By Bunny Young, MA,QMHP
Every parent gets angry with their child at some point. It does not help that we have endless stressors: getting to appointments late, financial pressures, health. In the midst of that stress, here comes a screaming child who is taunting her younger brother, lost her sneaker, and now we are late for school and work. We snap.
In peaceful, calm moments, we know we can handle any challenging parenting scenario better. But in the storm of our rage, we feel we are entitled to that anger. How could our child be so insensitive, ungrateful and even mean? This whole mental process takes all of about 2 seconds.
It helps to know this-how YOU parent. It gives us motivation to control ourselves. Parental anger can be harmful to our children, not just physically but emotionally as well.
Anger is a physical and emotional reaction in the body to a high stress situation. It is there as a protection mode for the body but often times, due to commanding factors, and poor stress management, anger manifests itself at times where it is less than appropriate. For example, you arrive home after a stressful day at work, dinner is not ready, you are hungry, someone parked in your parking space, and now your child comes running up to you and grabs your leg as you’re walking and will not let go. The result is that you burst into a rage. You yell at your child, shake your leg, and put them in a time-out in their room until they are 20. You were not actually that mad about the human barnacle, however; the compounding stress of work, hunger, frustration, and then ultimately not being listened to resulted in all of your anger coming out at that one time directed at your child.
No one is a perfect parent. Anger can be frequently found in interactions with a tiny human that craves attention but lacks the words to always ask for it in a non frustrating way. Often, when a child is acting out, they are really asking for attention or direction but rather they receive negative consequences and anger from a parent. This can be seen in the above example given. Children who are consistently exposed to anger will learn that this is the only way to react to another person. And their reactions can vary, be it physical or verbal response.
Anger always has triggers and signs prior to the “explosion.” You may begin to feel your heart race and fists tighten and you feel warm or even hot in the body. There are many physiological signs that begin to warn you are getting close to an episode of anger. If these signs are ignored, when you do finally react, your reaction may be an inappropriate one to a less than worthy source. Practice recognizing your body’s physical reactions when you get angry in order to observe when you need to catch yourself and calm down using coping skills or calming techniques. Read more here for ideas on how to calm yourself down.
When you notice feelings of anger, try to take some deep breaths, imagine tension slipping away from your body and relax your muscles. Identify what the source of the frustration is and if it is something you can take action to change-do so. If not, let it go since there is nothing you can do to change it. If anger becomes a frequent occurrence, you may want to seek out professional help such as counseling or anger support groups to receive support from others in deescalating your emotions and diffusing your anger.
We have started an Anger Management Spotlight Series. Read Part II of our series: The Angry Husband here.