Controlling Parental Anger

Controlling Parental Anger

How to Keep Your Cool 

Mike works all day ... long, hard hours. He has a successful business and works hard to keep a good relationship with his clients and employees. But 10 minutes with Annie, his four-year-old, and he becomes a rage-a-holic. 

Every night when he comes home, he just wants to relax and read the newspaper, but Annie wants to play. He tells her nicely to watch TV, and she refuses. 

Suddenly lightening hits, and he's screaming at her and stomping around the house. He's in a rage … slamming doors, you name it … He can’t control himself." 

Anyone can be angry … even the most able and mild-mannered parent. Parents like Mike worry about the frequency and intensity of anger they feel toward their children. A lot of this anger comes from utter frustration -- not knowing how to manage children's behavior. Anger also occurs when a child falls short of a parent's expectations, when kids embarrass their parents in public, and when they show disrespect. 

Unresolved frustration leads to distress, and frequent angry outbursts ensue. 

Anger Doesn't Work 

Parents’ uncontrollable outbursts rarely improve children's behavior. Don't you secretly wish they would? Wouldn't parenting be easier if you could yell at your child, "Get dressed right now, young lady. Stop playing around and wasting time. You're going to make me late for work and I’ll lose my job," and your daughter would jump into her clothes and then climb into the car, waiting patiently while you put on your makeup and make one quick phone call? 

You might think a child would comply with angry demands to avoid the unpleasantness of these scenes, but that usually isn't the case. Some children become immune to your anger; they ignore it, while for others, anger has a contagious effect; children fight back with an angry defensive response of their own. 

Parents need to find effective, realistic ways to deal with anger. Children are gifts … treasures … jewels. As angry as you may be, remember how much you love them. Never let yourself forget that – first and foremost. 

If you were treated with anger when you were a child, remember it and feel it. Remember how bad it felt? So why would you want to inflict the same hurt on your children? 

Find The Balance 

Even though anger is not the emotion you want pervading your household, it's unrealistic to think that you will always be a calm "Brady Bunch" kind of mom or dad. If you suppress your anger so much that you're like a smoldering volcano, eventually you’ll blow , but on the other hand you can't allow your fury to run unchecked. 

How Do You Strike A Balance? 

Understand that you'll always respond more effectively if you notice when those feelings of anger are starting to well up, while they're still at a low level of intensity. 

- When your anger starts to build, stop, count to 10, and take some deep breaths. 

- Move slowly toward your child and get on his or her level; sit on the floor near your toddler or preschooler; sit on the sofa next to your older child. 

- If you are truly ready to explode, call a neighbor and ask them to stay with the kids while you out for a walk. 

- Leave the house as soon as you can find someone to stay with the kids. 

Now, What Do You Say? 

Tell your child that you are starting to get angry. Describe the exact situation that's provoking your anger: "Your toys are scattered all over the floor." 

Explain what you want done about it, and put a time limit on it: "Dinner will be in 10 minutes. I expect them to be cleaned up and put away before we eat. I'll set the timer." 

Progress, Not Perfection 

It’s a given that children's naughty behavior provokes anger in their parents. Learning new responses takes a lot of effort, and change comes slowly. If you succeed once a week in using your anger productively to improve children's behavior, give yourself credit for small successes. It takes time and it takes patience. 

Know When To Get Help 

If you feel that your children have taken away your freedom, are depleting your finances and are draining your energy, and you’re unleashing anger at them because of that – it’s not fair! Now is the time to seek professional assistance to manage your own internal struggles. 

Working Through The Problem 

In the case of Mike and his daughter Annie, Mike had to decide what he wanted to occur every night and then find a constructive way to make it happen. With the help of a counselor, he worked through the problem. He identified his need for some peace and quiet when he arrived home from work, but realized that Annie needed him, too. 

He was determined to give Annie his first five minutes once he got home, watching TV with her. He couldn’t believe how this little bit of attention worked, and it freed Mike to read the newspaper in quiet. 

Anger shrinks intimacy and keeps children at an emotional distance. It can take over your home and destroy the parent-child relationship. If you learn how to manage anger, your children will learn to express anger as you do. 

