Parenting is an emotional undertaking. The spectrum of emotions is far reaching and intense but for the majority of parents the positive emotions far outweigh the negative emotions they feel. However, for some parents, the emotional journey is much darker.
Parents these days are frazzled for a myriad of reasons. Frazzled parents can easily turn into negative parents. Negative parents can then turn into stressed and angry parents. Angry parents tend to do a less than stellar job at appropriately reacting to their children in any given situation.
The average parent is able to harness their anger the majority of the time. Everyone is human and will have a bad moment here and there. Plus, anger is a healthy emotion that can be applied constructively with proper effort. Anger becomes a concern when it is the overriding response to your child as well as the typical parenting style employed. Children of angry parents become angry children who turn into angry adults who may then move on to angry parenting of their own children. The cycle is a viscous one and one that I feel is critical to address.
What is anger?
Simply put, anger is caused by a perceived loss of control over factors affecting important personal values. These values might be pride, getting someplace on time, money, or being treated “fairly” for example. Anger is also caused by your inability to mentally cope with some situation. A persistent problem with anger indicates that you either have important underlying issues that you have not yet resolved, or you are using emotional coping methods that are ineffective. These must be addressed if you are to effectively and peacefully parent your child both in day to day life but also in times of stress or unforeseen circumstances.
What does anger look like?
Anger will look different on each individual parent but for the most part it will involve yelling, sarcasm, belittling, physical aggression directed at a person or object, cursing, withholding love, threats, and the like. Again, every parent may have one of these reactions once in a while. That is called being human. It is when these reactions are the normal response that anger becomes a great cause for concern.
What causes parents to become angry at or display anger towards their children?
I have created a list that touches on a broad spectrum of reasons why parents may react with anger and hostility. These are in no particular order and certainly there are reasons that I have not included. I am mentioning these as a jumping off point to get you thinking about triggers for anger in yourself. (Please note – I am using spouse for simplicity’s sake. Spouse also includes a partner of any kind.)
- Misunderstanding between you and your child or someone else
- Separation/Divorce from spouse
- Custody issues
- Sleep deprivation/overall tiredness
- Illness or injury (yourself)
- Illness or injury (child)
- Illness of injury (spouse/family member)
- Emotional carryover from a discussion, disagreement, or argument with a spouse, family member, or friend earlier in the day/week/month
- Unresolved issues from parent’s own childhood
- Child’s behavior (this includes age appropriate behavior that is deemed normal for a child’s developmental stage as well as behaviors inherent to a particular child based on personality and preferences)
- Child’s own emotional state or reaction to external stimuli
- Stress from work
- Financial concerns/stress
- Illness or death of a family member, friend, or pet
- Child is inhibiting parent from being able to do something that he or she wants to do or feels entitled to do
- Lack of balance in life/not enough personal time
- Lack of support from spouse
- Lack of parenting community/external support system
- Derailed friendships/missed connections
- Lack of balance in parenting responsibilities
- Single parent status
- Poor/inadequate nutrition
- Disorganization of home
- Hormones (PMS, Pregnancy, Menopause)
- Sibling rivalry
- Too many “extracurricular” activities/outside commitments (parent or child)
- Spousal relationship demands
- Post-Partum Depression
- Self-doubt/inadequacy as a parent
- Protective instincts
- Loss of control
- Day not going according to plan/wrench thrown into plans
- Moving household/complete geographic relocation
- New job/loss of job/looking for job
- Transportation challenges
- Lack of exercise
- Loss of home
- Natural disaster
- Military deployment of family member
- School (parent or child)
As you can see, it doesn’t always take a crisis to set a parent off. It can be the little day to day things that become triggers for anger and rage directed at children even if said children are not the “source” of the anger. Personal note – I do not believe that children are really the “source” of anger.
How does parental anger hurt children?
Good parenting, setting boundaries, and positive, gentle discipline assures children that they are deeply and permanently loved while confronting them about behaviors that will hurt them or others. When a parent becomes angry with their child or parents them from a place of anger, the child thinks that their mom or dad does not like them or love them. They interpret anger as meaning a lack of love for them. This is most often untrue but this is the common way children interpret anger. A child who is disciplined with anger all of his or her life will believe that his or her parents did not have a great deal of love for them. Believing that your parents don’t love you is very hurtful to the heart of a child. It causes the child to think poorly about themselves as if they don’t deserve to be loved. In adult life, this child will have a difficult time believing that anyone loves them or even that anyone could possibly love them. Children who are handled with anger will label themselves as unlovable and never believe that they are worthy of love. The number of problems this causes is way beyond the scope of this post but please believe it when I tell you that nothing good results from parenting your children from a place of anger.
When deep seated anger is the cause of disciplining with anger, the solution is not as easy as simple redirection of emotions. The parent who is unconsciously angry must seek help to resolve the deep anger in their heart. I am not an authority on the subject but my head and heart tell me that professional counseling is in order for those parents on the extreme end of the anger spectrum.
My series on parental anger will run through the month of May. My intention is to help parents decide whether the anger they feel is normal/infrequent or abnormal/frequent. I will offer suggestions as to how to best deal with that anger as well as how you can reshape the parenting relationship you have with your children during times of anger. I will provide some valuable resources which I hope will help all parents whether you deal with deep anger or not. I dearly hope that you share these blog posts with other parents as you really never know who could use a nudge or a bold dose of reality about their own anger and how it affects their parenting and relationship with their children.