© Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. 2001, 2002, 2003
Dealing With Your Anger
Sometimes I get so mad at my kids! Yes, they were misbehaving but I feel
bad about getting angry with them.
Children stir up powerful feelings, including anger, and you are not
alone in getting mad.
Nonetheless, adult anger is very scary for little children, and it can
start a parent down the slippery slope of emotional or even physical
abuse. Plus it's a kind of affliction upon the parent herself: it feels
terrible and makes us feel guilty.
So here's what you can do:
Accept your feelings - Anger is normal. Take the middle path between
the two pitfalls of suppressing anger or just dumping it on your kids by
allowing yourself to feel your anger but also contain it appropriately.
Lower your stress - Our own stress or depletion can easily spill over
onto the kids, so take steps to handle these factors. It's a fact that
our book - Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and
Intimate Relationships - is the best resource on the market for this,
and we highly recommend it!
- Understand yourself - By understanding your anger you can insert
self-control into processes that are currently unconscious and
automatic. Notice what especially triggers your anger; there's a good
chance there is something there rooted in your own childhood, or in your
relationship with your partner, or in your feelings about your overall
- Relax your body - It's nearly impossible to be seriously upset when
the body is relaxed. Take some big breaths, leave the situation for a
moment if you can, splash some soothing warm water on your face, imagine
standing in a fresh stream of water that washes the angry feelings away,
- Do NOT act inappropriately - Imagine a video camera is recording your
behavior and others will see it. Remember how you felt as a child if
your parents yelled at or hit you. Remember the precious being inside
your child, so vulnerable and sweet. Remember that young children cannot
control themselves very well, that it's not their fault they're
tantrumming or misbehaving, that they are too young to be manipulative.
Imagine yourself in an angry situation and visualize handling it calmly
--NEVER hit or scream at or insult a child in anger. Criticize the
behavior, not the person.
- Prevent angry encounters in the first place - There is a predictable
quality to many angry interactions. So explain early on to your kids
what is coming and what you want them to do. Be organized yourself.
Choose your battles wisely and don't struggle over little things. Pay
attention to food and rest (your own as well!). Separate siblings that
are guaranteed to squabble. Pouring loving energy into your children
(hard when you're already exhausted) can make them less stressful and
draining to manage in the future.
--Be credible in your parental power. Do not make threats you don't
fulfill. For example, if your kids know that you won't tolerate
ridiculous squabbling, they will be less likely to do it in the first place.
- Intervene early and decisively - Step in quickly in escalating
interactions. Often one sees relatively feeble efforts at parental
control building up to an explosive crescendo. If you do not exceed the
necessary threshold to get your children to act appropriately, your
intervention will make little difference. Study the situation a moment
before you react, and then be calm, clear, and sufficiently powerful.
- Have reality be the consequence, not you - Create reasonable,
age-appropriate rewards and penalties for child behavior. 90% of the
time that will do the trick - if not, consult with your pediatrician, a
therapist, or a parent educator. If you feel like you've got a system
that will regulate child misbehavior, you won't feel so frustrated and
helpless: fertile breeding ground for anger.
- Focus on love and kindness - It sounds like a cliché, but it's
actually profound: Love is largely a matter of the will: we can choose
to be loving. And that both puts us in a calmer, clearer, less irritable
place and tends to elicit more cooperation from our children. Win-win!
(Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an
acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son,
ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of
Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at
www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or comments at
email@example.com; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be