Establish Your Equilibrium 

When your anger gets the best of you, do something to bring yourself back to your emotional equilibrium – turn on some music, take a nap, go for a walk, call a friend. After, try to secure your relationship with your child, spend some time together in a mutually enjoyable activity. 

Love, nurturing and joy should be the overriding feelings expressed in your home. And when those overwhelming feelings of anger do well up, if you can't think of anything else to do or say, take a deep breath, shift into low gear and focus away from your child. You'll like yourself better in the morning. 

Calm-Down Strategies 

Tried and tested strategies to smooth out turbulent parenting waters for every parent: 

Offer A Choice 

Your child’s friend came over to play. You hear name-calling. "You're stupid." "You're a geek." "Well, you're a nerd." Instead of getting angry and yelling "Just stop that right now!" offer a choice: "I hear name-calling. You have a choice. Either the name-calling must stop, or your friend must go home." If you hear name-calling again, send the friend home with an apology and the hope of a better playtime together tomorrow. 

Express Your Feelings 

You’re exhausted from a long day at work, you walk in the door to the annoying sounds of your kids screaming "She ruined my game." "I didn't mean to; it's just a stupid old game anyway." "It's my favorite game. I hate having a little sister." Instead of blaming them by saying "You kids are making me so mad! I work hard all day and don’t need to come home to this fighting." Instead, express your feelings: "I'm crabby. I've had a terrible day. When I hear fighting, it makes me crabbier. Get a snack. I'm taking a bath." 

Accept Your Child's Feelings 

Your daughter is insulting her stepsister who is visiting for the weekend. Instead of saying “You're being rude and jealous" in an angry voice, accept your child's feelings by saying "I understand it's difficult to share your dad when your stepsister comes for the weekend, but I will not allow you to be rude." If the rudeness continues, send her to her bedroom for some quiet time. 

State A Rule 

The children's disagreement have come to blows. Rather than scream an angry threat like "That hitting must stop instantly or we’re not going to the movie!" state a rule by saying "Hitting is not allowed. Suzie, you empty the dishwasher and Michael, make your bed. We'll discuss the movie when your chores are done and you've calmed down." 

Assert Your Values 

Your child is attempting homework in front of the TV. Instead of nagging "Do your homework," "Do your homework or you won't get good grades," "You'd better do your homework or you won't get into college” assert your values: "Homework is more important than TV. The TV goes off until homework is done." 

Cope With Your Child’s Feelings 

Children's feelings of anger, jealousy, and even hatred need to be acknowledged and allowed appropriate expression. By accepting children's strong feelings, you can show them their feelings are part of normal human experience. It’s actually helpful for you to tell a child that all people feel these ways at times. 

Help children learn acceptable ways to express strong feelings. When their expressions are hurtful or demeaning, redirect them. Ask your child to rephrase anger in a more acceptable manner, but allow your child the right to feel angry. 

Often you must tell your child what a better or more appropriate way might be. You could say, "When you're mad at me, this is how I'd like you to tell me: 'What you said made me so angry.' Then I can listen better to your feelings and be more willing to try and work things out." 

State angry feelings without accusing anyone. Parental anger is a useful tool when it is expressed in nonjudgmental language. 

When you firmly state your anger, you emphasize the rules and let children know clearly and strongly how you feel. 

Match Words To Feelings 

Match your expressions of anger to the way you really feel. If you are only mildly annoyed say, "I'm a bit annoyed" or "This is irritating me." If you are very angry, it is more appropriate to say, "I'm very mad about this" or "This has made me very angry." 

Avoid yelling and shouting; instead express your anger in a firm voice. Never expose children to hurtful anger. 

It is normal for parents to feel frustrated by children. Unfortunately, though, when some parents feel this way they frequently vent their anger by saying to their children, "I could kill you for that!" or "I'll wring your neck!" 

For that parent, these are empty words, spoken without forethought. But expressions such as these are damaging to a child. Even though you don't mean these statements and have absolutely no intention of carrying them out, your child, however, does not know this. 

These expressions of hurtful anger should never be said by parents to children of any age. 

Find other ways to vent your anger. Give safe expression to your feelings. All parents do get intensely angry at their children at times. 

