Most of us don’t realise how scary our angry faces can be for our children.
But that’s the hallmark of anger: we lose perspective. When we’re angry, it’s because we think we need to protect ourselves from some threat.
We forget that a misbehaving child is not a threat, just a confused or upset young human with an immature brain. We forget that we’re escalating the drama by acting in a threatening way ourselves. We forget that our responsibility as a parent is to act like a grown-up, calmly coaching our child so they can learn, grow, and develop the ability to regulate their own emotions and behaviour.
When your child’s behaviour sends you into your own temper tantrum, you’ll be sure that your child is the problem. But any time you “lose it” – that’s a sign that you’re triggered.
The definition of being triggered is that old feelings are stirred up, that are making you over-react to the present situation, sending you into a state of emergency (fight, flight or freeze.) Actions you take from that state of fear and anger will never have the result you want. (That result is for your child to learn and grow. That only happens when a child feels safe and connected.).
When you’re triggered, you’re not thinking rationally. You’re not acting like the calm, emotionally generous parent every child deserves, a parent who can coach your child to be their best self.
So the most important thing to remember about anger is this:
Resist acting when you’re triggered.
Not easy, right? When you’re triggered, you feel like it’s an emergency. You’re driven to act!
In a previous post, we talked about how to cut the drama when your child gets angry and you get triggered: When Your Child’s Anger Triggers You.
But what if, like so many parents, you find yourself getting angry often?
That’s a message that you need to do some work on yourself. After all, no one ever really “triggers” you.
They’re your triggers, whether from stress, from your own childhood, or from other life traumas. Your child has simply unearthed them and is giving you the opportunity to heal them.
Life has a way of doling out lessons that we didn’t ask for, but which help us develop more wholeness. When we resist those lessons, they land in our lap over and over — usually with more force — until we finally tackle them. And children, who trigger our deepest emotions, are often our greatest teachers.
Why not use those episodes when your child pushes your buttons as an opportunity to de-activate them? (Preferably the buttons, not the child.) Here’s how.
1. Commit now to using your anger as a learning opportunity, rather than acting on it
That way, next time you slide into “fight or flight” and your child looks like the enemy, you’ll already have made the decision to move away from your child. It’s hard to do, but it’s always the first step of anger management. And don’t worry, it gets easier every time you do it. You’re building neural pathways for better self-regulation — actually re-wiring your brain.