In case you think you’re the only one who get angry with their kids… let me confess. A few weeks ago I lost it with my daughter.
I mean really lost it - I was shouting and totally overwhelmed with my anger.
Now this is a VERY rare event for me. I pride myself that my superpower is staying calm! People tell me I’m such a calm person. I teach Mindfulness, for heavens sake!
So how could someone whose top skill is staying calm lose it with their child?!
Well, let me tell you what happened. We’d been away on a week’s post-Christmas holiday in the mountains with my family – I mean my whole family – cousins, uncles, aunts and grandma!
After we had packed up and I had cleaned our accommodation (with multiple small children under my feet!), we set off on our 6-hour drive home.
As I sat in the front seat my daughter began to kick my seat, and then kick my hair with her dirty bare feet. I repeatedly asked her to stop – she kept kicking.
I tried every strategy I have to get her to stop but, seeing as how I was strapped in the front seat, there wasn’t much I could do to connect with her.
So after 10 times of asking her to stop, I lost it! I shouted at her and even let a profanity rip!
Then I yelled “Stop the car!” and, as soon as we could stop, I got out of the car and walked off up a side road and cried.
So what was it that pushed me to my breaking point?!
You won’t be surprised to know that it wasn’t really about the seat-kicking. My daughter has done that before. And I knew that she really just wanted connection, since she was sitting there in the back all on her own.
Really, it’s always about something deeper when we get angry.
For me, I’d been travelling overseas for 12 months moving to a different home every few weeks. And the last two months I’d mostly been solo parenting. I hadn’t been able to look after myself properly. Not enough sleep, meditation or exercise. Add to that all the demands of the extended family on holiday and it’s a recipe for exhaustion!
In short, my cup was empty.
So when my husband didn’t help with cleaning up and my daughter started kicking me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The internal alarm in my nervous system got majorly triggered.
Subconscious thoughts came up like: No-one cares about me…. I’m all alone here and under threat. I wasn’t aware of these thoughts at the time, but the hurt deep inside just triggered off a major anger reaction.
So I totally understand why YOU get angry with your kids!
In the midst of your child being a nightmare, it’s natural to get angry.
Or on those days when the kids just pester and whine and won’t leave us alone – we can reach that last straw where we don’t want to deal with them any more.
Or maybe, for you, shouting at your kids is an every day occurrence and you’re not sure how to stop.
Well in this two-part blog post I’m going to explain why you’re really getting triggered and angry with your kids. I’m going to help you work out what’s underneath the anger so you can heal it.
And I’ll give you five simple ways to help stop shouting and turning into a monster when your kids are difficult.
Why DO We Get Triggered and Angry With Our Kids?
It’s important to look deeper than the frustrating thing that just happened. The real reason is that our nervous system thinks that we’re under attack by our child – they are a threat!
(You can read more about what happens in the brain in the moment we get triggered in my blog about Parental Meltdowns).
Deep in our subconscious brain the old memories from when we were a child are triggered by our kids (or someone else) going against our wishes and we get super-angry.
Anger is a powerful emotion but did you know that it actually masks a deeper emotion? This emotion is usually fear or hurt (sadness).
It’s very uncomfortable to feel fear or hurt, so anger is a way that we can avoid and cover up our vulnerable feelings with a more active emotion.
Anger is basically us trying to create a feeling of power to mask our vulnerability.
You’ve likely seen this in your kids when they kick or hit someone. They see the other person as a threat and lash out to protect themselves.
Anger is not a “bad” emotion in itself – actually it can be good to be energised in response to fear or hurt.
The problem is that, usually, anger clouds our good judgment and we do things that we regret – like shout at our kids, be rough or even smack them.
A better way
When we feel anger we need to respect and allow the feeling, and then look beneath it to find out what’s driving it. Then we can address that issue rather than lashing out.
In the heat of the moment this can be hard to do, so there are two parts to healing your anger with your kids:
1) Have tools ready to use in the moment to calm yourself down before reacting - I’ve got these for you in today’s blog – and a downloadable cheat sheet too (see below)!
2) Reflect on the deeper reasons why you’re getting triggered by your kids so you can heal those. Next week’s blog will be all about this!
So what if I do get angry? How can I control myself from shouting?
The fact is that all of us will feel angry sometimes – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, if you never felt angry I’d be more worried – perhaps that you are suppressing your emotions.
It’s what we do with our anger that is the key.
We need to notice and feel it, and then have strategies to stop us from shouting and lashing out.
To help you with this, I’ve got six quick strategies you can use to help you notice your anger and calm it before you react.
Have a read and just choose one or two of these to try out – whichever ones resonate the most for you.
#1. Have a mantra ready to go
“It’s not an emergency.” or “He’s only 3.” “It’s not about me.” or “Let it go.” Decide on your mantra now and have it ready to use when you need it. Write it down and stick it on the fridge!
#2. Breathe into your anger
I’m sure a deep breath is not a new idea to you! It really does help, but I want you to add a step to make it work better. When you get triggered with anger, do this STOP practice, a classic mindfulness technique:
Stop – stop talking or doing anything.
Take a Breath – a deep breath in and out.
Open to your feelings – notice in your body how the anger feels in your body, use all your senses to notice the experience e.g. you feel hot, heart rate is rising, full of energy, belly of fire etc.
Proceed – after you’ve taken half a minute to feel you anger, you’ll have a space between the anger and your reaction, so you can proceed more calmly with your kids.
#3. Walk away
If your child is safe, walk out of the room for a minute to recover. Or even just turn away to the other side of the room. Focus in on how you’re feeling inside. Breathe into that fear or sadness. Allow your tears to come. Notice as the anger subsides.
It’s almost impossible to sound angry at a whisper. (Hissing is not whispering, by the way!) The bonus of whispering is that it calms your child down and focuses his or her attention on what you are saying.
#5. Empathise with your kid’s struggle
Right in that moment you are struggling. But, paradoxically, zoning in on your child’s struggle can help lower your anger. Little kids just don’t know how to handle their fear or upset and this can send their behaviour downhill fast. If you’re getting angry with their naughty behaviour or their yelling or anger, try to empathise and feel sorry for their own struggle to cope with their big, scary emotions.
#6. Remember, you’re the role model
Kids learn more about how to behave in this world from their parents than from anyone else. When you get angry, think: What am I teaching my child right now? What will they learn from my behaviour? Use this mantra to remind you to act in the ways you want your kids to behave.
Give these techniques a go and see which ones work best for you. Then make it a habit to use this when your kids really drive you crazy!. Writing a note on the fridge door to remind you to do it can help!
Of course, even with the best intentions, we all reach the end of our tether sometimes – just like I did a few weeks back!
If this happens and you do shout or get aggressive with your child, it’s really important to sit down with him or her afterwards and apologise and debrief.
Explain what you felt and why so they can learn from it, and tell them you’ll try harder not to get angry with them next time.
And don’t beat yourself up about it for too long! We all feel bad if we shout at someone, especially our children, but they can handle the occasional outburst from their parents without being scarred for life.
Forgive yourself and set a strong intention to quit the yelling.
After I lost it at my daughter I spent quote a bit of time cuddling her, saying sorry for shouting and explaining what was behind my anger. It took quite a lot of cuddles until she was smiling and happy again….
Lesson learned to look after myself better!
Now that we are back in our home and I’m meditating daily again, I’ve got my superpower “calm” back!
Next week I’ll send you part 2 of this blog: How to Heal Yourself from Anger.
It’s all about the deeper reasons why we parents can get triggered and really angry with our kids. Once we understand what’s behind it, we can heal these triggers and free ourselves of the anger.