This statement sounds strong and seems a very strange aim for raising your children. Does it mean we want our children to be angry at us? Yes! Seriously? Yes! This blog post will help you get your head around the anger our children will experience in life, how to celebrate it when they’re angry in your presence, and how to love them even when they’re angry with us. Anger is one of the most important emotions in our lives. We must encourage our children to feel safe enough with us to express it and release is fully. The benefits of expressing anger fully are also discussed in this post.
I once heard a statement along the lines of “I don’t worry that my kids will be angry at me. I only worry they won’t be angry enough”. I spent a long time with these words running through my mind and initially thought the person saying it was crazy. I thought why on earth would you want to make your children mad at you? It just didn’t seem logical when I first heard it. Now I carry this quote close to my heart, it means so much. It helps keep me calm when my kids are angry with me. It motivates me to show my children how loved they are, even if they have just tried to hit or kick or scream the house down. In making me a calmer parent, I have also found ironically that now I want my children to be angry at me, they seem not to be very angry at me anymore!
What Causes Anger?
When something unfortunate happens to us or we are treated unfairly by someone else, we have a series of feelings, thoughts and reactions which are also known as anger. It is viewed as a negative emotion, but it is a completely normal part of being human. Our ways of dealing with anger come from past experiences which can be remembered by a trigger, behaviour learned from others e.g. how parents deal with anger, and a lack of problem solving ability. See more about the definitions of anger in this article about the effects of anger on the brain and body.
Why is Expressing Anger So Important?
Even babies can show signs of anger. Toddlers, especially, are known for experiencing angry outbursts and tantrums. Anger emotions range on a scale from annoyance to rage. Individual responses to anger range from social withdrawal to physical outbursts. Anger can be the driving force to create positive changes in your life, if expressed healthily. Sometimes people can ruminate when angry, which involves reflecting on past experiences of anger, dwelling on current causes of anger and being unrealistic with the anger experience.
Two forms of anger management associated with negative health outcomes and a lower quality of life are anger suppression and expressing it in a physically or verbally aggressive manner. See more details about anger types in this science review http://jrh.gmu.ac.ir/article-1-714-en.pdf.
What Does Healthy Anger Look Like?
What the summary above of the science review says to me is that denying yourself the emotion of anger, or getting to the rage state are not healthy ways to express anger. What other ways of dealing with anger are there? Children raised in a traumatic environment, which my husband and I both experienced, can find it difficult expressing anger healthily even as adults. Healthy anger expression involves using words to explain your needs and feelings, without raising your tone, using harsh words or physical force. If you have struggled to deal with anger healthily, you can try various things to help you deal with your anger better.
- Emotion – when you start feeling anger, stop and think ‘I see you anger – I SEE YOU’. Shout that you see it, whether imaginarily in your head or actually out loud if no-one is around. This acknowledges that you are feeling angry.
- Theme – What is a broader category to fit the thing that made you angry. For example, do you feel angry when someone puts you down. This helps you recognise internal reasons driving your anger.
- Reflection – now you’ve worked out the theme of your anger, you can start reflecting. Reflection on what has caused the emotion can help your brain understand what is triggering you. What other triggers under the same theme cause you to react negatively. What sort of upbringing did you have which may have contributed to your behaviours under this theme.
- Change – what can you do to change the situation. If you always feel angry when someone puts you down, have you tried telling them how they make you feel? Can you ask them to talk to you respectfully? Can you build your self esteem in whatever aspect they put you down in, e.g. do a course to improve your knowledge. This helps you feel in control of repeated situations that make you angry.
- Take three deep breaths, change your environment and let go of what is out of your control. Express yourself but be cautious to be assertive, not aggressive.
- Last, but by no means least, laugh it out of your system. Laughter has been found to release hormones that have the opposite effect of anger.
