Parenting is one of life’s most rewarding experiences, but it can also be the most frustrating. Though not all parents are loving and kind by any means, and none are perfect, most desire to love their children well. However, because of the flawed world people live in, they were raised in homes by imperfect parents, too.
Any parenting mistakes (intentional or not) are often passed subconsciously down generations. Parents today struggle to love their kids with patience and kindness because they may have not been shown what this can look like. They also may be struggling with parenting because they have their own issues to deal with.
The goal of parenting should be to love children unconditionally, guide them into God’s truth, provide a safe and stable environment for them, show them how to love others, and bring them up to be whole, healthy humans. Since all parents are flawed, that means that all parents (no matter how emotionally intelligent) battle their own emotions when dealing with their children.
When parents let their emotions spiral out of control, kids are left with the often painful and traumatic results. A straightforward way to love one’s kids with grace and patience is to work to manage one’s anger with them. Anger is one emotion that can get out of control quickly, leaving kids with emotional (and sometimes physical) scars.
People are responsible for their emotions – how they handle them, how they react and respond, and how they calm down or express them. Parents often expect children to calm down when they are upset, but how can one expect kids to do this if the adults are not modeling it for them. Anger is a normal human emotion, but it needs to be kept in check in parenting.
Kids’ hearts and minds are fragile and easily hurt, and parents should be careful to guard them at all costs. They cannot protect their children from all pain, but they can be intentional with how they treat their children when they are angry.
Simple Tips for How to Manage Your Anger with Your Children
Know your triggers
A trigger is anything that sets off your anger. Your kid lies to you or screams back in disrespect. Your child leaves their clothes on the floor or does not clean their room when asked. Your kid whines or is unkind to a sibling or refuses to eat their dinner. What do they do that sets off your anger? Remember, you are responsible for your own feelings, so knowing your triggers does not mean that you should blame your children for your anger.
An example of this would be, “You make me so angry” or “You made me so angry when you lied.” In a minute, a more appropriate response will be discussed, but just know the things that set you off. Pay attention to them. Is there a theme or a pattern? Does one child do more of these triggers than another? Have these types of things always triggered your anger?
Understand what happens in your body
Like with any other type of emotion, people feel anger in their bodies. Their muscles may feel tight, or their face may feel hot. They may tense the muscles in their jaw, they may have a bad headache, their heart may race, or they may clench their fists. Anger sometimes can rise in the body, the sensations building.
When people report having a major anger outburst, they will often lose awareness of their body or their actions. This is a dangerous place to be, especially in parenting because children are so fragile. Pay attention to where the anger is building in your body.
Know how you usually react
When the trigger happens and the anger begins to build in your body, consider how you react. How do you normally react? Do you try to hold it in? Do you let it explode in yelling or physical aggression? What happens when you feel angry? How would someone else be able to tell?
Find a way to calm down
This is perhaps the most important thing that anyone could do when feeling angry because anger rises in the body. The body must calm down before reacting to the trigger. Unfortunately, this is not how it always goes, but it is important to practice. When emotions are flooding the brain, the logical part of the brain is hindered. The emotions win.
However, when a person can calm the body down, the flooding ceases and the brain is able to make a rational decision in a moment. Find a way to calm down at once. Take a minute of deep breaths in and out. Count to four breathing in and to six while breathing out.
Go on a quiet, relaxing walk. Take a bath. Sit outside for a moment. Listen to relaxing music. Do something that can work for you to calm your body down and lower your heart rate. As a parent, you may even say, “Give me a minute. I am taking some deep breaths to stay calm because I am feeling angry.”
Take a “time-out”
Many people find that they need to get away from a person or a trigger so that they can calm down and not react in anger. In parenting, this can be mommy or daddy time-out. You could say something like, “I need to take a time-out to go calm down and think about how I need to handle this situation. I am feeling angry, and I need to be alone for a minute.”
Take fifteen minutes to calm down and think about the next steps. Some parents don’t have much of a space to escape, so they may go sit outside for a few minutes or go in their room, closet, or even bathroom to be alone for a minute.
Remember that no parent is perfect. There will be times when you yell or say something unkind in anger, no matter how much you practice calming down and reacting more slowly. When you do mess up, apologize quickly and sincerely. If your anger is consistently hurting your kids, an apology might not be enough, though.
You may need to seek professional help to learn healthier, safer ways to manage your anger. Your kids need this from you. They need to feel safe with you, and when your anger is regularly out of control, they won’t. Apologize, but also commit to real, lasting change.
Carefully consider what your response needs to be
After you work to calm down or take a “time-out,” consider your response. Do you need to discipline your child for something? For example, your child leaves their room a mess. Your response to the situation could be, “Since you left your room a mess, you will not be able to go to your friend’s house this afternoon.”
Think about the family rules and the consequences of broken rules, and then gently share that consequence. Your kids may react in more anger, but it is still your job to remain calm. You must handle your own feelings. If it is not something that requires discipline, consider how to talk with your child about what happened and how you felt about it.
Another appropriate response could be one of empathy, like, “I can see that you are upset with me because you are yelling. Sometimes I feel like yelling, too, when I am upset. A more helpful way to express your anger is to take deep breaths and talk about it calmly like I am now.”
Use “I-statements’ to express your anger appropriately
An ‘I-statement’ is better than a “you make me so angry” statement. One implies blame. The other implies that you are owning your anger, but you are still sharing why you are angry with your child.
It goes like this, “I feel ________ (name of emotion) when you ___________(trigger) because _________________ (the reason). What I would like from you right now is _________________________.” It may seem hard, but the more you practice, the more naturally I-statements come.
Above all else, show that you love your kids no matter what they say or do, that nothing could change that. They need to know that even though may feel anger toward them at times, your love will never go away.
Christian Counseling for Parents
If you’re looking for additional tips for how to manage your anger, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the counselor directory to schedule an appointment. We would be happy to help!
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“Father and Son”, Courtesy of Josue Michel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License;
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“Surprised by Truth”, Courtesy of Sarah Noltner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License;