Parenting anger is often a guilty secret, but it needs to be talked about. The way in which we were parented impacts how we deal with difficult situations.
Parenting our own children raises many difficult situations. If you find parenting anger is raising it’s ugly head too often, there is help.
I was raised in a household where my father would get angry and lose his temper, this was modelled to him by his own father. Unfortunately, this was passed on to me, through modelling and genes. But that does not mean I’m stuck with it.
There are things I can do to reduce the likelihood of passing this on to my child. I’ve outlined some of these things below. Particularly where there is past trauma people may need professional help to support them in processing this trauma and making changes.
If you have trauma in our past this can mean you are less able to regulate our emotions in the moment, the good news is that trauma therapy can help.
Trauma therapy is not just useful if you have had a car accident or been physically attacked.
Trauma therapy is equally valid to help you work through childhood issues that may only become apparent to you as you start to raise your own children and feel triggered by their actions.
It’s important to understand that getting angry is human, it’s not a sign that you’re a bad parent.
However, when we display our anger by yelling, ranting, blaming this is not healthy for those around us, and ultimately not healthy for ourselves either.
So, there are a few steps that can us react differently to anger:
1. Understand your parenting anger and how you react to anger
Mothers with babies can sometimes feel anger when their child will not sleep, often the emotion behind this is a feeling of inadequacy “Why can’t I settle my baby?”, “I’m not a good mother”, there can also be feelings of isolation and loneliness.
I often say to clients that we didn’t evolve in a situation where we raised children alone.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed as a new or not so new mother than don’t be afraid to seek help, whether that’s from a mother’s group, a family member, friends or from a psychologist.
Self-care is important, but so it being able to ask for the help you need.
There are also certain vulnerability factors that can increase our likelihood of having reduced patience:
- Genetic factors, such as being more sensitive to over-stimulation or sensory overload – as my Mindfulness teacher once said to me “we all have different starting points based on our genetics and our background”
- A history of trauma, anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition
- Not having clear boundaries or strategies for parenting
- Stress, burnout, tiredness, hormonal changes
- Unmet needs – you may be feeling lonely or isolated or that your partner is not providing the support you would like
If you have some of these vulnerability factors self-care and asking for support can be even more important and trauma therapy can be particularly helpful if you have unresolved past trauma. EMDR can be particularly helpful in processing past trauma.
So how do we respond more constructively to anger?
2. Learn to notice the signs that your anger is increasing
Anger often starts in the amygdala, a section of the brain that detects threat.
My son gave a perfect example of how the amygdala is important to our survival just the other day when we were riding our bikes through a carpark. He was about to ride behind a car that was reversing but then just as I was about to say something he stopped suddenly, later he said, “I just stopped without even knowing why”, his amygdala had performed its function.
However, in our world where stress and threats come from many things other than sabre tooth tigers the amygdala can cause us to snap with anger at a perceived threat, when it would be better to stop and bring our prefrontal cortex online.
We need to tune into our bodies more to notice when we are becoming angry, many of us have become disconnected from our bodies, particularly if we have a trauma history.
Mindfulness is a great way to become more aware of what happens in our body when we are starting to become dysregulated.
Often people say that they “just snap”, with mindfulness practice you can become more aware of your thoughts, feelings and body sensations that are signs that you are starting to move along the anger scale and then you can take steps before rage overtakes.
Mindfulness is not an overnight fix, but it can have remarkable impacts on many aspects of your life.
I do a lot of mindfulness work with clients and have found there to be great improvements in their capacity to practice emotional regulation.
Certain thoughts can also make us more prone to anger. With practice we can learn to check and challenge our thoughts:
3. Prepare for difficult moments
We can’t learn new skills in the moment of anger or high stress; thus, we need to practice when we are calm.
I often teach my clients a mindful breathing activity and encourage them to do 10 minutes of mindful breathing every day.
With this “formal practice” of mindfulness, you’re much more likely to be able to use mindfulness in a highly stressful situation.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is also a great way to calm ourselves down when we are starting to feel stressed, it’s a great activity to keep us calm throughout the day.
Self-care is vital as a parent but can often be put to the side. Basic self-care involves eating well, getting some exercise, getting enough sleep (don’t be afraid to have a nap if you feel the need) and doing some things you enjoy to replenish your reserves.
We all have different ways we get “me time”, it might be catching up with friends, spending some time alone or treating yourself.
It’s also important to be able to ask for help.
When asking for help it’s good to be specific in asking for what you want, counsellors and psychologists can also be a good support and might be able to help with specific communication strategies to help you get the support you need.
4. What to do when anger hits
We all have patterns of how we react when we’re angry, changing these patterns can be hard, so give yourself credit for trying.
The best way to affect change is to practice, so practicing when not angry is generally the best place to start.
This is why I suggest that clients do a 10 minute mindful breathing exercise every day. This formal practice means that we’re much more likely to be able to use mindfulness in a highly stressed (or angry) situation.
We’re not trying to stop anger, but we are trying to change how we respond or react when angry.
When we practice mindfulness or make other changes, we are actually changing the neural pathways in our brain or rewiring our brain thus making it more likely we’ll respond in the way we would like in future.
Grounding can be a great tool to use when we feel overwhelmed with emotions. Some simple strategies include
- Notice 3 things you can see, hear, smell, focus on each of these things slowly and notice the detail
- Take some deep mindful breaths, focusing on the breath as it goes in or out.
- Anchor yourself in the moment “My name is xxx, I’m standing in the kitchen, I’m feeling hungry….”
- Splashing water on your face
I am currently developing a training package on anger management for parents, get in touch if you have interest in this package.