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Anger and parents: what you need to know
Anger is a normal human emotion, and it's normal to feel angry when you're a parent. All parents feel angry at some stage.
Anger can be a good thing too. Sometimes it can give you the energy to get something done or to stand up for what you believe in. Feeling angry and managing your anger in positive and healthy ways can also give you the chance to set a good example for your children. For example, when you take a few deep breaths or walk away rather than exploding, you show your children how to behave.
But anger can be negative, especially if it happens a lot or it gets out of control. Losing your temper when you're angry can make problems worse and lead to conflict with others. When you don't give yourself time to calm down, you might say or do unhelpful things that can't be taken back.
Being around a lot of conflict and yelling is frightening for children.
Why parents feel angry sometimes
As a parent, you're probably balancing many different demands including work, family time, household chores, children's activities and social activities. When you're busy and tired, it's easy to lose patience and feel angry when children don't cooperate or things don't go to plan.
Sometimes you might feel angry or frustrated with your partner, if you have one, when you don't agree about parenting, discipline and who does what household chores. These sorts of disagreements can even lead to conflict, especially if you're feeling undermined or unsupported.
Sometimes your child's anger or frustration can make you feel angry. For example, if your child is angry and speaks rudely to you or won't do as you ask, you might feel yourself getting angry too. You might find yourself attacking back in the moment and regretting it later.
And there are other factors that can make you more likely to feel angry - like illness, stress at work, financial difficulties, lack of sleep and not enough time for yourself. You might sometimes feel you're being pushed to the limit.
For some people, parenting can also raise unresolved anger or other difficult emotions from their own childhood. If you experienced trauma, abuse or neglect as a child, you might be more likely to overreact in some situations or have trouble controlling yourself when you're angry.
Recognising signs of anger
It might feel as though you just explode with anger without warning, but your body actually gives you early signs of anger. When you can recognise these signs, you can also take steps to stop your anger getting out of control.
Early signs of anger include:
- faster heart
- churning stomach
- agitation - that is, feeling tense or cranky
- faster breathing
- tensing shoulders
- clenching jaw and hands
Negative thinking is very common when you're angry, but it can make your anger worse.
For example, you might have had a hard day at work and feel stressed. When you pick your children up from school, they start arguing in the back seat, which makes you feel frustrated as well as stressed. Once you get home, they refuse to take out their lunch boxes and put their bags away so you feel angry as well as frustrated.
Here are some negative thoughts that you might have in this situation:
- 'No-one ever helps me - I have to do everything myself.'
- 'You children are so naughty.'
- 'If you behaved better, I wouldn't feel so angry.'
- 'Why do you want to upset me?'
If you notice thoughts like these, it's a sign that you need to stop and do something to calm down before you lose your temper and explode with anger.
Simple anger management ideas
Step 1: identify your anger
The first step to managing your anger is to notice the early signs. It's really important to know and say that you're angry, even if it's just to yourself. For example, 'This is making me angry' or 'I can feel myself getting angry here'.
Step 2: try to calm down
Once you notice the early signs of anger, you can do a few things to start calming down. Here are some ideas:
- Take a big breath and sigh. Try to slow your breathing.
- Do something that soothes you, like listening to some music, flicking through a magazine or just looking out the window.
- Go outside for a run or walk.
- Take a warm shower.
- Go somewhere quiet for a few minutes.
Signs that you're calming down include your heart rate slowing down and your muscles relaxing.
Step 3: reflect on the situation
If you feel you've calmed down, it might be a good idea to reflect back on the situation, and think about what has just happened. This can help you learn from the experience, and handle similar situations better in the future. Ask yourself:
- 'How important is this? Why was I so upset about it?'
- 'How do I want to sort out this situation?'
- 'Do I need to do something about this, or can I just let it go?'
Setting a good example for your children
Saying sorry for getting angry sends the message that anger isn't OK. But it is OK to feel angry - it's just not OK to yell.
So it's better to say sorry for yelling or losing your temper. This shows your children that it's OK to feel angry sometimes. The important thing is to find healthy ways of handling anger.
What to do when you don't manage anger well
There'll always be times when you don't manage anger well and you yell or say things you regret. This is normal.
When this happens, it's a good idea to take a moment to work out what to say to your children or your partner. Here are some ideas:
- 'I'm sorry for losing my temper. Next time I'll take myself away to calm down earlier.'
- 'I'm sorry I yelled. Can we talk about what just happened?'
- 'I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that, even though I was angry. I should have walked away and calmed down before we talked about it.'