Anger is an instinctive reaction, but what if we could pause and parent? Neha Prasada explores more effective ways to manage your rage than to scream and yell at your kids.
Me to my eight-year-old son: J! You’re at it again? Put that phone away right now!
J keeps fiddling with the gadget.
Me: Didn’t you hear what I just said?
J turns his face away.
On impulse, I snatch the phone away. Immediately, screaming, yelling, crying and tantrums follow. An avalanche of emotions sweeps me away, and the whole parenting exercise has resulted in a giant meltdown.
For most of us, parenting is a constant exercise in trial and error, and each day brings with it new challenges because the enormity of raising a human being can be overwhelming. While children are a source of great joy, they also know exactly how to press your buttons. So many of us give in to the frustration of a child who does not listen and let our anger get the better of us. The experience leaves us with a sense of regret and guilt and a child who can end up traumatized.
“Yelling does not ensure obedience. Either a child becomes submissive, stops expressing their true feelings with the parents or becomes a rebel and yells back,’’ says Sister Husain, a Rajayoga teacher from the Brahma Kumaris tradition who specializes in behavioural training.
Sister Husain believes that our relationships and mental peace are always compromised whenever there is anger and chaos in our homes. So, if you have been feeling guilty about losing your temper with your child, you will find it reassuring to know that it is absolutely okay to feel angry.
“Anger is a very important emotion that teaches you how to protect yourself. So don’t say don’t be angry. Handle your anger correctly instead,” says Dubai-based Kavita Srinivasan, a conscious parenting coach. “It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to hit, yell, scream, or say mean things to one another. The emotion is fine, but the action is not.’’
Every relationship is imperfect. We are perfect parents with our children then we are setting them up for failure by never getting angry with them.
In her book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Dr Laura Markham says, “Your first responsibility of parenting is being mindful of your own inner state.’’ She explains that being mindful means you pay attention to what you are feeling, but don’t act on it. “Anger is part of all relationships. Acting on it mindlessly, with words or actions, is what compromises our parenting,’’ she says.
In the same vein, Srinivasan adds, “Losing your temper, getting angry, is a part of life but what is important is if we have gotten angry in an irrational or unfair manner and are taking out our angst and pain on our children, we have to apologize.”
The more we acknowledge and repair relationships with our children, the more they learn that relationships are not perfect. They don’t deserve to be spoken to in certain ways. Being angry is not the problem. It matters how you treat your child after you get angry. “There is healing from it, a big lesson from it when you apologize and say this is not the way I should have spoken,’’ Srinivasan says.
Children are wired to think that parents are perfect and not at all problematic. When you get angry at them, they start thinking there is something wrong with them. They will internalize this anger. “They will then grow up to let people treat them the wrong way and/or become adults who abuse people in turn and don’t know how to deal with their emotions,’’ says the conscious parenting coach.
As a parent, you can correct yourself. Repair is the most important thing you can ever do. Repair actually makes a relationship stronger because it makes your child realize that you are a human being, and you are willing to admit that you are wrong. This sets them up to have a really healthy communication in their relationships going forward.
Dr Kavita Srinivasan says, “It is very difficult to actually create a pause between something that is triggering you and your reaction or response. The way to cultivate that pause is where your child is actually annoying you and instead of reacting or screaming, which is our initial reaction, is to be able to stop and breathe.”
Says Sister Husain, “Do pause for moments of silence after a stressful day at work. Clean your own emotions through meditation. Resist the urge to make them perfect in all fields. Being a good human being with a stable mind and a good heart, or sanskars, goes a long way.”
Dr Laura Markham offers some good, practical advice in her book. She says, “Even if you are well down the wrong path, stop. Take a deep breath and hit the pause button. Remind yourself of what is about to happen unless you choose another course. Close your mouth even mid-sentence. Don’t be embarrassed, you’re modeling good anger management.”
Do this simple exercise to create that cautionary pause between feeling angry and how you react.
- Tell your child that you are having big feelings, that you feel angry and need to step out of the room. Tell them it has nothing to do with them and you will be back in a short while after breathing and calming down.
- Step out of the room. Take a few deep breaths.
- To slow down your nervous system, start noticing what is happening to your body. For example, observe if your cheeks are getting red, your fists are clenching, your head is pounding, your breath is faster. Start describing these reactions to yourself. What this does is take the focus from the right side of your brain, which is all emotion and feeling, to the left side of your brain, which is logic and cool. So, when you start describing it, your emotions automatically cool down and you feel more in control.
Another technique is to do a simple breathing exercise. Take a deep breath and four counts in, hold your breath for two counts and then eight counts out. Do this four times, and it will calm your nervous system down.