Tshepiso Makhele
6 minute read
29 Apr 2019
1:59 pm

How to control your anger as a parent

Tshepiso Makhele

Parents should try to express the hidden emotion causing anger, which can be fear or hurt, disappointment, guilt or panic.

Picture: iStock

Life is stressful enough, but when you have kids it’s almost as if the stress is turbo-charged and the endless pressures that come with all that needs to be done within the 24 hours pile up.

I always say there are not enough hours in the day for all the financial and health worries, the appointments I struggle to get to on time, the bills that need to be paid, the last-minute grocery shopping that requires popping in and out of a store fast and the work deadlines to be met.

In the middle of this list of to-do’s is my four-year-old daughter who can’t find a shoe five minutes before her school transport arrives. Or she tells me her teacher said she should colour a drawing just when I’m about to tuck her into bed. Or she refuses to put on the outfit I have picked for her to wear and insists on wearing her 18-24 months Cinderella dress that doesn’t fit anymore.

On a normal day, which is rare when you have kids, you handle all these challenges in a calm state of mind, but not on days like these when your anger may consume you and you end up screaming, swearing or even spanking a child. You may feel that they are being ungrateful, difficult or behaving badly.

Picture: iStock

Believe me when I say I don’t blame you for wanting to scream your lungs out when you face all these challenges. But I do feel that, as parents, we don’t take enough responsibility for our own emotions first, and often wrongfully project them onto our children.

Your child may not be a darling overnight, but you will be surprised to see how much better behaved your child is once you learn to stay calm in the midst of their mischief. Despite how aggravating my little girl’s behaviour is at times, I always try to remember that her behaviour isn’t really what causes my anger.

Rather it stems from my train of emotions because when she misinformed me about homework or can’t find that shoe, I assume that I’m not being a good mom. When she refuses to put on clothes my fear that she will be a drama queen in future surfaces in less than five minutes. This causes me to be unable to think clearly, to throw a tantrum like she does and express anger.

Don’t worry though, that’s normal. Parents and kids have the capacity to trigger each other on a level no one else can. Even as a grown-up I’m every so often irrational in relation to my own mother, the poor woman. The test, however, is to remember that as parents we are mature so we resist manifesting anger, and hence reduce the negative impact it has on our children.

Regardless of the widely held belief that we need to express our anger to feel better, in my eyes expressing anger towards a child only serves to make you (the parent) more angry and hurts the child, does not instil discipline and leaves the issues unresolved.

Picture: iStock

Truth be told, expressing anger is more of an attack than anything else, because somehow you end up threatening the child and saying things you could never say to them in a calm state of mind. What parents should try to do is express the hidden emotion causing our anger, which can be fear or hurt, disappointment, guilt or panic.

We should also not be too hard on ourselves when it comes to handling anger, understanding that we go into the parenting relationship wounded in some way from our childhoods. Our children bring to the surface all those wounds we managed to hide before we conceived them.

Being a bit of a loud mouth and having a child who knows just which buttons to push to make me spit fire for a good 30 minutes, I recently started trying a different approach. Hard as it has been to not allow my child to uncover all the hidden wounds from my childhood and bring out the crazy in me, this has worked wonders.

When I recognise I’m angry, I don’t intervene in any situation. Instead I drop everything, give myself time out, move away from my child into a space where I can breathe deeply and not allow my emotions to take over. I go back only when I am calm.

This, however, can only be done if your child is old enough to be left on their own. If not, just quickly go into the bathroom and splash water on your face to cool you down, breathe in and out, sit silently next to your child for some time, restoring your calm and repeating calming words to yourself.

“No bad energies today” is my little mantra. I just need to repeat it long enough to myself to restore my peace. My mom always tells me that “the positive way to handle anger is to reduce your expression of it” and she is so right.

Picture: iStock

The trick I have learnt is to also never act when I am angry, which I struggled with for a long time. When my little girl misbehaves, I try to think of the chores I need to get done just to move away a bit, re-establish a calm frame of mind and talk to her later about the issue.

Try telling your child: “We will talk about this later, finish your school work, I’ll finish cleaning and we will sit down.” The mistake parents make is thinking that walking away is a sign of weakness, but it’s not. In fact it emphasises how bad the misbehaviour is and shows self-control.

During this time out, I try by all means not to rehash the incident or distress myself any further, not fuelling the anger, but instead viewing the original emotions and feeling them, dissolving the anger.

Two kids down the line, I’ve learned that the more calmly I speak to them, the more peaceful I feel and the more calmly they speak back to me. I learned this the hard way – the screaming matches I used to have with my daughter left me drained and feeling close to insanity.

Swearing at a child is also a big no. It only does more harm than good in any situation in life. Insults will also upset the child more and they will lose respect for you so your tone of voice is very important. So, take deep breaths and be slower to anger.

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