Parents who are frazzled tend to be negative, and negative parenting never works! In my psychotherapy practice, I have had many "angry parents." Angry parents translate into angry kids. Most children mimic their parents’ anger, and a vicious cycle continues.
To help parents learn to control anger, I developed a visual device – the thermometer theory, which may be used to control stress as well as anger. When parents are stressed, they are more apt to get angry, so the two often go hand in hand.
Here is how you can use the thermometer theory to manage your anger.
- Visualize a thermometer with markings from 0-10. While 10 represents your highest level of anger, the area from 7-10 is the "danger zone." The danger zone is the place where parents feel out of control and as if they can’t calm down. To assess your anger level, employ the anger thermometer during the day, asking yourself frequently, "What number am I?"
- The goal is to keep your anger under level 7. Ideally, most people should be at a 2 or 3. (We all need a little stimulation to keep things interesting!) When you feel your thermometer rising, make a conscious decision to take action to lower it. Different anger management strategies work for different people; learn what works for you. It may be deep breathing, lying down or listening to music. Take time to experiment and find out what helps distract you from your anger.
- The first thing you need to do if you feel your anger rising into the 7-10 range is to remove yourself from the situation causing your anger. In other words, take a time out. That’s right, take a parental time out, rather than give your child a time out. By removing yourself from the anger-inducing situation – usually a power struggle of some sort – you can lower your thermometer and gain back some self-control. Usually a few moments in a removed space like a bathroom or several deep, relaxing breaths help lower your thermometer in a time out.
- If you have young children who follow you when you take a time out, it’s fine to take them with you and put them on your lap to explain you are getting angry and need to calm down before the two of you may talk. As you allow your child to sit with you, tell him or her that both of you need to breathe deeply and not talk for a while. This can be a valuable lesson as children learn how to relax and ease anger.
- With older children, catch yourself getting angry and say, "It looks like we’re both getting angry now. I need to take a time out to deal with my anger. When we’re both calmer, we can talk about this issue and come up with a solution." Without forcing your child to take a time out, you model what mature people do with their anger.
I once worked with a father named David who recognized that he needed to deal with his anger in an effort to mitigate his parenting issues. David’s anger was getting in the way of being a successful father and husband.
My first recommendation to David was to manage his anger thermometer. Here are two additional ideas I gave to David for dealing with his anger in a positive way.
- Use a journal. When I suggest this, most parents resist because their handwriting is messy or their grammar is poor. This doesn’t matter! The journal is just for you. There are two reasons why journal writing is important: It provides a constructive release and allows you to look back at your journal entries every so often to see how far you’ve come. "I can’t believe I was so angry at Jordan for being late for her carpool," David reflected in response to his entries. "It wasn’t even necessary. I could have handled it much differently." Journals can provide much-needed perspective.
- Use positive self-talk. This is an easy and powerful concept that I used with David. Here is the premise: If you think positively, you will feel better. If you think negatively, you will feel worse – or angry.
To accomplish positive self-talk, you should get in touch with your thoughts in order to control them. To control your thoughts and turn them around:
- Identify a negative thought when you have it. "Jordan always takes so much time getting ready in the morning that I’m always late for work."
- Challenge that thought. "As this happens often, we need to find a better way to start off the morning so we’re both on time for school and work."
- Replace your negative self-talk with positive self-talk. "When I get home tonight, I think we’ll have a family meeting and figure out why we’re always late in the morning and what we all need to do to make the morning smoother. I’m looking forward to dealing with this and making our home life better."
David tried replacing negative self-talk with positive thinking, telling himself that every situation had a good solution. Doing his part to get the family to work together toward a positive goal released David’s anger and immediately gave him hope. Likewise, with practice, any parent may internalize positive self-talk to help deal with negative thoughts that used to fuel anger.
Ten Easy Steps to Help Children Manage Anger
- Slow down! Learn how to slow down yourself and then you can encourage your children to follow suit. You cannot parent when you are angry and stressed. Find self-soothing anger management strategies that work for you – and use them.
- Check your internal thermometer regularly. Remember to take your own time out to calm down when you see your anger rising.
- Don’t take your child’s anger personally. As hard as it seems, the best course of action when your child explodes is to take a step back and ask yourself if your child is truly angry at you, or if there is another cause.
- When you are angry, it is easy to engage in a power struggle with your children. In a power struggle, nobody wins. Disengage as soon as you can.
- Get to the root of the problem as quickly as possible. It is essential for you as the parent to break the negative cycle and find out what is causing your child’s anger.
- Approach your children when you have all calmed down. Talking to children while you are angry may cause you to say hurtful things you don’t truly mean.
- Keep the promise that you will be available when your kids want to talk. It’s important to communicate effectively, and that may only be done when everyone is calm.
- Practice various anger management strategies and find what works for you and your family. Be patient and understand that it takes time on everyone’s part to change behavior patterns.
- Once anger has subsided, communicate with your children and collectively come up with solutions to problems.
- Anger derives from negative thinking. Start identifying your negative thoughts and practice turning them into positive self-talk.