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Wow. What a week. Writing this podcast has sure been a journey in tough times. First, COVID-19 hits in March. I’ve been blessed to have ventured into podcasting so that there’s a way I can still come into your lives. Now, in June, with #blacklivesmatter, our nation is being rocked by anger and fear. It’s overwhelming. In this episode I’m going to talk about the anger in our own homes that we have that gets directed at our children and some ideas for how we can get it under control.
I know anger isn’t helpful, caring and thoughtful action is helpful. Being cool, calm-headed, and working together is what can move us forward as a nation but also as families. Today I’m going to start in your home and deal with the anger your precious, adorable children bring out in you when they don’t obey, won’t listen, when they argue with you or when they fight with each other. Your kids manage to push your buttons so easily when you’re tired or in a rush, right? Some days you’re the epitome of amazing parenting and then the next day you’re on your knees with anger and frustration at your kids and yourself. It’s exhausting.
ANGER - COMPLICATIONS
I want to talk about how anger and threats create certain complications in our homes that we might not be expecting - an atmosphere of fear and children who become followers or rebels.
1 – Fear
First, when we use anger and threats with our kids, I’m mostly talking about yelling but some parents don’t yell but they certainly still get angry, they just don’t yell. We might grit our teeth and say “Do that right now”. It’s still intimidating even if it’s not loud. When talking about parenting types the Helicopter is the nagger but the Drill Sergeant is the yeller/teller type. They tell their kids what to do and expect immediate obedience; if there isn’t, then there are consequences mostly using fear and intimidation. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in consequences but they need to be delivered in a fashion that will be impactful for the long term. Listen to Podcast #10 for more on that if you haven’t yet.
2 – Followers
But, you do it because anger works! Certainly, it does. Intimidation and being more powerful than your child works in your favor especially in the early years when you are physically bigger than they are and they are completely dependent on you. But, how do you feel when someone yells at you? Ever had a boss yell at you? Did it make you feel good? Did it make you want to be around that person?
When I was working in hi-tech myself and some of my staff were in a meeting with a top VP who totally blasted one of his direct reports in front of 15 other people. It made me cringe. I was shocked and appalled. If this happened to you, most likely, you felt small and stupid. It might have made you want to hide. I know when my dad would yell, we would all want to scram as fast as we could. He wouldn’t listen to us even if we had a defense. He shut down our feelings and minds just like that VP did.
Some of us fall into Drill Sergeant mode when we get angry and frustrated. This is when we want to yell and tell our kids what to do and we will yell louder and longer if our message isn’t being heard. When I talk to live audiences about Drill Sergeants, I ask them who wants to raise a child who is a follower. How about you? Are you wanting to raise a follower? Of course not, our society is always telling us to raise leaders. We need leaders. We need GOOD leaders. And here you are, you might be raising a follower without even realizing it.
As you yell or firmly tell your child what to do and how to do it, you shut down communication and their brains. They aren’t encouraged to think for themselves, just to obey you. They will FOLLOW you out of fear. That’s not what we want. We want them to THINK with their brains and know how to use their brains to fix things when stuff happens that isn’t right. We need to communicate with them and allow them to problem solve and brainstorm with us, not go sit in a corner pouting or crying by themselves because we’re mean and yelled at them. If you want to raise a leader let’s take anger out of the equation for raising your kids.
I’ve talked about brain science in a few of my other podcasts #2 probably has the most details. When we are angry, our brain is in “fight and flight” mode. This is true for our kids’ brains but also for your own brain. If we need to guide our families, we need to use the thinking part of our brains, our prefrontal cortex. I want to talk about ways to keep out of fight-and-flight and what to do if you do get there.
Assuming you recognize that you sometimes lose your temper, here are a few ways you can stem the tide.
