Getting angry in front of your child can happen to any parent. However, this reaction can lead to increased stress in the child as well as different emotions, such as fear, helplessness, sadness and shame. In addition, the anger often gives way to feelings of guilt and shame in the parent afterwards.
How to keep your cool
When you feel anger building up inside you, rather than exploding in front of your child, you may want to step away for a moment and take actions that will lower your tension. In addition to calming yourself, you’re showing your child that there are healthy ways to deal with anger. Here are some tips to help you control and relax:
Change the dialogue in your head. For example, instead of thinking, “I can’t do this anymore!” say to yourself, “I’m going to calm down before I react.”
Count to 10, take a deep breath or drink a glass of water.
Recall a happy or tender moment with your child. This memory releases dopamine and oxytocin, feel-good hormones in your brain that will calm you down. Giving your toddler a hug has the same effect.
Take your mind off things, like listening to music.
Move to another room or go outside for a few minutes, but first make sure your toddler is safe.
Write about what made you angry.
You can also tell your child that you are angry and explain what you are going to do to calm down. For example, “Whew, I feel a ball of anger rising inside me, I feel hot and my heart is beating fast, I’m going to count to 10 to calm down.” When you tell your child how you feel, they learn how to recognize and name their emotions.
Most importantly, avoid violent actions (e.g., throwing something against the wall or banging your fist on something), as this will scare your child and fuel your anger instead of calming you.
Having a drink to calm yourself down won’t help either, as it may make it harder to control your emotions.
When you get angry, your body produces cortisol and becomes tense. Moving is an effective way to release this tension. You can run in place, jump or dance.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you can put your hands together in front of your chest, take deep breaths and press your hands together with each exhale. You can also press your hands against a wall and, with each exhalation, push down hard.
After 1 or 2 minutes, you should feel less tense and ready to interact more calmly with your child
Why does a parent get angry?
First and foremost, it is important to ask yourself if your child’s behavior is really causing your angry reaction.
To find out, ask yourself if you always react the same way when your toddler behaves in a certain way (e.g., every time he cries). The answer is usually no. Your mood, your energy level, your work day and the accumulation of small stresses greatly influence your reactions to your child.
For this reason, take time to understand your reactions. This reflection allows you to determine ways to work on the real problem and thus reduce the risk of the situation recurring.
For example, if you often lose your patience at the end of the day, it may be because your mind is still at work or busy planning dinner, while your child is in the present moment (e.g., “I’m hungry!”, “Play with me!”, etc.). Because your tension level is already high, even the slightest opposition from your toddler can make you angry.
If this happens, be honest with your toddler. For example, you can say, “I lost my patience when you refused to go to the bath, but it’s not your fault. I had a hard day at the office. I’m sorry for my reaction.”
To avoid this situation, you might want to take 5 minutes when you get home to give yourself a big family hug. This moment will bring you back into the moment, soothe you as well as give you the energy to carry on for the rest of the evening.
Should you apologize to your child?
Because of their immature brain, your child thinks everything is about them. So, when you get upset, they think they are responsible for your reaction and that you don’t like them anymore. If you’ve overreacted in front of your toddler, it’s best to apologize and admit that you shouldn’t have lost your temper.
For example, you might say, “I was very angry earlier. That’s why I went into the bathroom to breathe, calm down and think better afterwards.” Your child then understands that you make mistakes too and are able to acknowledge them.
Also, when you apologize, you become a role model for your child. He or she sees that you are practicing what you are teaching, such as naming emotions and finding ways to calm down.
Apologizing to your child will not undermine your authority. On the contrary, it can calm your child and strengthen your relationship with him or her.
If your child has really done something wrong or behaved in a way that you don’t agree with, use the time when you apologize to calmly explain what made you angry.
After you apologize, take time to hug or play with your child to reconnect.
When you’re angry, it’s impossible to engage in thoughtful educational behavior. Calm down first and then intervene.
After getting angry, it is important to reconnect with your child through affectionate gestures or playtime.
Think about what really triggered your anger and take steps to address it.