This is a tough time for parents and families. With most of the country staying indoors to practice social distancing, “flatten the curve,” and decrease the spread of COVID-19, parents are finding themselves stressed out and stretched thin.
Spending days on end as the sole caregivers of our children can be hard enough, but add on work responsibilities, concerns about finances, homeschooling, stir-crazy kids, along with the fear of the virus itself and all the suffering it’s causing, and it’s not surprising that so many people are finding it difficult to cope.
Parental Stress Can Lead To Anger and Lost Tempers
If you are feeling incredibly stressed right now, you are not alone. If all that stress is making you cranky, irritable, and on edge, that, too, is understandable. These are unprecedented times, and many of us are noticing that our mental health has taken a toll.
Stress can make you feel short on patience as well. Your fuse may be shorter than usual. You may be angry. You may be losing your temper easily. You may be yelling more than you’d like to. You may even be having trouble controlling your anger.
While anger is an understandable emotional reaction to stress, it’s important that we don’t let it get the better of us.
Raising your voice every now and then is not harmful to your children. However, frequently lashing out at your children with insults, regularly shaming children, and creating a fearful living environment can have lasting detrimental effects on children.
According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), spanking and corporal punishment have also been found to harm our kids.
Sometimes, our anger does take over. When this happens, we need to figure out a way to manage it. The good news is that simply acknowledging that your anger is a problem can help you to tackle it. From there, you can work on finding healthier ways to cope, which will benefit you and your kids.
Understanding and Identifying Anger Triggers
The first step in managing your anger (and your temper) is understanding it, becoming more self-aware of it, and identifying the things that trigger it.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anger is “a negative feeling state that is typically associated with hostile thoughts, physiological arousal, and maladaptive behaviors.”
Anger isn’t just an emotional state. You can feel anger as physical reactions in the body which are caused by “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenaline. Sometimes, we might feel those responses before we even recognize that what we are experiencing is anger.
The APA notes that anger usually develops in response to the actions and behaviors of people we have close relationships with—for example, our spouses or children. When you consider that fact, it’s no wonder our children can get under our skin so easily!
Symptoms of Anger
- Rapid heart rate
- Racing thoughts
- Thoughts of revenge
- Muscle tension and headaches
- Yelling and arguing
- Clenched fists
- Physical aggression
Anger looks different for different people. Some people are more likely than others to “lash out” or lose their temper when their anger takes over, but you may not fit this description.
It can help to understand what anger looks (and feels) like for you. Once you have become more mindful of how your anger manifests, you will be able to more clearly see what triggers it.
When it comes to our children, there are many situations that may trigger anger, including:
- When our children don’t listen to us
- When our children are messy, loud, and unable to control their emotions
- When our children misbehave in public and make us feel like “bad” parents
- When our children refuse to eat what we have prepared for them or refuse to get dressed, clean their rooms, etc.
- When our children lash out in anger at us or act disrespectfully
The list could keep going because there are many situations in which we might feel out of control, disrespected, and even threatened.
Kids are more likely to act out when they are experiencing their own stressors (such as being quarantined at home away from friends, family, and familiar routines). Their misbehavior, then, can be a trigger for anger in their stressed-out parents.
Understanding which of your children’s behaviors trigger your own anger can help you figure out the most effective ways to manage your temper.
Tips for Managing Your Temper
The key to managing your anger and your temper is to stay a bit ahead of it. First, that means being aware of situations that trigger your anger. It also means taking proactive steps in your life to keep your anger at bay and have tools available to help you manage your anger once it surfaces.
Get Emotional Support From Other Parents
Sometimes our struggles with our children can make us feel completely alone. We might even begin to think that we have the worst children in the world—a thought that further fuels our frustration and anger.
Talking about your experiences with others can reassure you that you are not the only one struggling. There’s a good chance other parents can relate to your frustration.
Let Go of Perfection
Life as a parent means dealing with a lot of things we can’t control. Yet at the same time, many of us have an idea of what the perfect family is supposed to look like and we strive (and struggle) to have our families match up.
This can create frustrations and unmet expectations, all of which can fuel anger. If you can work on accepting that life as a parent can be unpredictable and messy, the shift in perspective can reduce your stress.
Talk About Your Feelings
You are more likely to be prone to fits of anger if you keep all of your feelings bottled up. Losing your temper is often what happens when all of your most intense feelings “bubble over” and explode. The more you can express your feelings as they come up, the better.
If you can, seeing a therapist can also be useful. If not a counselor, even setting up a routine of weekly or daily check-ins with a trusted confidante can help.
Reflect Before You React
Sometimes, all it takes is pausing for a few seconds of deep breathing to stop the worst of our angry impulses from taking over.
Once you have a better understanding of what anger feels like in your body and mind, you can work on your response to it. The next time your anger bubbles up, stop everything you are doing for a second and take a deep breath. Often, this will be enough to significantly change your reaction.
Get Some Air
In some situations, our feelings of anger take over and there is little we can do to stop it. If you feel like you might lose your temper with your child, it’s okay to leave the room for a second (as long as your child will be safe).
If there is another grown-up around, have them keep an eye on the kids while you get some fresh air outside. While you want to keep your child safe and not scare them, leaving the room is sometimes a better option for them (compared to you staying and losing your temper).
It’s important to work on your own self-care and anger management techniques, but there are also things you can do on a family-scale to make your home more harmonious. Making these changes can help lower everyone’s stress levels during challenging times.
Structure, Structure, Structure
It’s important to have a sense of structure in your family’s life, even during unprecedented times (and maybe especially then). Kids thrive on routine and are usually better behaved if their lives are somewhat predictable.
Even if you are stuck at home for at least another month, you can still follow a daily schedule. For example, make sure that your kids are keeping to regular bedtime and wake-up time.
You don’t have to be married to the schedule (and it can certainly be flexible), but having a predictable flow to your day can keep everyone level-headed.
Have Daily Emotional Check-Ins
You aren’t the only one who can benefit from emotional check-ins. Our kids need them too, especially when facing life-changes and a million different unknowns. You can even talk about emotions with very young children.
Your main job as a parent is to be a good listener. Let your kids know that their emotions matter and that they are okay. A kid who feels heard will generally be happier and better behaved, making your life that much easier.
Get Outside and Moving
To whatever extent it’s possible, get your whole family outside and moving (while practicing social distancing, of course). Fresh air and exercise are excellent ways to keep everyone’s mental health in check and are great ways to bond.
I’ll Leave You With This
As difficult and stressful as this time is, it will eventually end. That said, getting through weeks of being quarantined with your family is an ongoing challenge for parents.
Accepting that and finding healthy strategies to manage your feelings will keep your family as happy and healthy as possible.
Remember that you can’t (and don’t have to) go it alone. If you are finding that your temper is flaring even after employing techniques to manage your anger, you might benefit from talking to a professional who can help you find healthy and effective ways to deal with your anger.
There is nothing wrong with seeking counseling or therapy. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for you and your family.
I am currently offering virtual or online therapy options to ensure people can meet their mental health needs while they are quarantined at home. Contact me at 704-741-2082 or visit my website at www.courtenaymonfore.com.