As parents, we know too well how easily we can get angry at our children. Sometimes, even the smallest thing will bring us over the edge. The issue is that when we lose our cool, we also lose our ability to respond positively and constructively to our kid.
What happens when we get angry
When we get angry, we switch to the instinctive “fight or flight” mode, feeling threatened and ready to attack: Our heart rate increases and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flood our body. Overwhelmed by our emotions and body reactions, our ability to think rationally is impaired and we react instead of responding.
Even though feeling angry is natural, expressing it and managing it appropriately is a learned behavior.
Strategies to help you stay calm
1. Fill your cup
Often, the reason we struggle to stay calm is that we have been neglecting our needs. Make sure you get enough sleep, take short breaks during the day and plan time for yourself. If you feel good, you will have the resources to handle delicate situations, and it will be easier to stay calm even when your kids aren’t.
2. Practice self-love
We are often our worst critics and tend to focus on what we are not achieving sometimes forgetting all the things we do well. These feelings of unworthiness make us prone to anger. Self-love will allow you to accept yourself as you are without judgment and help you heal your emotional triggers.
3. Practice mindfulness
4. Notice when your anger is building up
Learn to notice how you feel when you start getting angry. Despite what we sometimes think, we don’t get angry from one minute to the other – it’s much more a process. Try to listen to your body (Are you feeling tense or agitated?), pay attention to your breathing and your pulse. Be aware of your thoughts. When we get angry, we start having negative thoughts about the situation or our children.
If you realize you are about to lose your temper, try to take a small break to relax physically and mentally (e.g., go to the bathroom for five minutes or ask your partner to take over) or take some deep breaths if you cannot remove yourself from the situation.
5. Set boundaries
A common reason for getting angry at our children is that we failed to set a limit earlier. Ideally, we should set the boundary before getting angry – even if it means interrupting what we are currently doing. E.g., if your daughter is trying to talk to you while you are on the phone, you might want to interrupt your conversation for a minute to explain that you will get to her after your call and/or give her something to do in the meantime. This will be much more effective than waiting until you’ve reached your limit and risking to yell at her.
6. Know your triggers
We all know that our children can easily push our buttons sometimes triggering raw emotions from our own childhood to which we respond unconsciously. Be aware of what tends to make you quickly lose your cool: it could be a specific time of the day (at the end of the day), an emotion (when your kid expresses anger) or a situation (your daughter hits her little brother). This will help you identify your feelings earlier and take action to avoid being overcome by anger.
7. Don’t take your children’s behavior personally
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of interpreting our children’s behaviors as a personal attack. Instead, we can remind ourselves that our kids act up because they are struggling with big feelings. If we stay calm, we can give them the room to express these emotions and teach them how to handle them.
Here, an efficient strategy is to shift the focus from us to them. Anger is usually the result of underlying difficult emotions such as fear, sadness, worthlessness, etc. Try to see things from your child’s perspective and understand the reason for her behavior. Is she tired? Hungry? Upset? Scared?
8. Try a different approach
Acting before we get angry, gives us the choice to lead the situation in a different direction. Sometimes, ignoring a provocative behavior or being playful about the situation can do magic. Of course, we shouldn’t ignore or make fun of unacceptable behavior, but sometimes we need to choose our battles for the sake of a peaceful outcome.
9. Plan ahead
Try to notice in which situations you are prone to losing your cool, and make sure you give yourself the means to avoid stress whenever possible. E.g., plan in more time in the morning to prevent hectic; make sure your little one naps if you know the rest of the day will go smoother if she got some rest; have a realistic to-do list to avoid being overwhelmed.
Another helpful strategy to stay calm consists in thinking about ways to calm down when you are angry. When anger overcomes us, we are barely able to think rationally, let alone finding effective strategies to react in the heat of the moment. Take advantage of a quiet moment to decide what you want to do when you’re getting angry (breathe, take a break, avoid reacting, say a mantra, etc.). The idea is to create a plan that you can roll out without thinking when you need it.
As a parent, taming your anger can seem like an impossible task. However, just like any other skill related to emotional intelligence, practice is key. Feel free to pick the techniques and strategies that resonate with you to elaborate a plan to roll out when you feel the annoyance rising. Managing to keep cool instead of bursting into anger and, most of all, being able to respond to your child appropriately without guilt or shame, is very rewarding.
How do you react when you sense the anger coming? Let me know what your strategies are.