Anger is a normal human emotion. All parents get angry from time to time, but if you can't control your anger it could negatively affect your child. Here are some simple strategies to follow if you find your anger getting out of control.
What causes anger?
Anger is when your body reacts to something it senses as a threat. You release adrenaline, your muscles tighten, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and your face and hands get flushed. Sometimes people get angry a lot because of the way they were born, their brain chemistry or a medical condition. But usually it's because something in your personal history triggers your anger.
Common triggers for anger include losing your patience, feeling like you're not being appreciated, worrying about problems and memories of something traumatic that has happened to you in the past. People who were not taught how to express and control their anger as children are more likely to have angry outbursts as adults.
It is very normal for parents of young children to get angry. It's a time when you're dealing with a lot, including family, work, looking after the house and social activities. You're busy and tired, so it can be difficult when children don't behave or things don't go to plan.
Other common triggers for anger in parents are when you feel like your partner isn't helping, when your child misbehaves or gets angry at you, or when you're stressed about something like finances or relationships.
Sometimes, having a baby can trigger emotions and trauma from your own childhood. If you experienced trauma or abuse as a child, there is help available from the Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380.
How does your anger affect your child?
Everyone gets angry — it's how you deal with it that matters. You are setting a good example for your child if you take a few deep breaths and walk away when you're angry. But if you lose your temper a lot, it can have serious negative effects for your child.
Children often blame themselves when they see the adults in their life get angry. It makes them stressed and this can affect the way their growing brains develop. Living in a household where there is a lot of anger puts your child at risk of mental illness later in life.
Using hurtful words towards your child can make them feel like they are bad and worthless. It can make them behave badly or get physically sick. Children react to angry, stressed parents by not being able to concentrate, finding it hard to play with other children, becoming quiet and fearful or rude and aggressive, or developing sleeping problems.
You should never physically hurt or punish your child, no matter what they have done or how angry you are. Research has shown that physically punishing children puts them at risk of future antisocial behaviour, aggression, low self-esteem, mental health problems and negative relationships.
Never shake a baby. Violently shaking, hitting, kicking or throwing a baby can result in death, disability or serious injury.
Dealing with your feelings
Anger usually comes with other emotions including anxiety, depression, disappointment, worry, embarrassment, frustration, hurt or fear. Recognising and dealing with these emotions will help you control your anger.
Bottling up your anger can lead to an explosion later on. But expressing it in a controlled way means you can release some of the underlying emotions and start to tackle what is really making you angry.
Try to notice your negative thoughts — 'No-one ever helps me' or 'Why are you so naughty'. Calm down and work out what is really making you feel bad.
Strategies to cope
The best way to deal with anger is to recognise the signs so you can take action before it gets out of control.
Signs you are getting angry might include:
- a fast heartbeat or breathing faster
- tense shoulders
- clenching your jaw or hands
- churning stomach
- feeling agitated
If you notice these signs, take a deep breath and try to slow down your breathing. Leave the room and go somewhere quiet to calm down. You could also go for a walk, take a warm shower or listen to calming music.
If your child is doing something that makes you angry, count to 10 before you react. Try to find positive rather than negative words. Let your child know it is their behaviour you don't like, not them.
If you do lose your temper with your child, apologise afterwards. This sets a good example and lets your child know it's OK to feel angry sometimes as long as you deal with it well.
After you have calmed down, take a moment to think back on what made you angry and how you reacted. This can help you react better next time.
When to seek help
If you notice you are getting angry a lot or you are having trouble controlling your anger, there is help available.
Start by talking to your GP, who can put you in touch with a psychologist or counsellor if necessary. They can help you write down a plan to manage your anger.
For advice on managing difficult child behaviour, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse.
If you feel you might hurt yourself or your child, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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Last reviewed: August 2020