A Guest Post with Lori Petro of Teach Through Love
Why does my child get so angry?
Why won’t they listen?
How do I control my anger?
How do I get my kids to control their anger?
Sound familiar? If you have a short fuse, you know what it is like to go from being completely calm and rational to unwinding like a crazy person in the blink of an eye.
I have a lot of personal experience with having a short fuse. I am also extremely sensitive to violence, harsh tones, and other people’s anger. I’m the one they called “too sensitive” and yet, as an adult, I was totally desensitized to the effects of my own unmanaged anger and critical language.
I had to grow my fuse.
It’s much longer than it ever was and I feel like I expand and deepen my access to “calm” rather than “crazy” more every day.
But, it didn’t start out that way.
The coping tools that I learned early on were rooted in fear and control. I eventually learned that these tools didn't work to get me what I needed. Instead, they seemed to create more conflict.
They also never made me feel very good.
Exposing children to unmanaged adult anger has a very real and lasting effect.
I don’t bring this up as some holier than thou parent, but as a kid who was profoundly affected by the patterns of anger and unconscious communication around me.
Despite the material comforts I enjoyed, I longed for more connection and calm. To the adults in my life, I couldn’t make that known without appearing selfish and ungrateful. Today, I’m the Mom of a child who is also ultra-sensitive, but she's also super compassionate. I think they go together.
When I see the constant and unrelenting judgment of children and parents, it’s not hard to see how we ended up stuck in patterns of negativity. The pressure to be the fastest, best, and number one at all costs takes its toll on our most precious relationships. How many of us are living in states of chronic unmanaged stress?
Yet, the changes we long to see in our kids will come when they see a change in us.
Here are 5 tips to help you and your kids manage your anger and take control of your emotions.
- Breathe. Most of us don't breathe. Consciously take the time to inhale and exhale for 10-20 seconds before you speak and before jumping to conclusions or trying to force a resolution to conflict.
Breathing isn't a time-waster. It is a tool for changing our physiology and for linking up our brain information highways so we can respond to our circumstances instead of reacting. It's also the first step to modeling self-regulation for our children.
After you breathe…
- Reflect. Our triggers are wonderful clues to our unmet needs and unheard feelings. Ask yourself these questions:What happened?
Am I safe?
What feelings were triggered in me?
What do I need?
How can I help myself in this moment, what can I change?
Reflecting on your inner-dialogue disengages your alarm system and allows you to access self-compassion. You can’t feel compassion for another person if you are chronically cruel or critical of yourself.
- You want to know what calms you down. What is your primary sense mode? Touch, Sound, Visual. Think about it… what soothes you best? What about your kids? What do they respond to?Soft toys
Exercise/walk in nature
Being physically involved with your senses (moving your body, listening to music, going for a run, building something, being creative, meditating) is the path to inner peace. When you model self-regulation with sensory tools, you show your kids that they have the power to change their emotional state and can manage their strong emotions.
Offer young children things they can squeeze, hug, pinch, pull, things to build, headphones/ear-plugs and other sensory tools to help them process their explosive feelings.
Designate a place in your home where your kids can go to get some quiet space and fill it with those sensory tools that help them calm their bodies.
- Connect through play. When we are angry we may feel anxious, misunderstood, unheard, or disconnected. Play is a great way to serve those driving needs by giving attention to two important life skills – play and connection.Puppets/Books
The ability to play and connect with others is healing. Young children can’t always access the language to express their pain or tell us when they are feeling overwhelmed, but you can help them develop their tolerance and emotional literacy by connecting through story-telling, dramatic play, role-play, or art.
- Don't force lessons in the heat of the moment or when your child is disregulated. Be patient as your child processes his feelings in his own time. Lead your child to reflect on his anger when you're both removed from the intensity of the conflict, and when you are both calm and connected.
You don't have to change your limits. The challenge is in your ability to remain calm while your children express their frustration.
What you can say instead of: “If you don’t, then I will…”
“You must be feeling really angry with me.”
“Let’s take some time to collect our thoughts and then we'll come back and talk about this?”
“I’d like to hear you. When we yell at each other, it doesn’t work for me.”
“ I would rather talk when we've had a few minutes to calm down.”
“We both got pretty upset earlier. I'm sensing that you think my limit was unfair.”
“I'm wondering what that felt like for you?
“Before you yelled, did you notice any sensations in your body?”
When kids are young, it's all about patience and consistency – not compliance. You don’t need to remove your attention or be unkind to teach lessons. When you choose self-awareness by following these five tips, you can resist the knee-jerk reaction to give in or defend your limits, and instead, use conscious communication to help your child change.
Lori Petro is a Mom, Speaker, Child Advocate, and Parent Educator. She founded TEACH through Love as a vehicle to strengthen families by offering new tools for communicating with children. She’s dedicated to helping parents become the calm, confident leaders they want to be through conscious parenting inspiration, education, and support.