Parenting is hard work. 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. sometimes, it is normal to experience parental anger. The important part is knowing how to react when we feel overwhelmed with this emotion.
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. 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.
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 ‘misbehaviours’ 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. Naturally, you become 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) to 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 on 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 behaviour, we are 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.
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 behaviour go uncorrected, and second, because you don’t like how the child’s misbehaviour bothers you. This is helpful parental anger.
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.’
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 behaviours to push you over the edge.