First, acknowledge you’re angry. When you feel your body start to tense up and you start to go up what my good friend who is an MFT calls “anger mountain”, you need to embrace that feeling as it goes up your spine or face. Once you can feel that feeling coming on, get some help to diffuse it. I’m going to give you a few ideas of help you can use in your own home but if you have a major issue with anger, please get professional help or email me and I’ll be happy to connect you with appropriate resources.
1 – Enlist your spouse or significant other, if you have one
This can work two ways – giving your spouse a signal or your spouse giving you a signal.
When things are calm, set aside time with your spouse to work out a signally system. If one of you sees or hears the other getting angry or yelling, use the agreed upon signal to help them recognize they are losing it. I want to encourage a signal that doesn’t sound like “Hey, quit yelling. You’re upset, go outside and cool off.” While that may sound helpful even if it’s in a nice tone of voice, I want to suggest just using a phrase that signals “Hey, honey, I can tell your getting upset. I’ll take over. You go calm down.” Without saying all those words. In my house we tried something verbal for a while like “Gee, honey, I think the cat’s water dish needs new water.” Or it could be where you physically signal by pulling on your ear or patting your head. The point your signal will convey the message without further irritating the situation.
I love signals like this. My husband and I developed one many years ago to help deal with my I getting really nervous when my husband would tailgate, especially at high speed. Now, he’s a good driver, and it doesn’t happen that often but when he used to do it I would verbally say “Honey, slow down! You’re not using the 3 second rule.” “Or, it’s not a 1 second rule, it’s a 3 second rule.” And he’d snap back getting irritated with me nagging him again, wanting me to chill out. Both of us would be angry and annoyed, not understanding each other’s point of view. Not a win-win situation at all and we didn’t even have kids creating this tension.
Well, we had a heart-to-heart one day while not in the car when both of our brains were calm. I explained my point of view and how it really scared me and he explained how it kept sounding like he was a bad driver. We both agreed to use a signal and no words in the future. I gently tap him on the knee when I feel uncomfortable, he knows I love him and I’m scared and he has time to react without getting defensive. It’s been amazing. I know it’s not a parenting situation but I think you get the drift; communication can lead to real progress in relationships.
You and your spouse need to come up with something like a knee tap. I really think a “no word” option is better than even the cat water bowl words. I’d suggest maybe even having a teddy bear or a blue card or a pack of gum that you just hand each other that says all those words without saying anything verbally, an “I got your back” secret signal.
2 – Enlist your kids
This next idea is to recruit your entire family to help get yelling and anger under control. Have a way that ANYONE in the family can signal “warning, anger erupting!” without using words. Some families might use a card – red, blue, one with a bird or a dog on it. Other families might have teddy bear, doesn’t matter as long as everyone knows and agrees on what the signal means. The person who receives it needs to have some calm down time. It’s not a punishment but a loving encouragement.
In order to enlist your kids in helping get your temper under control, you’d have to have a family meeting to brainstorm how to make it happen. You have the meeting at a time when everyone is calm, maybe a Sunday afternoon or Friday night before a movie. Talk about why you need help and how you need love and support to make it happen. This type of family support can show that everyone needs help in life, even parents, in dealing with emotions. I’d have an option that mom and dad can also hand the calm down signal to a child so that everyone can have the same love and support to improve emotional skills. If it doesn’t work at first, have more family meetings until everyone can get on the same page with empathy and love.
3 – Use reminders
Some people find reminders a really useful way to help break bad habits. Anger can certainly be a bad habit so try some to see if it will help you. One parent I work with has trouble with anger but a lot of that is caused by having a lack of empathy for what her kids are going through. We brainstormed a bit and she decided to place yellow stickies all around her house with “empathy” on them. It did work for a while. Another mom just put stickies with an “E” on them around. Some of you are tech-savvy and might create automatic texts, calendar entries or emails with nudges for you to be more empathetic or ask yourself to rate your anger for the day on a scale of 1 to 10. Use anything but try something!
BAD FEELING RECOVERY
Now that we’ve talked about some ideas on how to try to stop yelling, I want you to think about ideas for what we can do to counteract the feelings incompetence and self-esteem that we often damage in our children when our anger lashes out at them.
Our kids are fragile and words can break them. Often times, those words spoken by us in anger stay with them for a life time. When we say “You’re so stupid!” often enough, they start believing it. When we tell them they are clumsy, they stop taking risks. When we get angry at them for breaking something or falling or missing a ball at a soccer match, they absorb that anger. They start internalizing that they really aren’t good enough. They might try harder in an attempt to win your love but it comes out of fear and hurt.
Sometimes the hurt becomes so great that they stop trying harder or they withdraw from you. That’s often what happens when teens start rejecting everything their parents say to them. The parents have brushed off every possible opinion their child had when they were young so the teen learns that their parent could care less what they think. They close down and rely on their friends for ideas and exchanges. Super sad. Let’s figure out how to be a parent who understands that parents are human and make mistakes and is willing to take time to repair damage before it becomes permanent.
There is a lot of psychology around how impactful negative comments are. The research says that it takes 5 positive interactions to negate just one negative one. Ouch. That’s a crazy imbalance, isn’t it? We really need some creative ways to balance those negative interactions out.
I came across a fun solution last week while on Pinterest. There’s a therapist who has a website called idealistmom.com. She has some great resources if you like this podcast and want to learn more. The thing that she had that caught my eye was what she called the “Five Hair Ties” solution to getting this negative/positive imbalance back in line. She says to put five hair bands on your wrist in the morning when your kids wake up. If you have a bad interaction, you lose one hair tie to the other wrist. You then have to spend the day trying to earn it back to the original wrist. If you have more negatives you’ll lose more ties and have more work to do, so you’re motivated to even the score as soon as possible. It’s a gentle, physical reminder that there’s more love needed.
What types of things can you use to recover? Simple! Things as easy as a hug (she says a 6 second hug is best), sitting and reading extra, putting a note somewhere they can find it with something nice on it, go outside together, play a game, give them an extra smile, tell a joke, have a dance party in the kitchen, there are lots of ways! I’m going to put a link in my podcast notes on how to sign up for a really cool printable chart with 25 of her ideas you can post on your fridge. It’s super worth clicking on! I love her SAY-PLAY-DO-SURPRISE quadrants. You have to sign up for her newsletter to get it but it’s totally worth it and you can always unsubscribe after!
I want to talk about one more thing I think can help families a great deal with trying to overcome anger issues, Family Brainstorming sessions. I mentioned it a bit when suggesting you enlist your children in helping you recognize when you’re getting angry. I really think it’s an amazing tool that should be used all the time. Setting up open and honest discussions with your whole family about issues that are upsetting family harmony is super healthy for establishing family bonding and love.
Your children deserve to hear from you when things are calm in your brain as to what gets you upset and then you all work together to understand how to overcome the issues. If you’re getting upset at everyone for leaving their shoes all over the house and you yell about it every day and no one does anything, having a place to air grievances like this in a kind, calm manner can be helpful and harmonious.
Your kids should understand why it upsets you and maybe you all decide to create a new shoe area in your house together. Or maybe shoes stay in the garage or on the porch on a new shoe bench that you all create and paint together. Showing your kids how problems can be solved with words and creativity is the best lesson you can give them in life. Anger solves nothing but if anger isn’t addressed it explodes as we can see now. Address the anger in your life so that your kids can have a good role model for solving issues.
I hope this has inspired you to think about issues that bring anger into your family. Be creative. If hair ties aren’t your thing, try rubber bands, bracelets or coins in your pocket. Remember your words can wound for a lifetime. I’d love to challenge anyone to try the hair ties for one week and write to me about it. I’ll provide a free phone coaching session to anyone who does it, that’s how important I think this is.
If you found this information useful, please forward this link on to your friends and family. It would be helpful to me but what I really want is for us to work together to help the world take steps to control our anger in a positive, healthy way.
Here's the link to the idealistmom.com website article: