Monday, August 22, 2011

Managing Anger in Healthy Ways

Like it or not, most of us parents flip out in front of our dear children from time to time. Sometimes the anger is aimed at them, other times not, but it’s almost always a deeply unsettling experience. Fortunately, there are simple—sometimes surprising—steps you can take to repair the damage, not to mention avoid meltdowns in the future.
The occasional, non abusive freak out is generally much less damaging than regular fireworks, which send a child the message that he or she is not safe and that there’s something wrong with him.
Kids can actually learn an important lesson from seeing you lose your temper and then regain your cool. This provides an opportunity to show kids that we all get angry, but what really counts is how we repair things afterwards.
Where is the line between an occasional melt-down and having an anger management problem? A little self reflection and maybe you will be able to evaluate where you are on the spectrum of anger management.
Do You Have an Anger-Management Problem?
Could you be past “hot-tempered” and into the realm of needing help? Answer the following questions honestly.
• Do you lose your temper several times a week, even daily?
• Does your anger cause problems in your relationship with your spouse and your children?
• When you are angry do you engage in dysfunctional behaviors such as: blaming, name calling, screaming or yelling, hurting self or the people around you verbally or physically, punishing others with the silent treatment, turning to addictions, spending money as ways of coping with deep-seeded anger issues, etc.
• Do you take accountability for your outbursts and apologize for your behavior?
• Are you aware that you have a problem with anger management and are already actively working to improve your skills with managing your anger patterns?
These patterns may sound all too familiar.
Here are some ground rules for managing anger that you can work on at home. Please be aware that if you need help with anger management, please have the courage to seek help for the benefit of your spouse and children.

Here are some simple reminders that can help you keep your cool:
• When, dealing with a child’s angry outburst, be sure to ask the right question. Focus on the obvious. Look at possibilities as to why the child might be acting out. Is he hungry, bored, tired, or in need of attention? Try to meet his need instead of letting your anger get the best of you. Choose to respond instead of react. See beyond the behavior and look for what the child might need.
• When addressing your anger. Keep a journal that documents when you lose your cool. Look for patterns—what time of day do you get angry? Under what circumstances? Are you tired or hungry? Do you notice other similarities with your anger pattern? Work to improve those times of the day with better planning or lowering expectations of self or the child. Knowing the factors that contribute to loss of anger gives you an opportunity to avoid those situations. Ask the child to offer ideas to improve the situation. By giving your kids a voice you are empowering them to be part of the solution.
• Minimize marriage disputes. In a calm moment, you and your spouse should agree to handle your next argument differently. Give yourselves permission to walk away if you are getting too angry in front of the kids. Make an agreement that you’ll discuss the issue later, in private, when you’re calmer. Spouses fighting in front of the kids can add to them acting out in their behavior with more anger. Stop the anger cycle by managing your anger as a couple and handle your disagreements without the presence of the children.
• Find creative outlets to minimize angry outbursts. Set up a plan that can help interrupt the old pattern. Count to ten, take some deep breathes, put on music to lighten your mood, write out your feelings before things get explosive, go for a walk or a drive. Whatever your course of action, make a commitment to follow your plan the next time you feel anger welling up inside of you. Know that it will take practice to implement these new patterns and as you make improvements in managing your anger so will your children. Work together as a family to stop the anger cycle by maintaining healthy ways to release anger and frustration.
• Always take accountability for your own emotional outburst no matter the trigger or the cause. If your anger has already boiled over do not give into the temptation to blame your child or your spouse. Be the one that can apologize sincerely for your part and trust that you can help facilitate others apologizing for their part. This brings resolution, closure and healing. Otherwise the damage continues and the recovery time is so much longer and harder.
• In a marriage, success in a relationship is based on the couple’s ability to recover from disagreements. Successful marriages are able to use their communication and their personal skills in clearing the air, being able to extend love to each other, and then move on. They do not bring up old issues unless they are exploring patterns and working on issues. These are the same principles you want to model for your children.

Anger itself is not bad, it is part of our human experience. It is a built in mechanism designed to help us know when we are in danger. However, we oftentimes over respond with anger even when we are not in danger of losing our lives. Because most of our triggers for anger are not life threatening, we must improve our skills to read situations with better accuracy and respond with more appropriate behavior. It is what we do with anger that makes it destructive. With greater awareness, improving our anger management skills and letting go of old anger patterns, we can heal. You can be part of the healing in your family by learning to manage your own anger in healthy ways.