By Child and Youth Health
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Mum with angry face

Although parents usually look forward to parenting as something that will be mostly happy, there are times when all parents feel very angry with their children or even that they don’t like their children.

When you’re angry

It is important to think about when these times happen, so you can make sure that your children are safe. It is also important to try to work out and deal with whatever is causing your anger, for your own sake as well as for your children.

If you sometimes feel very angry and your child is in danger of being hurt, put your child somewhere safe and then take a break yourself until you can manage your feelings.

What causes anger?

There are times in all parents’ lives when they feel very angry. Parenting is rewarding but not always easy. Anger might also stem from circumstances outside the family home, like conditions at paid work. Most of the time parents manage to handle it OK, but sometimes the anger can be close to getting out of control.

Anger is always a mixture of feelings. It can come from being depressed or powerless, feeling guilty, feeling disappointed, feeling frustrated, not feeling valued and useful, or just from plain tiredness. If you can, think about which feelings are mixed up with your anger. It will help you to understand what is causing it. Then you need to try to do something about the cause.

If you find yourself feeling angry a lot of the time, it is usually because something is going wrong in your life, not because you are a bad parent or there is something wrong with you. You might need to get help to find out what the matter is and to change it.

What you can do when you are angry

  • Sometimes anger is caused by what you are saying to yourself. For example, if your child has a tantrum and you say to yourself, ‘Why should I take this – I’ve got to show this child who’s boss’, you will feel angry and perhaps punish the child. If you say to yourself, ‘I can see my child is so upset that he can’t manage his feelings at the moment’, you are more likely to be able to keep calm and to help your child learn to manage his feelings.
  • Get to know your own body’s signals for when anger is building up and act before it gets out of control. It’s better to act before you have a big explosion.
  • Work out when you are most likely to lose your temper, and plan to do something different at those times to stop this happening. For example, when you first get home from work, do something physical or something that relaxes you.
  • Think about what is most relaxing for you personally. This is different for different people. It might be having a cup of tea or a bath, reading a book, going for a walk, listening to music, or whatever helps you unwind.
  • Get some space. Go outside for a walk or a run. If you have very young children and no-one to mind them, take them with you.
  • Take a break. If possible get someone to mind the children for a while and take some time out for you.
  • Talk about your feelings to another adult who understands. Ring a friend.
  • Talk to the children. If they are old enough, tell them how you feel without blaming them (otherwise they are likely to blame themselves). For example, ‘I feel angry because I am tired’, not ‘You make me angry’.
  • Tell yourself that children never intend or set out to make their parents angry – it’s true!
  • If you need to, ring a parent hotline.
In a crisis, if you are about to hurt your child, make sure the child is safe and go into another room until your feelings have settled down. Make a cup of tea, listen to music – whatever helps you. Say to your child, even if she is a baby, ‘Mummy/Daddy has to go and calm down first. I’ll be back as soon as I can’.

What you can do to stop yourself from getting angry

  • Try not to let things build up so they get too much and you lose your temper.
  • Often parents get angry because they are tired and stressed. If this is happening to you, sit down and see if you can replan your day.
  • If you can, talk to someone (such as your partner or a close friend) about the feelings underneath the anger. This often helps in managing anger. Try to do something about whatever is causing the underlying feelings if you can.
  • If you have not learned ways to show you are angry without being hurtful to other people, it could help to talk to a professional or attend a course about communication and assertiveness (being able to get your point over without getting angry).
  • If the anger goes on in spite of everything you try, it is worth getting some help from a professional counsellor. You could speak with your doctor about how to find this help.
It can be very damaging to children to be in a home where there are lots of angry voices and actions, even if the anger is not directed at them.

If your partner is angry

  • When you are both feeling OK, try to work out a plan for what to do in an angry time. For example, you might decide that the person who is feeling uncomfortable with the other’s anger will leave (and perhaps take the children too) until the anger has calmed down. Then act on your plan.
  • Be prepared afterwards to talk to each other about what caused the anger and to really listen to each other’s point of view.
  • No-one is responsible for another person’s anger or for what they do when they are angry.
  • When one person does something, how other people react depends on how they take it – and that is different with different people. Some people might be angry and others sad, and it might not worry others at all.
  • Each of us is responsible for our own feelings and how we show them.
  • It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure they do not show their anger in ways that harm others.
  • No-one has to take abuse from anyone else. If this is happening, it’s important that you talk to someone about getting professional help.