No, Angry Parents isn't the latest game application for your smartphone, it's one of the biggest challenges we face when raising children! When we find ourselves as angry parents, it shifts the entire connection dynamic with our kids, and within ourselves. It isn't a place we want to be, as totally understandable as it is. There are tools that can help us develop more mastery over our own anger, and create more ease and confidence in our parenting.
It is helpful to keep in mind that most of the time, anger is simply a disguise for another feeling. A somewhat overly simplified slogan is nevertheless instructive: mad is really sad. I would add that mad is very often hurt, or some variation.
The following are two excellent awareness resources for addressing your patterns of responding when angry, stressed, sad, fearful, etc., that can help pave your way for much more peaceful, joy-filled parenting:
- Marshall Rosenberg’s model of Nonviolent Communication (NVC)is a wonderful tool for developing awareness of what motivates us both toward violence (physical, verbal or emotional) and toward compassionate connection. NVC is particularly helpful in working with anger, proposing that anger can be transformed into more life-affirming connection when we keep our focus on what our feelings are -- based on needs that either are or are not being met in any given moment -- rather than turning our focus toward analyzing and judging “what he did” that “made me furious.”Here is a wonderful exercise from Rosenberg to help us become more aware of the specifics of our anger buttons, which are always simply some needs of ours that are not being met:
1) List the judgments that frequently pop into your head by using the cue “I don’t like people who are…”
2) Looking at what you’ve listed, ask yourself, “When I make that judgment of a person, what might I be needing at that moment? What unmet need might I be having that’s getting expressed through that judgment?”
3) List those needs alongside the judgments, and then next to that, the feelings you may have when those needs are not met. (I suggest using the NVC needs and feelings lists for inspiration.)
In this way you train yourself to frame and express your thinking in terms of unmet needs and the feelings they trigger. This tends to open hearts and minds more than judgments, which shut down openhearted connectedness. This takes practice, which is why I suggest parents begin practicing it when they're pregnant, or even before!
- Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell decodes the latest science of brain-and-relationship in a way that clearly outlines why we are so prone to responding to our children in ways that are automatic and negative, rather than ways that align with our intentional vision of parenting for peace. And it offers guidelines and exercises for disentangling ourselves from the auto-pilot mode where -- despite our best intentions -- we snap, shame, blame, dismiss, and even hit. That, together with its many illustrative stories and examples, makes this book a key resource for the Angry Parent (meaning, all of us).
Children of Angry Parents Become "Difficult"
One of the most frequent problems I see in my coaching practice is that parents don’t feel enough inner confidence to hold the authority their child needs them to. There are many reasons for this lack of confidence, but the biggest source is usually our own childhood histories.
One mom I worked with grew up in an abusive family, so she never developed that sense of, “I deserve to be listened to, to be respected.” And, she was carrying a lot of repressed rage. So even though my client did all the “right things” that loving mothers do outwardly, inwardly she could never trust herself not to just blow up in anger like a volcano. And her daughter of course picked up on this.
This kind of disconnect between our inner and outer expression is very distressing for a child; it makes them insecure. And an insecure child feels that she has to control things, because there's no real leader on this bus! So this mom's 5-year-old had become very bossy and controlling. In other words, "difficult." Sometimes referred to as "a handful."
Cultivate Calm, Loving Authority
This is why parenting resembles dog training in some ways. If you get Cesar Milan, you’ll have 90% of the territory covered! It’s that pack-leader thing, like with dogs, and with horses: they need to know you’re in control, that you totally know what you’re doing and that you’re confident.
We lose the admiration of our children when we “lose it.” It’s a mammalian thing: all animal behaviorists know that our ability to have authority over a creature is severely eroded if the animal sees or feels us get angry. Credible leaders don’t lose their composure, it’s as simple as that. Of course, children aren’t dogs, but we can learn so much from understanding the mammalian similarities!
When it’s necessary to reprimand your child, strive to not do it with a raised voice or the look of disgust or cruelty in your eyes. Aside from the corrosive effects of shaming, the child will lose trust in you over time, and will look toward others as models. “He doesn’t respect me” will be your (accurate) complaint later, especially at an age when he most needs to be able to learn from his parents, such as during his teen years.
So begin long before then to cultivate this important Angry Parents antidote. Calm, loving authority -- that’s the mantra.
I'm the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and also the adoption expert on Mothering's expert panel. I write and speak around the world on prenatal, child and parent development, and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my new book I'm delighted to be speaking at many wonderful conferences all over the world in the coming months, and I'm happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on Mothering.com! As a special gift to Mothering readers I'm offering "A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool."