I am convinced that many people who say they never lose their temper with their children are either lying, delusional, or simply haven’t been a parent for very long. All parents “lose it” at some point with their children, including me.
Personally, I have found it harder to keep my cool the older my children get. My first real “red-mist” moment didn’t happen until toward the end of the toddler years. Since then, they have been more regular than I would care to admit. That’s life. Nobody is perfect. As I’ve said, there is nothing wrong with anger – it’s a normal human emotion and is actually a very useful one sometimes. The problem is the way we deal with it, especially in front of our children.
Why parents get angry
I think it’s important to start by saying that something can trigger even the most placid person at some point in his or her life. In many cases, though, anger, particularly the type that makes us act in ways we never normally would, can be averted if we understand our triggers. The following all play a role in our levels of anger – some can be avoided and others can be worked on, whether by ourselves or with the help of a professional:
- Growing up in a home where verbal or physical violence was the norm
- Physical exhaustion (including improper nourishment and deficiencies)
- Mental exhaustion
- Lack of support from family, especially partners
- Financial worries
- Stress from looking after elderly or sick relatives
- Work worries
- A lack of time to ourselves, particularly time to unwind and “breathe”
- Friendship or relationship problems
In my own case, anger is my default setting because of my own upbringing. My parents were wonderful and I loved them very dearly, but my mum was a yeller. Understandably, I grew up to be a shouter too, and I have to really work to stop that being my initial response to any issues with my own children.
As with all things, prevention is better than cure where anger is concerned. I know now, after many years of observing my own feelings and parenting, when I need to take a “time-out.” I can recognize my early warning signs; I know when I’ve neglected self-care and I can usually schedule in an emergency release before I lose my cool. Budget money each month for self-care like a weekly Pilates class or reflexology session or invest time instead: a long walk, a candlelit bath, a phone call with an old friend, or some time spent meditating.
Coping “in the moment”
Practicing mindfulness is my saving grace. I don’t mean mindfulness in terms of listening to relaxation CDs every day, although that certainly is great. I mean living in the moment – being aware of what is happening inside me and really observing my feelings. This helps me to pause before responding. Often, anger, as a response to our children’s actions, is unjust or unwarranted, certainly in the degree in which we release it. My friend PETER helps me out when I’m really struggling in these scenarios:
- P = Pause: don’t react immediately.
- E = Empathize: try to understand how your child is, or was, feeling and their point of view.
- T = Think: think about different ways you could respond and the learning that would happen as a result.
- E = Exhale: take a deep breath, breathe out, relax your shoulders, and picture your anger leaving your body.
- R = Respond: now is the time to respond to your child, not before.
There are many other coping tips too. The list is infinite, but these are some of my favorites:
- Wear five red bands on your right wrist. Each time you override your anger when responding to your child, move a band to your left hand. Your goal is for all five bands to be on the left by the end of the day.
- Close your eyes and picture yourself in your favorite place: a beach, a forest, a mountain. Take yourself there for a minute or two when you’re most in need of peace.
- Picture somebody who always seems calm and cool. Imagine stepping inside their body and wearing it as a suit. Feel how calm they are and let the peace soak into your own body. Think about how they might respond to situations that trigger your anger.
- Call a friend or have a good rant on an internet discussion group – one used by people with a similar mind-set to yours.
- Take a parental time-out. If all else fails, make sure your child is safe in a childproofed space and take yourself to another room to calm down for a couple of minutes.
Adapted from GENTLE DISCIPLINE: Using Emotional Connection – Not Punishment – to Raise Confident, Capable Kids by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. © 2017 by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.