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Parenting without Anger

November 13, 2014 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

4 tips on how to keep your cool.

Nothing bothers parents more than losing it with their kids. How can we control our tempers and parent without anger?

Here are 4 techniques that can help.

1. It’s normal to get angry:

In her book, “Love and Anger, the Parental Dilemma”, Nancy Samalin explains that we often are amazed at the angry feelings that are stirred up when raising our children. The most even-tempered people get angry emotions that come boiling to the surface when they have kids.

Raising children is frustrating. Temper tantrums after you had a long day, refusing to listen, talking back, missing curfew, stealing money….

Frustration that is part and parcel of being a parent can quickly escalate to outright anger. Samalin believes that the problem might be exacerbated by our unrealistic expectations or beliefs about parenting. Many of us who grew up on “Happy Days” (Thank you Mrs. Cunnigham) might think, “Good parents just don't angry,” therefore I must be a bad parent, which makes us feel inadequate and even more angry.

We need to realize that our anger is probably a result of the frustrations and annoyances that come along with raising kids. It is normal and understandable. We are not bad people because we get angry at our kids. So stop getting angry at yourself for getting angry. That will get you one step closer to gaining control of your temper.

2. Lower your expectations:

We bring a lot of unrealistic expectations to parenting that contribute to feelings of inadequacy which, in turn, increases the odds of getting angry. Some examples of this distorted thinking are:

  • I should always feel happy when I parent
  • My kids should always look neat and clean
  • My kids should always behave
  • Dinner needs to consist of the major food groups and my kids need to eat all of it.

If you think that your children should always look neat and clean (you may not even be aware that you have this expectation) you will be fighting a lot of battles with your kids. There will be lots of anger. If you think that your kids should eat everything on their plate, dinnertime will be far from peaceful.

Ask yourself: Are any of my expectations of parenting too high and unattainable? Getting a better more realistic picture of what makes a good parent will go along way in helping you keep calm.

3. You are being hijacked:

It’s best not to say anything when you’re angry. In the heat of the moment you’ve lost your ability to think straight. Experts call this response the Amygdala Hijack. The amygdala is a part of your brain that protects you when it senses you are under attack or you are threatened. It moves you into “flight or fight, or play dead” mode by sending hormones to shut off the part of your brain that takes care of rational, logical thinking, the prefrontal cortex. We use the prefrontal cortex to make judgments, consider the consequences of our actions and decisions and build relationships. So when you’re angry, it feels like you can’t think straight because your brain actually won’t let you.

That’s why we should count to 10, breathe deeply or go into another room. Wait it out. This helps you move out of the “flight or fight” mode and helps the hormones to move back into your pre-frontal cortex. It is only then that you are truly better able to handle your anger.

4. Express your anger in a controlled manner:

According to Haim Ginott, author of “Between Parent and Child”, parents should talk about their feelings when they are getting mad.

When we are overwhelmed with irritation and resentment we should not let it fester. If we keep our anger inside and we have no way of letting off steam, we blow up, lose our cool and with it, our dignity and authority. But he had one caveat: parents could express their anger, but they could not insult, accuse or blame their child in the process.

He suggested using “I” statements. For example, when your child balks when asked to clean his room you can try saying: “I am getting frustrated and upset. When I ask you to clean your room, I expect you to clean your room.”

When a child is running around, instead of saying, “You are so wild today. You are impossible!” you can say: “I am tired and I am getting angry. It is bedtime now and its time for you to get into bed!”

When a child comes in late, past curfew: “I was worried and now I am angry. I expect you to call when you are going to be late.”

An added bonus: when we practice these techniques we are modeling appropriate responses and thereby teaching our children ways to manage their own anger.


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