Speaker, author, and armchair neuroscientist Sarah R. Moore guest posts today on anger as a parent. While frustration is often a reality for parents, Sarah offers a gentler approach to raising kids, drawing from neuroscience, attachment theory, and the principles of conscious parenting. Here’s Sarah on why being an angry parent doesn’t actually work and suggestions to heal the relationship.
Guest post from Sarah Moore: Being an angry parent doesn’t work
If you tell me you’re sometimes an angry parent, I respond with, “Yes, me too. Welcome to being human.” That might surprise some people. After all, I just wrote a book about peaceful discipline. How can we be angry and peaceful? Aren’t they opposites?
I’ll start by normalizing how often parents feel overwhelmed, feel frustrated, or just feel downright “done.” There’s nothing wrong with having these feelings. In fact, the more we try to fight them, the more we often end up fueling them instead.
It’s normal to feel angry sometimes.
Anger itself isn’t wrong. As a society, we’ve come to think of it as a negative emotion, but feeling angry is no better or worse than feeling sad or excited or anything else you might feel in a day.
Anger is, actually, just information.
Moreover, anger is here to help us.
Anger is a messenger. It tells us when we have an unmet need. Anger tells us when someone has crossed a boundary, or perhaps it tells us we’re lacking a boundary where we need one.
Without anger, we’d let others walk all over us, and what would be healthy about that?
Not a thing.
The trouble arises when we let our anger fester and don’t find productive outlets for it. If left unaddressed, we essentially let our anger affect our emotional health–and even our physical health down the road.
The antidote is learning what to do with our anger.
What an angry parent needs is healthy anger management strategies.
Many parents make the mistake of letting their anger turn into something our kids perceive as big and scary. That’s not the goal, of course, and it’s certainly not helpful in a connection-based relationship.
Here are two things the angry parent can do to heal from the inside out:
- We can proactively release anger before we feel it overwhelms us.
- When we feel angry, we can let it out in ways that do no harm.
Note that nowhere on this very short list did I suggest bottling it up and pretending it isn’t there. Let’s unpack the two options I suggested a bit more.
Release anger before we feel it overwhelm us
Angry parents often feel angry because they’ve been carrying around anger for too long without a healthy release. The goal, of course, is to vent the volcano before it erupts.
Although self-care sounds cliché, versions of it are actually proven to be beneficial to releasing anger proactively, so there’s less to let out when we’re “triggered.” Research-backed options include, for example:
Also, it’s critical that we prioritize getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep is often a direct contributor to angry feelings, and it’s amazing how much more peaceful we can feel when we meet our basic needs in this way.
All of these can increase our sense of self-control and help us feel calm proactively.
Let anger out in ways that do no harm
Common anger management strategies often suggest that we simply “remain calm” when angry. However, many parents who feel angry find it impossible to remain calm when triggered – and for good reason!
A brief explanation of this difficulty is that our nervous system overrides our desire to stay calm. We have unrealistic expectations of our ability to do this. Our nervous system is simply trying to keep us safe in its perception of threat to our emotional well-being.
What’s the antidote? Try these:
- Pause the conversation by “leaving the scene” before you react, even if it means you and your child go outside or into a different room together.
- Use whatever grounding technique works for you to help keep your own actions in check, be it acknowledging your frustration, taking a moment to call a friend, or get a glass of water – anything that interrupts the pattern and brings you closer to calm.
- Talk about your own needs and feelings using “I statements” rather than blaming others with “you” statements. For example, “I feel angry about what happened with your sister. I have a strong need for peace in this home.” instead of “You really messed up that time!”
- Get professional support if you need it. I’ll say it again: there’s no shame in professional help from someone who will listen and support you without judgment.
…And then we remember that connection is the best teacher.
An excerpt from Peaceful Discipline may help reframe this.
If an adult thinks connection is *not* an appropriate way to teach, these counterpoints are worth considering:
- Do grown-ups learn best when someone approaches them in anger or peace?
- Do grown-ups learn best when their feelings are validated or when their feelings are pushed aside?
Further, when children grow older and need to navigate friendships, relationships with teachers and other students if they go to school, and eventually in the workplace, will their parents have modeled how to address conflict peacefully or through force? What about intimate relationships?
I share that as a loving reminder to be gentle with our children, and I’ll also add this: we must be gentle with ourselves, too. Angry parents have often been carrying around their wounds for quite a long time, to the point that some of the anger-related behaviors have become habits.
It’s not too late to heal. It’s not too late to ask for forgiveness for the ways anger may have led you to operate in the past, and it’s also not too late to forge a new path forward. Take a moment and figure out what you were needing when acting angrily, and define what helps you feel safe now.
From this emotional safety, growth can happen. Healing can happen.
Does it mean you’ll never get angry again?
Of course not, but now, you can welcome that anger as your benevolent companion and heal the parts of you that need healing. Peace is available to you when you’re ready.
About today’s writer, Sarah Moore
Sarah R. Moore is the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting and author of Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior. As a Master Trainer in conscious parenting, she’s also a public speaker, armchair neuroscientist, and, most importantly, a Mama. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, & Twitter.
Top photo courtesy of Sarah R. Moore