Everyone gets angry with their kids at some time or another – it’s normal, it’s healthy. Kids know just what buttons to push, and they push them! It helps to accept that anger is an honest emotion, but it’s what you choose to do with your anger that’s important.
The couple who this week were turned down as foster parents because they occasionally smack their own child raises an important issue about anger. Sue Atkins, a parenting coach, has some tips on how parents can release their feelings safely.
1. Press an imaginary internal ‘pause’ button (like the one on a DVD player) – ask yourself: “What exactly am I annoyed or angry about?”. This helps you step back from a situation and puts you back in control, helping to calm you down. Imagine the DVD remote is in your hand as it’s a great way to take control of the situation.
2. Keep an anger diary – you will probably discover that you get wound up by the same things over and over again. Your anger diary will help you notice your anger triggers and give you a warning. Is it just when you are hungry or tired and running on empty just before dinner? Or is it when you go into your daughter’s room for the ninth time to tell her to turn the music down?
3. Notice physical changes in yourself – what physical signs do you get to warn you that you are about to ‘lose it’? Do you start to breathe faster? Go red? Feel like a volcano is about to erupt as it rises up from your tummy? By starting to notice your physical signs you are again getting back in control and stepping back from the situation. You are becoming aware of your triggers.
4. Examine your relationship with your child. Ask yourself: “Is my attitude moving me closer to or further away from the relationship I want with my child long term?” This question immediately takes you out of the mundane and humdrum, and in to the bigger picture of your parenting. It immediately changes your perspective.
5. Talk openly and honestly with your child about how you feel – such as: “I’m tired of telling you this over and over again because I feel …” or “I’m angry with you because …” and “I’m hurt because you did …” Phrases like these teach your child about empathy and immediately takes the emotional charge out of your frustration.
Swallowing your anger is an unhealthy response as it turns inwards and makes you feel unhappy, helpless, stuck, depressed and generally out of control of your life. Identifying that you are getting angry is the first step, then you need to manage the feeling. Sue makes the following suggestions:
1. Look in a mirror – if you feel like screaming and shouting at your kids then your own anger has probably been building up for a long time. Look in a mirror and imagine talking to your child as if they were looking at you in that mirror. Tell them exactly how you feel – speak truthfully – explain all the frustrations, anger, hurt or disappointment.
2. Do something physical to release your charged-up emotions – some people hit pillows, bounce on the bed, hit golf balls in the garden or even go into a cupboard and have a good shout at themselves. Don’t be reckless or dangerous to yourself or your child, just step back, breathe deeply and slowly and find out what suits you. Sometimes you may even make yourself laugh because you look or sound ridiculous – a great way to change your mood.
3. Ask yourself: “What am I so angry about?” – your anger can serve a positive purpose and help you to find out what’s really bothering you deep down. Just asking yourself what you are so angry about will help you identify what you’d like to change. It’s usually something small that can make a big difference in your life and help you move forward – not stay stuck and angry.
Once you’ve expressed your anger about the behaviour that you don’t like in your child, don’t criticise them personally. Do your best to forgive your child – and yourself – have a hug, say sorry and move on to learn a lesson from the experience.
“Acknowledge that it’s normal to lose your temper sometimes and find a strategy or technique that suits you to release it safely. You are a role model for your children in everything that you do, so teach them how to handle anger and frustration healthily and talk about it with them. What better gift can you give your children?” says Sue.
Sue Atkins runs Positive Parents and is the author of Raising Happy Children for Dummies.