I couldn’t stop myself from losing my temper with my son, even though I love him to the ends of the earth. I would yank him away from a fight with his sister, and yell a lecture into his face. When he responded by hitting and kicking me, I would hold his wild limbs way too tightly, pinning him to me until his rage finally turned to tears. At that point, I would lecture him in a more calm way until I thought I had said enough for him to get the point. Then I would go to my room and cry into my pillow.
I knew my explosiveness wasn’t solving anything. It was undoubtedly making things worse. But I didn’t know how to stop. If a mother’s love wasn’t motivation enough for me to hold it in, nothing could be. I had to go beyond motivation, beyond counting to ten. I needed to change myself at a fundamental level.
Reasons for Anger
First, I had to understand why I was getting angry. I realized over time that I lose my temper when:
- I want to scare my kids into doing what I want
- I am afraid I might not be a good enough mom
- I am afraid of not being in control of my kids
- I am afraid my kids might be controlling me
- I snap from hearing too much of an annoying noise from my son
- I am afraid of what other people think of my kids’ behavior
- I am cranky from hunger, thirst, or having to use the bathroom
- I am overwhelmed by other stress in my like
- I am more comfortable with the emotion of anger than I am with fear, anxiety or sadness
- I magnify a temporary behavior problem by fearing it will be a long-term problem
- I suffer from too much caffeine, or caffeine withdrawal
- I feel defensive about someone’s anger directed at me
- It feels good to vent my anger
- I have too-high expectations for what I — and my kids — should be able to accomplish
- I don’t know what else to do.
Once I understood the reasons for my anger, I could recognize and manage the triggers. I recently read something that angered me. I went into the kitchen to cook dinner and started snapping at the kids about messes they had left on the table. I realized the true source of my anger, and apologized to my kids. Then I concentrated on prioritizing my family and letting go of my anger over something less important.
The next big step was to learn new ways to discipline my kids. According to psychologist Ross Greene in his excellent online videos, “Maladaptive behavior occurs when cognitive demands being placed on the individual exceed that person’s capacity to respond adaptively.” The same was true for me. I behaved badly in situations that exceeded my capabilities. I had the faulty authoritarian skill set of trying to enforce obedience with fear and manipulation.
I started developing new skills of connection parenting. These included listening, empathizing, and coaching. I felt less panicky when I understood my kids better and knew better what to do. The more confident I was, the less I worried about what other people thought.
More often nowadays, when my son starts trouble with his sister, I focus on defusing the situation. I calmly suggest why I think he might be angry, instead of escalating the anger in the situation. I lead him to separate himself from her and find a more appropriate method to resolve the dispute. In turn, he is becoming more capable in these situations.
I still lose my temper. But my outbursts are shorter and less intense. I am less frustrated and volatile. My husband has noticed that the mood in our home has become much more peaceful in the past few years. He is no longer the victim of my barrages of desperate and unfair complaints about our children’s impossible behavior. With perseverance, it really was possible to loosen the grip that anger had on our household.
I love feedback. What do you think? What are your triggers for anger?