How can you get relief? First, make sure your child is safe and then give yourself a moment alone to allow these feelings silent expression. After thinking through the feelings or even saying them out loud to yourself or a friend privately, you will feel better. Take a deep breath and return to your child, ready to state your anger in a helpful way. 

Never humiliate or degrade your child. Aim your disapproval at your child's behavior, not character. Instead of saying, "You're a rotten kid," you can say, "I don't like what you're doing right now." 

Timing is important. Sometimes we plunge in too quickly to handle a situation and end up saying or doing something we wish we hadn't. Take some time before rushing into a situation. Except in a true emergency, there are always a few seconds, even minutes, to spare. Leave the room if you need to, take a deep breath and ask yourself, "What do I really want to accomplish here?" After finding a positive response, go in and handle the situation. 

Sometimes we don't intervene soon enough. Don't wait until your anger and the child's behavior are out of control. Go in and set the limit before the situation goes too far. 

Never, Ever Hurt A Child 

Children are not to be used for hitting! 

Some parents say that there are times they are so angry with a child that hitting them is the only way to gain control. 

Anger is a powerful emotion and it should not be used to frighten or harm children. 

When expressing anger with words is just not enough, relief comes in other ways. Jump rope, play basketball, jog or take a walk, shake out rugs, scrub a floor, bang on the piano or hammer in the workshop. This can provide great relief. These activities also offer children a healthy model for dealing with their own anger. 

If you feel like you have to or are going to hit your child, hit a pillow. Hitting a pillow is a therapeutic technique for letting off intense, momentary anger. Hitting children is never appropriate. 

You do need to set necessary limits for children. True discipline is teaching and guiding children, relying on a variety of constructive, positive and helpful approaches. Stress the family rule: "People are not for hurting," and everyone in the household will obey it. 

Words Hurt 

Words can wound our children deeper than a slap at times. Many of the seemingly harmless words that so easily pop out of our mouths like "Why can't you be more like your sister?" can cause severe emotional injury and chip away at a child's self-esteem. The words parents use form the basis of a child's sense of self. Words are like a mirror reflecting back to our children vital information about who they are and what they will become. 

It's easy to verbally harm our children in subtle ways, often in the mistaken belief that we are doing what is best to teach them to behave. Most children are resilient and can handle an occasional hurtful comment from their parents. The more we are aware of potentially harmful statements, the more likely we will be to find other ways to influence our children. If you find that you habitually use the 10 red-flag statements described below and can't stop yourself, you should seek help from a professional counselor or join an organization such as Parents Anonymous. 

A group of mental-health professionals and a group of parents were asked what parental verbalizations, if any, they considered so potentially harmful to a child's self-worth that the words should never be used. Although the two groups did not regard parental nagging, shouting or criticizing to be serious problems, they were in remarkable agreement about what parents should not say to their children. Here are the results. 


"Dummy" … "You're a bad boy" … "What a klutz" -- all of these are harmful! 

Harmful: Parents' words are like word of God to a child. If you label a child as a "jerk," "brat" or "baby," he is likely to believe it's true. Since negative labels assault a child's personality rather than a specific behavior, his self-esteem will be diminished. Labels tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. The child who is told she is "clumsy" might avoid dancing or playing sports. The child labeled "shy" may seek to avoid contact with peers and adults. 

Helpful:Direct your child's attention to a particular behavior that needs changing, e.g., "This room is getting messy!" "The paper and pencils you left on the floor need to be picked up now." 


"I wish you were never born" … "Nobody could love you." 

Harmful: Rejection means you state a strong dislike or a desire to separate from your child. To a child, being unloved by the person who brought you into the world means you really must be unlovable. What children need more than anything else from their parents is to feel that they are loved unconditionally, i.e., that they are loved for who they are rather than for what they do or fail to do. 

Helpful: On a daily basis, openly communicate your affection for your child with both verbal ("I love you") and physical (hugs, pats on the shoulder) expressions 


"You'll never amount to anything" … "You're going to be locked up on jail someday." 

