“What I start to feel is not just anger appropriate to the situation, but old feelings I carry from the past. And those feelings have nothing to do with my child or the situation. They have come up for me to take a look at them. They are part of me. But they don’t belong in my relationship with my child. They have to do with me and the person who raised me.” — Laura Davis & Janis Keyser
Is it ever appropriate to get angry at your child? Well, it’s unavoidable, if you’re human. Like a blinking light on the dashboard, anger is a signal that you need to address something so your engine doesn’t overheat. Ignoring it can be disastrous.
But anger is never a constructive impulse when aimed at your child. That “fight or flight” response makes your child look like the enemy, and your child is never the enemy. Your child can’t hear your guidance when he feels attacked, and the learning centers of his brain shut down. And that’s not the parent you want to be.
Of course, kids have infinite ways of getting on our nerves. But it might surprise you to consider how often, when you lose it with your child, it’s not actually because of what your child is doing. Sure, children will always act childish. But sometimes that doesn’t even phase you, right?
If we really dig deep, we realize that those times when we blow up, it’s because we’re exhausted, or we’re stressed out, or we’re lugging around a full backpack of emotions that we haven’t taken the time to process. Sometimes we’re actually angry at our boss, our spouse, or the clerk in the store. Sometimes we’re worried about something, or rushing, and our anxiety comes out as sharpness. And quite often, we have our own childhood issues that get triggered by our child’s behavior.
Kids need our guidance, but our limits are more effective if we aren’t yelling. In fact, it’s our job to model for them how to express our needs without attacking the other person. How do we expect them to learn to regulate their emotions, if we don’t?
So to avoid sloshing our anger, anxiety and other emotions onto our child, we need to be responsible about managing our own emotional state. How?
5 Ways To Get Angry Less Often
1. Commit to cutting your stress level. Stress is behind 80% of our outbursts. Even when something else is going on, stress is what causes the explosion. And yet, stress is mostly a choice. If you really want to reduce the stress in your life, you can. (I’m not saying it’s easy.) Don’t over-schedule. Don’t try to do computer work or phone calls with kids present. Leave early for every appointment. Don’t take kids on errands they can’t handle. Is that extra errand really worth a family melt-down?
2. Commit to self care. You can only give your child what you have inside, so if you’re running on empty, make a plan to change that one step at a time. Parenting gives us constant reminders of the places in us that need healing, so it’s not surprising that sometimes we just need a good cry. Are you feeling sad or scared about something? Don’t ignore your own upset. Schedule a time later to write in your journal or talk to a trusted friend. Simply breathing and accepting those feelings is the best way to let them go. If we can’t do that, we fend them off by acting out in anger. Resist the urge to take action when you’re upset. Instead, love yourself through your upset: “Breathe. It’s just sadness. Go ahead and cry. You’ll feel better soon.” You deserve an inner parent like that…So be your own!
3. Remind yourself to notice your mood as you go through your day. Be vigilant when negative thoughts hijack your mind and send you into a downward spiral. Before you know it, you’ll be gathering kindling — evidence that the other person is wrong (“Who does he think he is?!”). Enough kindling, and you can’t avoid a firestorm. Instead, keep yourself on a positive track: “He’s acting like a child because he IS a child….It’s not an emergency….Two steps forward, one step back still takes us in the right direction.” Life with kids can be HARD and it takes commitment to stay positive, but like any habit, it gets easier.
4. If you’re feeling angry, use it as a motivator to make things better. You can’t change the other person, but you can always change your reaction, and you can often change the conditions. (Earlier bedtime? Getting up before the kids so you’ve had your coffee before they start making demands?) Better yet, you can consciously notice all those tears and fears under the anger, so they dissipate and you don’t get triggered as often.
5. If your upset has more to do with you, make healing a priority. Share those big feelings with a witness you trust, who won’t feel a need to solve your problem, but can simply listen with compassion so you feel heard and can sort things out for yourself. If someone in your past made you miserable, shame on them. But now it’s time to heal that. If you stay miserable, and visit it on your child, shame on you. You, and your child, deserve better. When you were a child, you deserved to be loved, complete with all your inconvenient feelings and desires. You deserved infinite tenderness. You still do. Why not start giving it to yourself right now?
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. To get Dr Laura’s parenting tips right in your email inbox; sign up: AhaParenting.com.
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