Woman with steam coming out her ears

How to be angry at your kids

It’s normal for parents to lose it, says clinical psychologist, Renee Mill.

Pretty much all of us aspire to be ‘good parents’. We put a great deal of pressure on ourselves to be perfect that can lead to frustration, distress, and anger – and that can make it all the harder for parents to admit to the anger they sometimes feel.

How many of us are caught off-guard by the fact that our precious children could make us angry? Until you’ve experienced it, who would have thought that a baby crying relentlessly would drive you to the distress that it did? Or that saying no to a two-year-old would set off a tantrum that for a horrible split-second makes you want to throttle them? The struggle is real!

It is normal for parents to feel frustrated, irritated, angry, enraged, annoyed, hostile, infuriated, beside themselves. All parents – even educated, rational and/or mature mums and dads – can lose it at times.

Since no one wants to get angry at their kids, the shame parents feel over this extreme emotion can lead to silence. It can prevent them from getting the support they need from other parents (who have probably experienced – or totally understand – what they’re going through). This is a big issue as getting support is key to helping us calm down, feel validated and ready to face the next day.

So how do we handle anger?

Step 1: Acknowledge It

The first step is to acknowledge anger and share your frustrations with supportive friends. The aim is to prevent the feeling from escalating into hostile words or actions, and to find ways to cope with parenting that keeps anger to a minimum.

Step 2: Alter your thought process

Parenting is relentless and the hard work goes on for years until your children become a lot older (and then it can go too fast!). It is worth finding ways to enjoy your kids and to see things that can seem like major frustrations as the temporary inconveniences they often are.

Take a minute to work out what’s getting to you, beyond the first level such as a child not behaving or a baby not sleeping. The second level source of our anger is not as obvious. Anger usually comes from an underlying idea – we get angry for all sorts of reasons.

It could come from the past – for instance, maybe you grew up in a home where parents expressing anger was common. Sometimes we’re angry because we are taking other, bigger issues out on our children. We might have a shorter fuse with the kids when really, we’re frustrated with our partner or our boss, or we have money worries. Sometimes it might be because we’re tired or hungry – so many mothers don’t take time out to eat properly or can’t find the opportunity to exercise, so our physical self-neglect takes its toll. Sometimes, it’s none of these things and it’s just the difficulties of adjusting to the unexpectedly high, hard demands of parenting. For some parents, expressing anger is due to feeling helpless and because they simply don’t know what else to do – maybe yelling will get the child’s attention and cooperation.

Next time you become angry, stop yourself.

Take yourself out of the environment if need be. Slow your mind and focus on your breathing. Ask yourself what is the real cause of this anger.

Self-talk is the key.

Ask yourself if you need to find a strategy to facilitate change or whether you should just let it go. By identifying the underlying causes of anger, you are in a better position to lower your stress (and distress) levels and to more effectively work on developmental or behavioural issues with your child.

Step 3: Take the time now

A big cause of anger is feeling helpless. Once you empower yourself with knowledge and tools to calm your previously overwhelming feelings, you can begin to focus your attention on up-skilling or working through issues with your offspring and to gain more cooperation again.

For example, if you can’t get your four-year-old to sit at the table at dinner time, work on ways to entice him to stay. Make it a playful time where you make faces out of the food or sing songs. Sit with him, make a star chart and every time he sits there for 10 minutes, he gets a star or a reward (not food or money).

If you are feeling rundown, consider getting enough food, sleep or exercise as a priority.

Take heart. Even if anger becomes chronic, there is a lot you can do to turn that anger around – if talking to friends doesn’t help, seek the advice of a parenting professional.

Renee Mill is a Sydney clinical psychologist, mother, and author, reneemill.com. She consults via Skype around Australia. Her latest book, Parenting Without Anger (Impact Press, $32.99) includes non-coercive parenting strategies.

Guest Contributor