“Why am I constantly yelling at the kids?”
“Is it okay for me to be this angry?”
“What can I do about all these negative emotions?”
If you’re a parent of young children, you may have asked yourself these questions at some point of your parenthood career.
While we often turn to parenting books or blogs to help us get a grip on our angry outbursts, theory is often hard to translate into practice. For me, it takes some self-reflection to first identify the common triggers (or anger buttons), and then making a deliberate effort to practice calming strategies on myself.
Why is it so difficult to control our emotions?
Theresa Pong, Principal Counsellor at Focus on the Family Singapore, explains, “Emotions play an important part in our lives. They help us to survive and avoid danger. More importantly, they help us to allow others to understand us and for us to understand others. Thus, it is normal for us to experience a range of emotions including anger.”
She identified four broad areas that can cause anger to arise:
- Personal issues – such as having conflicts with other family members or issues at work
- Issues caused by others – such as when a family member accidentally breaks a glass at home or your boss tasks you to complete a task within short notice
- External events – such as when an electrical appliance or family car breaks down
- Unhappy memories – such as being pickpocketed during an overseas family trip
Questions to check if our anger is well managed
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you are managing your angry or upset feelings well:
- Is your anger or negative feelings affecting your relationship with others?
- Do you often entertain extreme negative thoughts, for example, “My kids are ALWAYS making trouble” or “My spouse is NEVER there for me”?
- Are you constantly shouting, yelling or being hostile to your spouse/children?
- Do you get physical often when you are experiencing anger?
- Do you frequently act impulsively in anger, such as using harsh words on your family members, throwing things in anger, or using dangerous objects to threaten them?
As parents who have to juggle multiple roles such as caring for the kids, caring for elderly parents and work, we may find it difficult to get sufficient rest.
Being in a constant state of unhappiness and tiredness may leave us ill-prepared to deal with the multiple stressors of the day.
As such, we may find ourselves frequently in a fight-or-flight mode: At the slightest provocation, we will tend to react negatively.
The 5 steps to anger management
Fortunately for us, there are ways that can help. Theresa shared this 5-step solution to managing our anger well:
1. Be mindful of self
It is important for parents to notice how they feel when angry. For example, if you know you are about to lose your temper, your breathing gets shallow and quick, and there is tension in a particular part of your body, tell yourself these are signs you are in the “zone”.
The “zone” is when you are close to reaching your boiling point, and when you are more prone to over-react or lash out at others in such a way that you may hurt those around you.
2. Do not reject the feelings
Once you are aware that you are in the zone, do not reject the feelings. Some people perceive that it is wrong to feel sad or angry as it means they are weak. Tell yourself that it is normal to feel this way as all are us are made or wired to experience emotions.
3. Take a break
When you are in the zone or close to it, it is good to take a break. It may be just 5 minutes for you to retreat to a quiet space in your home or take a short walk around your housing estate, but this will help you to regulate your emotions and be more in control.
4. Attend to your thoughts and feelings
When you are ready, ask yourself these questions:
- What emotions am I experiencing?
- When was the last time I felt this way?
- Where did these emotions come from?
- Are there any voices in my mind that is making me even angrier (or intensify other emotions)?
- What do I really want?
5. Act calmly
After going through the first 4 steps, you are likely to be able to deal with the situation in a calm manner.
For example, if your kids messed up the room after you have spent hours cleaning up, you can tell them firmly that you feel upset about their actions. Then administer a natural consequence such as having them clean up the room.
We can use angry moments as teaching moments for ourselves and our children.
Sometimes, our angry emotions are a cue for us to relook at the situation and see if there are areas we can improve. For example, maybe our kids are acting up more frequently because they’re feeling uncomfortable with certain changes or are feeling distant from us.
While practising the 5 steps shared above, do be patient with yourself and others as it may take time to see the results. However, acknowledge the effort you are making each day and celebrate the small successes. With each step you make, know that you are sowing the seeds of love and kindness in your family!
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
- Which step will I intentionally work on this week to improve my emotional skills?
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