All parents struggle from time to time with rage and anger – from snapping with irritation to roaring with rage and all the unpleasantness in between. It’s not ideal, granted, but it’s human – that’s for sure!
After the rage often comes The Shame – are you familiar with The Shame? Those moments where your little one is gaping at you, stunned, mid-sentence, tears brimming, lower lip quivering…. and OMG – is that fear you see in their eyes?
“My kid will end up in your office in ten years time LOL!..”
This is a refrain I hear a lot from clients and friends alike. It’s always said as a joke, but more often than not there’s a fear underneath the laughing rolling eyes that it might be true, and it might be serious.
Here’s the thing though – your child will have issues. Some will be learned from you, triggered by you, and some will not. There’s no avoiding it, and there’s no point beating yourself up! There is a point though in taking responsibility for what you can change and then deciding to change it.
Losing your temper is one of those things that you can change, and there’s a surprisingly easy knack to it that I’ll share with you here.
First – check if is familiar: children ‘defy’ us. At least that’s how it feels. They don’t always do what we ask, no matter how reasonable we are and how intelligent the child is. We hear our mothers’ voices coming out of our own mouths and we cringe-
“Because I said so!”
“I do so MUCH around here WHY are you making a mess again?!”
“You’re making mommy/teacher/that lady angry/sad!”
“Why aren’t you listening to me?”
We feel angry, enraged even. This child is of the devil and hates us.
In these moments, we are not getting what we want, and that might be attention, being heard, being noticed, being appreciated, being valued. And when we don’t get these things we are hurt, naturally, and sometimes deeply.
When we are deeply hurt we don’t notice whats happening outside of us.
Like the fact this child is:
- Learning to assert him/herself and is simply practising on me.
- This child is figuring out where my boundaries are and how far we will bend.
- This child needs me to teach them about how to treat people.
- This child is upset about something but can’t express it to me.
- This child is asking for help but hasn’t yet learned how to do that in a way that is interpersonally skilled.
Do you feel that your anger is ‘a problem’?
Maybe you’ve been told that by a friend or a partner. Maybe you’ve been really trying to change that.
When you lose your temper, you may have noticed that you end up crying afterwards. That’s because anger is usually pain, hurt or fear in disguise. It can feel easier to get angry and snap or yell than to tell ourselves, never mind anyone else, how hurt or vulnerable we feel in the moment. And this is why we can end up crying later – we get to the ‘real’ feeling once the outer rage layer has been spent.
When we are dealing with a child who believes that the world revolves around them (as all children do) and who has no empathy for you (also normal up to 5 or 6 years or age!) then the risk is that we perceive their behaviour as if they are little adults. When we do that, we are likely to take their behaviour personally. So we feel hurt that they –
- seem to prefer their auntie
- that their toys are more interesting than we are
- that they don’t like this food we prepared
- that they don’t want a cuddle
- that they don’t thank us for our patience
But kids are simply not that aware. And they are not emotionally equipped to factor your feelings into their emotional responses.
So again: Anger is sad, hurt or fear in disguise. Knowing that is the trick.
Putting that into practice:
If you are trying to work on your anger, next time you feel it rising (you know that feeling??) ask yourself “What just happened that hurt me, scared me or made me sad?”, then “Am I taking this personally unnecessarily?“. Once you access this, you will likely find your anger dissipate and you’ll move straight into sad, or maybe fear. Then promise yourself to make space for that sadness and figure out what you need.
Noticing how you’re really feeling might bring up old feelings of hurt, (for example your child not listening you might trigger old feelings of not being heard by your own parents or peers, or you may feel taken for granted by your partner). Present hurt is often old hurt triggered and magnified.
Allow for help
There is support out there – find out who your local services are: therapists, counsellors – friends! Because I can pretty much guarantee that someone in your life is experiencing the same rollercoaster. They might be relieved to hear about yours!
This technique may not always work for you – especially if your habit of snapping is well established. Keep trying. Forming a new habit takes time. All is not lost after making a mistake. Apologise to your child if you feel you’ve crossed a line, and tell them your are working on changing your behaviour. While they may not fully understand the words, they will likely understand the intent. Bonus: you are teaching them that adults make mistakes and take responsibility for them!
If you are now aware that you are verbally and/or physically abusive in your anger please seek professional help immediately. Child safety is paramount.
Parenting is a challenge and everyone brings their own hurts and joys into the mix. Knowing what triggers your vulnerable feelings, and how you convert that into anger will help you survive your child’s childhood – and it’s also helpful when dealing with those pesky adults in your life!!