In my last blog I shared with you my personal story of losing it with my daughter - we’re all prone to getting overwhelmed with anger occasionally!
But it’s when it becomes almost a daily event that you might start to wonder: Why am I so angry all the time? And how can I stop this?!
You may have a suspicion that anger, shouting and aggression are not the greatest parenting tools. Well you’d be right about that!
By shouting at them, not only are we teaching our kids to do what we say out of fear rather than connection, but anger also teaches our kids to be angry too. If you’re often angry at them, you’ll notice that your kids tend to shout and be aggressive as well.
If you have a stubborn or sensitive child, shouting just overwhelms their nervous system and they will likely have a meltdown and probably not comply anyway!
So let’s do something about healing your anger.
In this week’s blog I’ve distilled down the deeper reasons why we parents can feel SO angry with our kids.
If you can understand what’s really triggering your anger and reactivity, you’re in a much better position to heal yourself from it.
And these triggers usually stem from the way we were raised as kids or experiences we had growing up.
Essentially we are taking whatever happens with our kids very personally. When we’re upset, the situation has become all about us (in our minds, at least!).
Our mind and our emotions tell us lots of crazy stories when things get difficult. Like these:
Child won’t get in the car seat? Mind says: I’m so bad at this parenting thing – I should know how to get Timmy to do what I ask… Emotion = powerlessness, hurt.
Child gets angry and shouts rude names at you when you won’t give her treat cookies for morning snack. Mind says: She doesn’t love me! She hates me! Emotion = sad, hurt.
Child hits you when in the midst of a tantrum. Mind says: It’s an emergency, I’m under threat! Emotion = fear.
Child refuses to get off the climbing frame at a busy playground when you tell him it’s time to go. Mind says: You’re such a weak parent, everyone must be laughing at how hopeless you are. Emotion = shame, powerlessness.
Our own children are better than anyone else at bringing us face-to-face with our own subconscious emotional wounds. And this can trigger painful emotional reactions, which we try to escape from through anger.
So let’s get to the bottom of what triggers you – understanding this is the first step to letting go and healing your deep reactions.
Here are the most common emotional triggers that many of us hold deep down. Have a read and see which ones resonate for you.
What’s Your Emotional Trigger?
#1. Our kids refusing to listen and respect us makes us feel hurt or like a parenting failure.
Even though our kids aren’t intentionally trying to hurt us (they just have their own agenda!), to our nervous system it feels like they’re a threat and we take it personally.
This is usually because we feel like a failure as a parent when our child refuses to do what we ask or has a meltdown. We may also take their behaviour personally – them shouting at us or hitting us can feel threatening.
The way humans usually protect ourselves from hurt and vulnerability is to get angry – we lash out at the person who has hurt us in an attempt to fend them off and stop them hurting us (a classic “fight” reaction). This results in us shouting, smacking, or being aggressive in response to our child’s disrespect or belligerence.
But note that some people prefer “flight”, as fighting is too overwhelming, which usually means avoiding the conflict by withdrawing. So some parents disappear or give the silent treatment when they are triggered.
#2. Our child misbehaving makes us feel completely out of control – all our usual strategies for getting people to do things just don’t work and so we panic!
If you can relate to this, you may be a lover of order and control as a way for you to cope in a chaotic world. When your child becomes something you can’t control it provokes fear in you that you won’t cope with the chaos.
It’s likely that as a child you were taught by your parents or caregivers that you should be “on top of” everything – organised, all your jobs done, achieving and succeeding – in order to be loved. This may not have been said overtly, but you probably got lots of praise, love and attention when you got your jobs done or achieved things. And you were shunned or punished when you didn’t. This taught you that “in-control” = “loveable”.
You may have a tendency to be a perfectionist as well. And/or you are likely to be a lover of planning, lists and being on time!
#3. If others are watching us lose control of our kids, we can feel a lot of shame.
Can you recall the last time your kids were really naughty in public?! It’s really embarrassing, hey? After we feel this public shame we can be so angry with our kids that we lose it the minute we’re alone with them.
For some parents this can trigger much more anger than when we’re alone with our kids if looking competent in front of others (including our partner) is important to us.
#4. When our defences our down - we are sick, overtired or have other emotional strains on us - we have much less self-control.
This can be a trigger for any of us, but can be a big one if you’re a sensitive person or you struggle to handle stress.
In this case, the emotion of anger can totally overtake our brain and body (flooding us with “anger” hormones) and we lose control. As a way to “get rid” of these horrible angry feelings we do something aggressive like shout, slam the door, smack our child or throw something (just like our kids do!).
If you’ve been getting angry more than normal lately, reflect on what extra emotional or physical strains you’ve been dealing with.
#5. We learnt anger from our own parents and/or we think anger is a good parenting technique
This is a big one – if one or both of your parents often got angry at you or at others, you may have learnt this behaviour from them.
It may be subconscious. When we’re caught up in a stressful situation – like a misbehaving child when we’re running late – we tend to revert to the quickest coping mechanism that comes to mind. And the shouting or smacking of our parents may well be it.
But it may even be conscious – you may have deduced from your parents or others that shouting or smacking IS a good way to discipline your kids.
But, if you’re reading this, I suspect you have some niggling doubts about this.
Research shows that shouting and aggression are not great parenting approaches because it gets our kids to comply out of fear rather than because they want to please us or do the right thing. It also communicates to our kids that they’re not loved when they are overwhelmed or stubborn.
Both of these are not lessons we want our kids to internalise to live their adult life. We want them to feel loveable and act out of a desire to do the right thing.
Another powerful reason to avoid anger - as shown by research - is that kids learn how to behave from us parents. If you shout in anger they will shout too. If you can keep calm you’ll be raising a calmer child.
When it comes to smacking there’s a host of research showing how bad it is for all aspects of kids’ development, which I’ve summarised in this blog.
The good news is that anger comes entirely from within us – so it’s totally possible to choose not to react with anger.
So how can we work with these deeper emotional triggers and choose calm instead of anger?
In my last blog post I gave you some quick tools to use in the heat of the moment to stop your anger in its tracks.
But wouldn’t it be good to not even get triggered and angry in the first place? Here are some strategies to get ahead of your anger.
1. Learn what situations trigger your anger and try to change the dynamics.
If you tend to get angry at dinner when the kids are fussy or when you’re stressed about getting to work then plan ways to make these moments easier.
For those frustrating situations with your kids like getting out the door on time check out my Co-operative Kids Cheat Sheet for some calm strategies to use.
If you have a plan in place and stick to it, you’ll be less likely to feel that “failed parent” trigger.
2. Make it a priority to look after yourself better
Many parents tend to gloss over advice to do more self-care – but it’s seriously one of the biggest solutions to anger!
When we’re feeling tired and depleted it’s much harder to regulate our emotions and anger is more likely to take over.
If you look after yourself - sleep more, eat healthily and get some me-time – you’re ability to regulate your anger will increase. And you won’t be feeling that nobody cares about you – because you’ve been caring for yourself.
3. If you do get emotionally-triggered be compassionate to yourself.
When we are overwhelmed with anger, fear and hurt, it’s because deep emotional wounds have been touched. So it’s important that we are kind to ourselves in this moment - in a way that nobody was kind to us when our childhood wounds occurred.
This does not mean excusing ourselves for shouting or being aggressive!
What it means is saying to yourself, “Suzie, you’re having a hard time right now. It’s perfectly understandable and you’re not a failure.”
Then bring compassion to how you’re feeling.
To help you do this, here’s a mindfulness technique I’d like to share with you:
Soothing The Anger
When you get angry, focus in on the feeling – label it “anger” or “triggered” or whatever word works for you. Just breathe into this feeling and let it be there – and notice as it slowly subsides.
Then underneath the anger you’ll notice another feeling. If you have the time and space give this other feeling some attention.
If it’s sadness or fear, just feel into that. If tears come, then let them flow and allow yourself to feel what’s really beneath the anger.
If your cup is empty, you probably feel sad and unsupported and overwhelmed with caring for your little ones. Let that sadness out and be heard.
Or perhaps you’re afraid your child will get out of control and you won’t be able to control them. Feel that fear and let it come out.
Or maybe you feel like a failure that you can’t get your child to listen to you. Notice that feeling of hurt or shame and let it out.
Once you do give the underlying feelings some air, there will be much less tension and your anger will subside.
If you didn’t already get it, don’t forget to download my free cheat sheet “Six Ways to Calm Your Anger” for a summary of six easy ways to slow your anger down in the heat of the moment! (But if you follow the plan on this page and work on pre-empting your anger so it doesn’t arise, you may not even need the six ways!)