Ever feel angry with your children? Here are 10 coping strategies to help you defuse
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get a bit angry and shouty with my children. It’s usually because they’re not listening, or they’re squabbling or faffing about while I’m trying to get their hair and teeth brushed before it’s time to leave for school. Sometimes it’s simply the level of noise – a house with three kids is lived at top volume, and it can make my head spin. Sometimes, however, I shout because I’m dead tired and ready for the day to end. And of course, they’re still not listening.
But I don’t like myself much when I lose control with my kids, so recently I signed up for a course on understanding anger for parents run by the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM). Here’s what I learned…
Tips for dealing with anger
1. It’s not them, it’s you
Think about the last time you were angry with your children. ‘A parent doesn’t get angry because of what a child says or does,’ says Mike Fisher, director of BAAM. ‘Instead you get angry because of a sense of momentary inadequacy – for that moment, you felt like a failure as a parent because you had no control over your child.’ He says that when your child pushes back against your rules, you feel you then have justification for getting angry.
2. Listen carefully to your child
Many parents don’t listen properly, according to Mike. Ask your child what he needs, and hear what he has to say. Accept that it’s okay to have a different opinion.
3. Your needs are important too
Everyone has primary needs which must be met in order for us to feel content as human beings. For example, we need attention, praise, love, reward, affection, fairness, justice, to be listened to, valued, understood, trusted, supported and heard.Problems start when parents expect to receive these primary needs from their children. For example, you become angry if your child doesn’t listen to you (a primary need) when it’s time for his bath.‘It’s important that you meet your own primary needs if you’re also going to meet your children’s,’ says Mike. Take time to think about what you would like out of life too. Consider taking up a new interest, and strengthening your friendships or relationship so you feel more fulfilled in daily life.
4. Be clear about your feelings
If you’re feeling angry or sad, it’s important that you use those words in particular. Don’t give your child mixed messages by calling your anger or sadness something else, like ‘upset’, ‘disappointed’, ‘tired’ or ‘anxious’. ‘These aren’t actual ‘feelings’, and using these words will only confuse your children,’ says Mike.Do make sure you tell your children why you’re angry. For example, ‘I feel angry with you because you aren’t listening to me’.Then tell them what you need them to do: ‘What I need from you is for you to respect my wishes/ listen to me when I tell you that it’s time to get ready for school.’
5. Help your child get in touch with their own feelings
Don’t ask, ‘How are you?’ when you pick them up after nursery or school. Instead ask, ‘How are you feeling?’ Since the course, I’ve been asking this more, and for the first time ever, my five-year-old middle child – mid-tantrum – told me she was feeling angry, and why. It meant I could offer a solution, which actually stopped the tantrum. I was amazed.
6. Never say you’re disappointed in your child when you’re angry
‘Saying you’re disappointed in your child’s behaviour can trigger feelings of shame,’ says Mike. This can damage your child’s self-esteem.
7. Pick your phrases carefully when you’re seeing red
When speaking to your child, don’t start sentences with ‘You always’, ‘You never’, ‘ You should’ or ‘And just one more thing’. These are shaming and blaming phrases, Mike says, which can put children on the defensive, making them less likely to cooperate. Here are some alternatives: ‘You could’ or ‘Possibly’.
8. Cut back on your stress levels
Stress is a major trigger for anger – deadlines and demands can drain us emotionally, making us feel overwhelmed and frazzled, less able to cope and more likely to fly off the handle. Work out how to make life easier for yourself in order to reduce your stress levels. For example, I know that I need to focus on getting the kids’ school bags ready the night before, preventing a last minute angry dash around the house to gather up reading books. Also try to include time to relax every day. Great options are wallowing in a long bath, reading a book, going for a run, doing a yoga class or meditating. These will also help meet your primary need of valuing yourself (see point 3).
9. It’s okay to feel angry
But it’s not okay to let the anger get out of control. Remember to breathe, focus and take a look at the bigger picture. These are your children. They love you and you love them.
10. Accept you’re not a super hero
Chances are you’re just a normal human being. So accept your limitations. Things don’t have to be perfect. Some clothes don’t need to be ironed. There’s no instruction booklet to being a parent, and sometimes we make mistakes. Forgive yourself and move on.