Anger and parents: what you need to know
Anger is a natural emotion.
Sometimes anger can be a good thing. For example, anger might give you energy to get something done or to stand up for what you believe in.
Feeling angry and managing anger in healthy ways can also give you the chance to set a good example for your child. For example, when you take a few deep breaths or walk away rather than exploding, you show your child how to behave.
But if you feel angry and don’t give yourself time to calm down, you might say or do unhelpful or hurtful things. This can make problems worse and lead to conflict with others.
Also, being around a lot of conflict and yelling isn’t good for children. They need to feel safe and secure to grow and develop well.
Why parents feel angry sometimes
Raising children is a big and important job. It often involves balancing many different demands including work, family time, household chores, children’s activities and social activities. When you’re in this situation, it’s easy to lose patience and feel angry when things don’t go to plan.
Sometimes you might feel angry or frustrated with your partner, if you have one, when you don’t agree on decisions about raising children, discipline and household chores. These sorts of disagreements can lead to conflict, especially if you’re feeling undermined or unsupported.
Sometimes you might feel angry about your child’s behaviour too. For example, if your child speaks rudely to you or doesn’t cooperate, you might feel yourself getting angry.
And there are other factors that can make you more likely to feel angry – like illness, stress at work, financial difficulties, lack of sleep and lack of time for yourself.
It might help you to know that many parents have navigated challenges like these with the help of family, friends and health professionals.
If you’re finding it hard to control yourself when you’re angry, talking to a health professional can help. You could start by seeing your GP, who can help you make an anger management plan. If you’re so angry that you feel you might hurt your child or your partner, leave the room and seek help immediately. Call Lifeline on 131 114, the National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978, or a parenting helpline.
Recognising signs of anger
Your body gives you early signs of anger. When you can recognise these early signs, you can also take early steps to stop anger getting out of control.
Early signs of anger include:
- faster heart rate
- churning stomach
- feeling tense or cranky
- faster breathing
- facial flushing
- tensing shoulders
- clenching jaw and hands
- louder voice and faster speech
Negative thinking is very common when you’re angry, and it can make your anger worse.
For example, you might have had a hard day at work and feel stressed. When you pick your children up from school, they start arguing in the back seat, which makes you feel frustrated and more stressed. Once you get home, they forget to take out their lunch boxes and put their bags away, so you start to feel angry as well.
Here are negative thoughts that you might have in this situation:
- ‘No-one ever helps me – I have to do everything myself.’
- ‘You children are so naughty.’
- ‘If you did what I asked, I wouldn’t feel so angry.’
- ‘Why don’t you care about me?’
If you notice thoughts like these, it’s a sign that you need to stop and do something to calm down before you lose your temper.
Never shake a baby. Newborns and babies have very weak neck muscles to support their large, heavy heads. Shaking a baby – or hitting, kicking or throwing a baby – can result in death, disability or serious injury.
Managing anger: steps
Step 1: identify your anger
The first step to managing your anger is to notice the early signs. It’s important to know and say that you’re angry, even if it’s just to yourself. For example, ‘This is making me angry’ or ‘I can feel myself getting angry’.
Step 2: try to calm down
Once you notice the early signs of anger, you can do a few things to start calming down. The earlier you do this, the easier it’ll be to manage your anger.
Here are ways to calm yourself in the moment, especially if you can’t step away from your child:
- Try to slow your breathing. Breathe in for 2 seconds and breathe out for 4 seconds. Do this a few times until your heart rate slows down.
- If your child is being very loud, try blocking your ears or putting on noise-cancelling headphones for a moment. Then take a few deep, slow breaths.
If you can take time away from your child, here are ideas to try:
- Walk outside for a few moments, and just sit or stand quietly.
- Do something that soothes you, like listening to music, flicking through a magazine or looking out the window.
- Go outside for a run or walk.
- Take a warm shower.
Make sure your child is in a safe place before taking time away. You might be able to ask someone to watch your child while you go somewhere quiet for a few minutes.
Signs that you’re calming down include your heart rate slowing and your muscles relaxing.
Step 3: reflect on the situation
When you feel calm, it’s good to reflect on what happened. You might even do this the next day, so you have some distance on the situation. This can help you learn from the experience and handle similar situations better in the future. Ask yourself:
- ‘How important was the situation?
- ’What made me so upset about the situation?’
- ’What did I have control over in the situation? What didn’t I have control over?’
- ‘How do I want to sort out this situation?’
- ‘Is there anything I need to do to sort out the situation, or can I let it go?’
Looking after yourself can help you feel calmer and better able to solve problems with your children as well as your partner, family and friends.
Managing anger and setting a good example for children
It’s a good idea to let your child see you managing anger in healthy ways. This sends the message that anger is a natural emotion and it’s OK to feel angry sometimes. It also shows children that it’s important to find healthy ways of managing anger.
A good way to set a healthy example is to tell your child how you’re feeling and what you’re doing about it. For example, ‘I’m feeling angry. I’m going to walk away for a minute to calm down before we talk about this’.
What to do when you don’t manage anger well
There’ll always be times when you don’t manage anger well and you yell or say things you regret.
When this happens, it’s a good idea to take a moment to work out what to say to your child or your partner, if you have one. Here are ideas:
- ‘I’m sorry for losing my temper. Next time I’ll take myself away to calm down earlier.’
- ‘I’m sorry I yelled. Can we talk about what happened?’
- ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, even though I was angry. I should have walked away and calmed down before we talked about it.’
There’s no need to say sorry for feeling angry, because it’s OK to feel angry. It’s just not OK to yell or hurt someone. So it’s better to say sorry for yelling or losing your temper.