that you cannot control. As you become a more experienced parent—and person—you will come to realize that the only thing in your life that you can control are your own actions. How you handle anger can work for you or against you—and your child.