Sizzle, frizzle. STOP, don’t POP!
You get up in the morning and realize the alarm has not gone off and you are already running late. The sizzle begins but you push the feeling aside. You rush into your child’s room and he decides to pick this morning to refuse to get out of bed, hate the clothes he picked out the night before, can’t find his homework that you helped him do last night, and by now you realize you won’t have time to fix the healthy breakfast for anyone, especially for yourself. The sizzle turns into a frizzle and you raise your voice to a decibel that sounds like your mom, which you said you’d never do. “What is your problem? Get your clothes on and get in the car. I don’t have time for this. I can’t be late for work, again!” STOP, don’t POP! Your kids are learning from every word you say, the tone you use, and the way in which you handle stress. That doesn’t mean you have to move through your day robotically and void of all emotion. It is empowering for your kids to see you handle your anger effectively in stressful situations.
Anger is a valid emotion. Anger motivates us to rally behind a cause, it spurs us to act in situations that are unjust, and it lets us know when we need to make a change for ourselves and in our own lives. The trick is to learn to use our anger to better our lives and not be destroyed by it.
I have worked with kids since 1985. As a school counselor I saw a multitude of angry situations. There were peer conflicts, power struggles between teachers and students, staff disagreements, and angry parents. At the core of many of these issues was the fear of not being understood, being devalued, or being left out. We use anger to defend our position because we want to be heard, we want to be seen, and we want to matter. Basically, we think we need validation by others.
In my work with terminally ill children through the Kaleidoscope program I saw angry parents with a deep fear that their child would die. The child experienced their own fear related to their illness, but more interestingly, I saw the child’s anger stemming from the inappropriate power they had been given. Out of fear, the parents avoided disciplining their child or giving consequences because they believed this would help their child die happy. The child responded with defiance. I encouraged the parents to parent as if their child would survive. Once the parents took the control back, it helped their child feel safe. Many of these kids survived their illness and went on to lead productive lives because they learned to manage their feelings.
The kids I see in private practice have anger issues that are more exaggerated than ever. Parents are very overwhelmed and often work two jobs. Kids are being raised in daycares, with video games, and smart mouthed television shows. They are mimicking everything they see. As a culture, we are raising a generation of kids who haven’t seen their parents deal effectively with anger, and they are surrounded by media and print images of violent reactions to frustrations. Their favorite teen idols, sports teams, and their coaches often model a lack of respect for the rules and for other people when they are frustrated and angry.
So, how do we empower our kids to feel their feelings but not let their feelings control them? As you’ve probably guessed; you are the key. You are well equipped to teach your kids how to become successful. You have had an influence on them since they were conceived. They have taken in everything you ate, drank, thought, felt, and once they arrived, they have learned by mimicking you. How you laugh, how you eat, how you walk, how you love, and how you express your frustration. Children are sponges and they absorb everything. How you manage stress and conflicts is the mirror image of what you see in your children. I often have parents come into my office and say that their kids are just like them. They get their anger issues honestly. I believe parents when they tell me this but they can learn how to make and model better choices for their kids. If motivated, you can change.
- Take care of yourself. Establish a bedtime routine, exercise, and eat right. Involve your kids in this lifestyle so they will have the energy to manage their stress in healthy ways.
- Spend quiet time every day reflecting on who you are, how you want to react in situations, and validating yourself. You can do this early in the morning, in the bathroom, or after the kids are in bed.
- Learn what your triggers are and what emotions you may be masking with your anger.
- Practice your breathing. Learn how to take a breath before you speak or react.
- Think about the words before you say them. You can’t put them back in your mouth and they will live in your child’s heart.
- Use positive statements when under stress, for example, “We’re running late this morning but I know that we are a team and we always stick together.”
- Talk to your kids about anger. Teach them how they cover up their fears with anger.
- Show your kids how to love and approve of themselves.
Empower your kids to be cool under pressure by being the best role model you can be. You can’t teach them what you don’t know, but now you know. I believe you can do this!