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parents rage

A Simple Trick for Parents to Reign in Their Rage

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!

parents rage

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

#TriggerCity!

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!!

Good luck,

Warmly, Sally.

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

37 comments

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  • Wow didnt really realize how complex it is to be a parent. I think a lot of parents probably do look at babies as little adults and take their rage to another level…not realizing the child really doesnt know any better.

  • Everyone gets angry from time to time, the important part is how we deal with it and choose to show it. I tend to get silently angry, I’m definitely not one to yell or scream.

    • Hi Shaylee, and thanks for commenting. Anger is such a tricky one because it’s so normal and not wrong! So absolutely , it’s what we do to ourselves and others with it is the thing. The silent kind hurts us, lashing out hurts others. Hopefully my tips will help people find that middle ground. Warmly, Sally

  • Whilst I would never agree that a child should be at the receiving end of physical anger I do also believe that we cannot shelter children from emotions. As it is mentioned above, at some point in their lives they will come across anger in the workplace and may even demonstrate it themselves so I think anger, if tapered, could be a learning curve for children (obviously not in the extreme sense).

  • I think we have all been there- losing our cool and blowing up. I know I have been having to work extra hard to reign it in but some days… it tries me. This was a fantastic read!

    • Hi Laura, thanks for reading and you know what’s great? The more people who acknowledge it as a difficulty as you just did, the more normal other parents will feel – so thanks for chiming in! Warmly, Sally

  • Oh yes, there were moments and I felt guilty every time that happened. Now, I am older and more patient. I realized, kids listen more and they follow when you speak to them in a calm manner.

  • Sometimes parents get angry at their children but it’s important to set limits. Maybe go spend a few quiet minutes alone until you’re ready to do speak calmly. Thanks for sharing such useful post!

  • We need to get over the fact that kids will have some issues. I don’t know what is so shocking that many have to respond the way they do when kids go off track. We have got to control it

    • Hi Mardene, yes – I think maybe we are so concerned with perfection these days that it has leaked into how we think parenting should ‘look’. So the reality can be quite shocking, we are, in some wyas, getting less tolerant of our humanity.
      Thanks for reading – warm wishes, Sally

  • I’ve found lately I have very low patience for not being listened to – by anyone my kids or husband. It seems to be better when I get a good nights slee but with a teething 7 month old Im struggling.

    • Hi Laurie, yes, not being listened to is very painful and a huge trigger for anger. Of course everything is difficult when you’re sleep deprived. Take care and I hope all improves soon. Warmly, Sally

  • Yes, there will always be moments. I learned this when the kids were two and I couldn’t control my anger. It’s tough when you’re balancing everything and you have twins, but I figured I’m just using that as an excuse. So I faced the truth, that I needed to change. This time, when I’m really upset, I give myself timeout and talk to my kids in a calm manner after. It works and it’s the best solution ever. They follow better with compassion rather than rage.

  • I’m lucky my kid is so good, he hardly ever gets in trouble with me buuutttt I’m the more stern parent (the other is just fun) so yes, I raise my voice a little more – nothing too terrible though. Thanks for talking about this!

    • Hi Michelle and thanks for reading. Yes, I really do find that in my personal life as well as professionally. It’s the old stuff that can get triggered, sneak up on us and cause pain. Like being mugged emotionally. So we need to look after ourselves well! Warm wishes, Sally

    • Hi there and thanks for reading! Yes, well, it’s DEF hard to remember anything when we’re raging – keep it simple: just ask “Am I hurt or scared right now?” I hope you find it helpful in the future and good luck! Warmly, Sally

About Author

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin