One of the more surprising things about being a parent is the intensity of frustration and anger that parents sometimes feel toward their children. For most, these strong emotions do not match the image they had formed prior to becoming parents. In addition, when children are frustrated and irritated, their parents are often the target of those feelings. A common reaction to their children’s rage is that parents become angry in return. Rather than lessening children’s anger, parental upset creates a spiraling cycle in which increasingly intense anger ensues. What are parents to do when confronted with their own and their children’s angry feelings?
The good news is that there are “techniques” that parents can use to help dissipate the anger. The first involves learning to remain calm during the “storms.” Although not always easy to do, being calm will allow you to maintain control over your reactions and help you to think clearly, so you can decide what to do. “Staying cool in the heat of the moment” also encourages children to become calm, rather than having their parent’s anger further fuel their fire. Calm often leads to calm.
Even if you don’t feel calm, you can “fake” it by speaking and moving slowly and deliberately, and by using a firm but soft voice. Breathing slowly and counting to ten are two more ways parents can help themselves to stay focused and to think clearly. You can also repeat a soothing mantra to yourself, such as: “I can handle this without losing my cool,” or “My children are not out to get me.”
When children are upset, one of the best ways to diminish the intensity of their feelings is to use a communication tool called Active Listening, which involves appreciating their words, acknowledging their feelings, and letting them know they have been heard. Sometimes it can take great restraint and conscious effort to remain calm enough to listen so as not to get “sucked in” to children’s angry moods. Often this kind of listening is enough to deflate the rage or the upset feelings. However, there are times when the intensity of the children’s frustration is beyond their ability to cope in a mature way and other techniques besides listening, such as enforcement of the rules, have to be used.
An example would be if you told your child that he needed to get off the computer and do his homework. Even though you have acknowledged his feelings of anger and disappointment, he continues to be frustrated and furious, and does not accept the fact that he cannot have what he wants.
- You can take a few deep breaths to give yourself time to decide what to do.
- You can use repetition of the rule, “The rule is that you need to have your homework complete before you play computer games.”
- You can get down at the child’s level so you can establish eye contact and make physical contact by putting a hand on the child’s shoulder.
- You can continue to show understanding of the frustration through Active Listening: “I understand that you want . . . “
- You can state your expectations clearly and calmly: “I expect you to turn off the computer and complete your homework.” These kinds of brief explanations, while respectful, also send a message that the parent is not going to plead, debate or become upset, and that although the child may not like the rule, the expectation is that it will be followed.
Of course, it is not always possible to remain calm. In fact, it can be helpful for children to learn that anger is a natural and normal part of life and is not necessarily bad. The manner in which the anger is expressed and the ability of the parent to remain in control of his choices, decisions, and emotions are determining factors that define whether the anger is helpful, ineffective or even destructive. Anger managed in non-hurtful ways can actually strengthen your connection with your children. When you express your true feelings, even the angry ones, in a clear, direct and respectful manner, you are sharing a part of yourself and this builds honesty and trust in the relationship. Your resentment does not build as you guide your children to treat you with respect even when they are angry.
If you find that you have “lost it” and said or done some things that you regret, it is important to reassure your children that you love them and that your love for them is stronger than the anger you may have felt. It is also important to apologize if you were unable to stay calm. This helps to model for your children that people do not have to be perfect and that even adults make mistakes.
Without a partner to escalate the intensity, children often are able to move past the tantrums and anger more quickly and begin to focus on next steps and solutions. When parents model assertiveness and calmness, children can learn how to manage their own angry feelings in a constructive and helpful way. With an attitude of acceptance toward the inevitability of anger, with some techniques in mind, and with conscious effort on your part to stay cool, you can help your children learn to manage, in a healthy way, the anger that is an expected and normal part of the human experience.
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