The most important part is remembering that often our triggers of anger may be with the same person, for example our partner. If that is the case, you can have an open conversation with them that you are intending to deal with your anger and allow them to deal with theirs more healthily. You can explain what your plan is when you’re feeling angry and why it is important for you to express it differently. If you both understand the new plan, you will both more likely succeed in becoming a more peaceful household. See more on dealing with partner conflicts in my earlier blog post.
What Does Unhealthy Anger Look Like?
Suppressing your anger is found to lead to reduced health and increased physical illnesses. For example you are at an increased risk of heart disease if you are unable to control anger. When suppressed, the anger does not vanish like you imagine but it moves to your gut. It makes you frustrated that you did not express your true feelings to the person who angered you. In contrast, if you freely express your anger as you feel it, you may find the other party feels defensive and views you as aggressive. This can cause hostility or arguments. See this book for further information on the consequences of unhealthily dealing with anger.
Benefits of Anger
In contrast to the negative effects of suppressing anger or reacting in rage, the following are some of the benefits for being able to manage anger well. Further information is in this link on a research paper about how anger affects the brain and body.
- Lowered anxiety
- Less depression
- Improved physical health
- Improved mental and emotional wellbeing
- Positively affects your relationships
- Increased life expectancy
How to Cope With Your Child’s Anger
Gentle parenting transforms your parenting into being about how the child affects your life, to how you can affect your child’s life. One of the key messages that hit home for me in the above mentioned research paper on anger was that we are not born with the emotion of anger but we learn it. A big part of that learning will come from us, the parents, as we are around our children for a large amount of time. We can never be more inspired to improve how we personally deal with our own anger if it will help our own kids in the years to come.
Keep remembering that your example is setting the stage for how your children will deal with anger when they get bigger. We do this by helping our children from as young as we sense they are feeling anger. We can help them in communicating their feelings and then their needs assertively, without hurting (verbally or physically) those around them. For toddlers who do not yet talk much, this can be expressing the words for them until they are able to.
A screaming 2 year old may be a challenge to show them how to express anger healthily, if inside it triggers your frustration levels too. However, imagine how much harder it will be in 10 years time when they are bigger and stronger. The sooner we show our children that we can control our own anger effectively, through gentle words and assertiveness, the sooner they will copy. If we can remain respectful to our children when they frustrate us, they in turn will remain respectful to us in the not-too-distant future.
How to Celebrate Anger and Stay Loving
The way I now view the title of this blog post is that it is a great compliment if our children feel comfortable enough with us to express their true emotions. We should aim to have empathy when they are screaming or crying, and then that empathy will help draw out their acceptance of the situation. This in turn will lead to something called tears of futility which means they have fully accepted that they cannot change the situation. When any person experiences tears of futility, it should be a pause for celebration as they will doubtful feel as angry about that particular thing again. Their mind has come to terms with it and lets it go. For more information on tears of futility I cannot recommend ‘Hold Onto Your Kids’ by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate enough. I have recommended this book a couple of times in previous posts, but it really was a game changer for me to read.
These ‘tears of futility’ are an important step to letting go of anger and moving on. Knowing this can help you focus your mind on bringing your child to tears sooner, rather than focusing on stopping their emotion. It takes you from reacting to their anger, and instead helps you talk through your child’s feelings on a situation and how sad it has made them. This gentle parenting response, to talk through the emotions rather than stop them, in turn helps the child grow to deal with their anger assertively through words. They will not suppress emotions as they will be equipped with experience in simply telling someone how something has made them feel and why, without an urge to use physical or verbal abuse to get the message across.
We owe it to our children to allow them to have the best health they can (a benefit of healthy anger expression), be assertive enough to stick up for themselves when someone wrongs them (a cause of anger), whilst remaining respectful and considerate of others (which will stop them getting into trouble with fights or offending their coworkers for example). Why should we do this? Many gentle parents find gentle parenting because the path they grew up on was not gentle. My husband and I have found it difficult to express anger healthily before finding gentle parenting. How great our kids’ lives might be if we can set our children up for healthy anger expression without having a history of unhealthy expression going against them.