Harmful: Children tend to live up--or down--to what we believe about them. A minister once visited a prison to speak to a large group of inmates. He asked how many of them were told when they were children that they would end up in jail. The minister was shocked when almost everyone present raised their hand. Parents need to believe in their children and predict a good future for them. 

Helpful: "You're going through some hard times right now, but I want you to know that I'll never give up on you." 


"You made me lose my temper" … "You're the reason your mother and I are getting a divorce" … "Your brother would never do that. You must have done it." 

Harmful: Scapegoating means blaming a child for the actions of others. Children are a convenient and easy target to fault for the troubles of other family members. If our children are to learn to take responsibility for their actions, we must set an example of being personally accountable for our mistakes and weaknesses. 

Helpful: If you lose your temper, as soon as you cool down, apologize to your child by saying something like, "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I'm feeling very tired today and I need to work harder on controlling my temper." 


"How come you only came in second?" … "You only got a 97 on your exam? What happened to the other three points?" 

Harmful: Perfectionist parents push or pressure their kids to be the best soccer player and/or get straight A's in school. The message behind the demand is, "You're not good enough the way you are." To hold children to unrealistic expectations only leads to their loss of self-confidence. 

Helpful: To accentuate the positive, you might say things like, "Nice work on getting so many A's on your report card," or "You really ran a good race. You started strong and finished with a burst of speed." 


"Why can't you be more like your sister?" … "When I was your age, I used to walk three miles to school." 

Harmful: When you inform your child that he isn't as well behaved or high achieving as his sister, you sow the seeds to resentment and bitter rivalry between your children. Children should not feel in competition with other family members because one will inevitably feel devalued and inferior to the others. Even positive comparisons can backfire. When you say, "You're better at tennis than your brother," you instill competitive feelings and discord among siblings. 

Helpful: Rather than saying, "You're much better at pitching than your brother was at your age," say, "Over the past year, your control has improved a great deal when you pitch." 


"You should be ashamed of yourself-- you're acting like a baby!" … "I can't believe you're afraid of a little kitten." 

Harmful: In shaming, a child is made to feel defective and inadequate about a mistake or misdeed. Shaming demoralizes a child rather than empowering her to change. Some parents publicly humiliate a child by pointing out a child's weaknesses, e.g., bed-wetting, to others. Shame tends to lead to a compelling urge to hide or withdraw from the source of shame. 

Helpful: Rather than saying, "You're too old to cry," say, "Sometimes it's hard to share. Next time we'll put your special toys away." 


"Go to hell!" … "Goddamn you!" 

Harmful: There are few things more devastating to a child than to be verbally attacked by a parent in an obscene or profane manner. Children depend almost entirely on their parents' reactions to know whether they are good or bad, smart or dumb, loved or unlovable. They are very vulnerable emotionally. A child is likely to internalize her parent's hostility and conclude the worst about herself. 

Helpful: In lieu of an expletive, give an assertive statement that tells your child what she did wrong and why it is unacceptable, e.g., "When you leave the kitchen table a mess, it means more work for someone else. The table needs to be cleared off now and wiped clean." 


"If you don't get over here right now, I'll drive off and leave you here." … "If you do that again, I'll have the police take you away." 

Harmful: A threat is an exaggerated statement of impending harm that parents use to intimidate or terrorize a child, e.g., "I'll break every bone in your body if you don't behave." Threats create a climate of fear and make a child feel that he is living in an unsafe and hostile world. A threat of abandonment is particularly traumatic to children, since they are so vulnerable and dependent on their parents for basic survival needs. 

Helpful: Children should receive warnings not threats. A warning is a realistic "if-then" statement of what will happen to a child if he continues to misbehave, e.g., "If you try to pinch your sister again, you'll have to go to time-out." 

Guilt Trips 

"How could you do that after all I've done for you?" … "You'll be the death of me yet!" 

Harmful: Children who are made to feel guilty for normal mistakes or problems that are beyond their control will come to believe that they are responsible for every negative thing that happens in a family, leading to an overwhelming sense of guilt. Excessive guilt can inhibit a child's engagement in new or autonomous behaviors for fear of offending a parent. 

Helpful: "It's wrong to take something belonging to someone else without asking permission. How would you feel if your brother took something from your room without asking?" 

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