This week a parent asked me: ‘How can we minimise or manage the anger? It’s out of control and it’s starting to upset other people.’ This tell me two things:-
- The parent needs help managing their anger
- The parent is uncomfortable around anger
Let me shed a little light on the false beliefs I grew up with around anger
You may even recognise them yourself. They were classified as ‘parenting’ for some of us and you know, I don’t want to blame my parents, but I do want to use my experience to demonstrate to you how growing up this way, can affect the way you deal with your feelings and the way you see yourself.
Do as I say, not as I do. Implying that it was OK for my parent to scream and shout at me when they had to (besides that was my fault. I must have made them do it). However, I had to be well behaved and do as I was told at all times. Sometimes children are not able to behave in ways that please us. Like us, they have off days too.
Nobody wants to see that. Implying that anger is ugly and unacceptable and shameful. Anger is an emotion like any other and we need to feel all of our emotions in order to be able to do what is right for us. We cannot selectively numb out our feelings. If we numb out anger, we also numb out joy and happiness. We are not connected to ourselves. I disconnected to mine and learnt how to numb them out with food.
You’re showing me up! Implying that me and my feelings are responsible for the way that my parent feels. From that, I internalised that not only was I a huge embarrassment to my parent (cue shame), I was also incredibly powerful. What I mean is that I had the ability to make somebody else feel something. Of course I didn’t and I was far too little to be given that power and feel safe with it. I was just being a child but the way my parent chose to respond to that, was totally their choice. Now there may well be times when a parent cannot stay in control but this is most likely to happen when a parent isn’t aware of their triggers or is not able to regulate their emotions.
Calm yourself down, or I’ll give you something to cry for. Implying that if I don’t get a handle on my anger, I will be hurt or punished. Wow! I can’t move beyond this one sometimes because nobody taught me how to deal with my anger. I didn’t know that breathing could calm me down. I didn’t understand what was happening to my body as I got angry. I shoved anger away and then it would come out sideways. Otherwise the consequences were too scary to contemplate.
Did you grow up thinking anger is bad?
If you heard these sayings around anger, you will have grown up thinking anger is bad. If you think anger is bad, you will be very uncomfortable around it. I want to reiterate that I’m not making anybody wrong, I am just trying to help you to understand where your anger comes from. So that you can help your child with theirs.
- You may avoid conflict
- You may find it hard to set boundaries for fear of the other person’s anger
- You may eat on your anger or hold it inside and make yourself poorly
- You may numb out your anger with alcohol or smoke cigarettes
- You may be disproportionately angry to the slightest thing – think road rage. Redirecting your anger where it is safe for you to do so and not appropriately at all
- You may be uncomfortable expressing your anger and cry or walk away
5 Things a Child Needs You Do When They Are Angry
Different children have different needs and that is dependent on so many things – their temperament, their birth order, their mood etc. Have a read of my blog post which shows how 2 different styles of parenting affects 2 angry child.
1 – Show Them Empathy
I was in Waitrose this week and I saw a little boy hit his head on the checkout counter. His Mum had already asked him to stand still. For whatever reason, he was unable to. Maybe he was bored by the food shop (can’t say it’s my favourite thing) or maybe he had some unexpressed feelings inside of him that made it hard for him to stand still. As he cried, there was no empathy. His Mum said to him ‘See I told you not to do that!’ Then she bent down to show him the ice lollies she had bought him and instantly he stopped crying. He pushed his feelings back down and nothing more was said.
When we meet our children where they are with their anger and we show them we are on the same team, the anger is set free and they feel safe enough to let it out. Try saying: ‘I know’ even if you can’t feel the empathy whilst making eye contact and being silent is a good place to start. I love this post ‘When empathy doesn’t work’ and I’d like you to read it if you weren’t shown empathy growing up.You cannot give away what you don’t have. Having empathy starts with self compassion. Be kind to yourself.
2 – Have Compassion
When we look beyond the behaviour, we can have compassion for the child who is asking for help. When we help our child express their anger safely, they can move through to crying and they usually want us to comfort them. If you can’t cope with crying either, we’ll have to talk about that another day. I wonder who was there for you when you were sad?We miss out on teaching them this valuable lesson in emotional processing if we send them away to deal with it on their own (think naughty step, time out, ‘go to your room!’). When I was a child I was sent to my room with my anger. Nowadays we know that it isn’t helpful to send a child away with their anger or to punish them for having feelings. We know that this suppresses their anger or teaches them that their feelings are unacceptable to us. If a child’s underlying need is for your love and approval, then this will cut them to the core.
3 – Validate their Feelings
Validating feelings is not the same as agreeing with your child’s behaviour. Immature brains cannot always process feelings in a way that is appropriate and acceptable. So if your child has done something wrong and they are now angry with you because you have set a boundary (we’ll talk about those in a moment), they may voice their displeasure. You could validate their feelings by saying something like: ‘It’s very hard for you to hear the word no. I can see how angry that makes you. I’m still going to say no but you can come here and tell me how that makes you feel.’ Go for the feelings not the story or the behaviour. At this point, when your child is angry, they do not care if they are right or wrong. They want to know that you get it and you are going to help them with all this horrible anger they are feeling inside. In fact, if you keep telling them what they have done wrong, they will just be more sad. See feelings as an energy that is there to give a message. In this instance: I don’t like the word no. Help the energy on its way and watch it change to tears as the disappointment of not being able to have something appears.
4 – Set Boundaries
You can set boundaries with empathy. This script written for when a child finds it hard to leave the playground demonstrates how this works beautifully. 5 Smiley Steps to Setting Boundaries also helps gets the feelings out. When children feel better, they do better. They don’t need punishment to learn life’s lessons and besides it doesn’t work. It only makes them more angry. You can watch this video to learn more about that.
5 – Stay Calm
This can be a tricky one if your cup is empty. This is why self care for Mums is vital and part of your job description. I think this is also very difficult if you are triggered by your child. You will know you have been triggered because you will react instead of respond. You may feel small or unheard and powerless. In this moment, you really have to use your breathing to connect back to yourself. Be in your body and breathe. The most common trigger I see in parents is when they feel ignored or that their child isn’t listening to them. These triggers are buttons installed a long time ago – they are not created by your child.
To be on the end of explosive anger of rage for a child is terrifying
Children need to trust you. They look to you for safety and security. A raging and explosively angry parent does not feel safe and secure. If you grew up with a parent who had mental health issues or who had an addiction, it’s likely your parent was unpredictable. If you have issues with anger, I would urge you to seek professional help and I would also send you love and hugs. I know how it feels to be that angry. You are in good company. You can break the cycle. You can make it different so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
The child will continue to be angry unless the parent looks at their triggers around anger
A lot of parents don’t realise this and bring angry children to coaching thinking that somehow I am going to wave a magic wand over their child and calm them down. I can give them tools and I can help them regulate their emotions but if I am sending them home to a parent who is stressed or angry or unable to support them, it’s pretty futile.
If you want to talk to me about anything you have read here that resonates with you, please reach out and get in touch.