Dealing with Anger: in Yourself and Your Child

A crying infant. An obstinate kindergartner. An 8-year-old who refuses to go to bed when necessary. And a tween who defies mom’s clear instructions on household chores. There are enough trigger points during any single day to keep a parent in a perpetual state of anger.

Anger cannot be avoided; it  is a legitimate feeling and a normal response to life’s ordinary frustrations. But how do we deal with it so that it doesn’t overtake us or harm us and our children?

  • Step back from an anger-inducing situation and consider the source of your feelings. Are you feeling overtired and overwhelmed by too many responsibilities? Acknowledge your feelings without judgment or reaction. Take care of your feelings before dealing with your children’s behavior.
  • After addressing your feelings, try to tap into your children’s. Listen to what they are saying to identify their needs. By validating their feelings—“I can see that you are frustrated” or “I understand why you are upset”—you can defuse anger and help your children to acknowledge their feelings.
  • With any given situation, ask yourself this question: Whose problem is this—mine or my child’s? If it is within your power to change the situation, consider how you might do so swiftly, simply, and effectively. Sometimes, it may take no more than providing a healthful snack to a hungry child or providing a book or art supplies to alleviate a child’s boredom.
  • If the fastest way to avoid an escalation of conflict is by removing your child from the situation, find a space where he or she can have a “time-out.” Going to this space should not be considered a punishment, but rather, a break to defuse and rejuvenate.
  • If a child is old enough to understand that certain behaviors carry consequences, be sure to convey this concept to him or her. Be clear in spelling out such consequences—and follow through consistently when your child exhibits such behaviors.
  • After an episode of anger has concluded, think about how you can prevent a similar situation from occurring again. Can a physical or emotional environment be modified? Would providing choices to your children serve an effective deterrent? Observe and take note of when, how, and where trigger points keep arising. 
  • Recognize that everyone loses his or her temper occasionally. That’s only human. But have a plan to deal with anger so that you diffuse it when trigger points arise. Apply these same principles to yourself!