Everyone gets angry – it’s a normal emotion, and no parent can remain calm all the time.
Mild anger may be brought on by feeling tired, stressed or irritated, and if our needs for things like food and sleep aren’t met. It’s no wonder exhausted parents lose the plot sometimes.
Feeling angry isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as a parent, it’s how you express anger that matters. Children learn from you how to deal with their own anger.
It’s never okay for someone to hurt or be violent towards someone else because they’re angry.
If you’re violent towards your child, or you’re worried you might hurt them or someone else, seek help immediately. Call the Family Violence Information line on 0800 456 450 to find organisations in your area that can help.
Why parents get angry
Here are just a couple of things that can make you feel angry when you’re a parent:
- there are lots of demands on you – work, family, activities, and household chores to name just a few. Sometimes getting through the week involves timing with military precision – and children just don’t cooperate. It’s easy to lose patience and feel angry when something that should take 10 minutes ends up taking an hour.
- it can be infuriating when your child won’t do what you ask them to do, or is rude to you or others.
- you might disagree with your partner or a relative about parenting, discipline, or who does what when it comes to household jobs.
- you may feel pushed to the limit when you’re exhausted, sick, feeling stressed at work, having money problems, or haven’t had any time to yourself – add in the needs and demands of a young child, and anger may be triggered.
When anger is a problem
It happens – everyone gets angry with their children at some stage. In the heat of the moment it might feel good to yell, but parents often feel bad after they’ve lost their temper with their children.
Children don’t like it when you get angry either. Imagine someone three times bigger than you yelling at you, and imagine that person is the one you rely on for everything – all your physical and emotional needs, including love, your sense of self, and your self-confidence too. It wouldn’t feel good.
If your young child doesn’t seem bothered by your anger, that’s not a good sign. It means they’ve seen too much of it and have developed defences against it – and against you – and they may be less likely to try to please you. That means you have some work to do to repair your relationship.
Anger alone is scary enough for children. When that anger escalates to name-calling or other verbal abuse it takes a higher personal toll. It can undermine your child’s developing self-esteem, and it can damage their ability to form relationships and trust in the future.
When anger turns to physical abuse, the effects on children are long-lasting. When a parent – the one a child depends on for protection and security – becomes a danger to that child, some of the effects may be the child:
- doesn’t feel good about themselves or see themselves as unworthy
- struggles with developing and maintaining friendships
- doesn’t trust authority figures
- blames themselves for the abuse
- becomes aggressive themselves or has other behavioural problems.
It’s important to get help if you the parent:
- have ever been violent when you are angry
- think you might get violent when you’re angry
- feel like hurting people in other ways when you get angry
- become verbally abusive or make threats
- can’t express your anger and feel it’s all bottled up inside you.
Talking with a trained professional like a counsellor or psychotherapist is a good way to get help with anger management. They can help you address any underlying causes for your anger, teach you how to de-escalate your anger, and develop new skills for managing it. Your GP may be able to recommend someone, or you can find a counsellor yourself.
If you grew up in a household where anger was an issue, you may find it harder to control your anger and might overreact in some situations, especially if you experienced abuse or neglect as a child.
Signs of anger
You can feel when you’re starting to get angry – your body gives you signs. Those signs include:
- agitation – feeling annoyed, tense or grumpy
- muscles tense or clenching – shoulders, jaw and hands, for example
- heart racing
- churning stomach
- faster breathing
You might also notice yourself having negative thoughts. Say you’ve had a long day at work, and you’re going to have to work tonight to get on top of everything that needs to be done. You pick your child up from daycare and they’re cranky, and start to grizzle and cry when you put them in the car. You get home and ask them to go and wash their hands, and they sit on the ground and have a tantrum. This makes you feel frustrated and angry. You might be thinking ‘If you’d just cooperate I wouldn’t be so angry!’ ‘You’re so naughty – why can’t you just do what I ask for once!’
If you can recognise these signs of anger, you need to stop and do something to calm down, or you’re likely to lose your temper and explode with anger.
Telling your children how you’re feeling and what you’re doing about it can show them how they can manage their own anger - for example, ‘I’m starting to feel angry. I need to go outside for a minute to calm down’.
Managing your anger
Here are some things you can do to stop your anger from escalating:
- recognise the early signs of anger. You could even let your child know that you’re feeling grumpy or angry and you need some time to calm down before you can talk to them
- Try to calm yourself down. You could:
- try to slow your breathing, taking long deep breaths and letting them out with a big sigh
- stop, and count to 10 slowly. If you’re not feeling calmer when you get to 10, start again.
- make sure your child is somewhere safe and remove yourself from the situation:
- take a warm shower
- go outside for some fresh air
- go somewhere quiet; that could even be the bathroom
- if someone else can watch your child, do something physical – go for a run or a walk, dig in the garden, clean something, hammer something – whatever works.
- do something that soothes you, like looking out the window, listening to some music, or reading a magazine.
As you calm down you’ll feel your heart rate slow and your muscles relax.
- Once you’re calm again, look back on what just happened and think about why you got so upset, whether you need to do something about it, and how you want to sort it out if it needs sorting. This can help you learn from it, and to handle that kind of situation better in the future.
- Talk to your children about why you felt angry, and apologise for losing your temper, for yelling, or for saying something hurtful. It’s better to say this than to apologise for being angry, which can send the message that anger isn’t okay. Let them know that you could have handled things better – for example, ‘I should have walked away and calmed down, shouldn’t I.’