That's an upsetting photo, right? Most of us don't realize how scary our angry faces can be for our children.
But that's the hallmark of anger: we lose perspective. When we're angry, it's because we think we need to protect ourselves from some threat.
We forget that a misbehaving child is not a threat, just a confused or upset young human with an immature brain. We forget that we're escalating the drama by acting in a threatening way ourselves. We forget that our responsibility as a parent is to act like a grown-up, calmly coaching our child so they can learn, grow, and develop the ability to regulate their own emotions and behavior.
When your child's behavior sends you into your own temper tantrum, you'll be sure that your child is the problem. But any time you "lose it" that's a sign that you're triggered.
The definition of being triggered is that old feelings are stirred up, that are making you over-react to the present situation, sending you into a state of emergency (fight, flight or freeze.) Actions you take from that state of fear and anger will never have the result you want. (That result is for your child to learn and grow. That only happens when a child feels safe and connected.)
When you're triggered, you're not thinking rationally. You're not acting like the calm, emotionally generous parent every child deserves, a parent who can coach your child to be their best self.
So the most important thing to remember about anger is this:
Resist acting when you're triggered.
Not easy, right? When you're triggered, you feel like it's an emergency. You're driven to act!
In our last post, we talked about how to cut the drama when your child gets angry and you get triggered: When Your Child's Anger Triggers You.
But what if, like so many parents, you find yourself getting angry often?
That's a message that you need to do some work on yourself. After all, no one ever really "triggers" you. They're your triggers, whether from stress, from your own childhood, or from other life traumas. Your child has simply unearthed them and is giving you the opportunity to heal them.
Life has a way of doling out lessons that we didn't ask for, but which help us develop more wholeness. When we resist those lessons, they land in our lap over and over -- usually with more force -- until we finally tackle them. And children, who trigger our deepest emotions, are often our greatest teachers.
Why not use those episodes when your child pushes your buttons as an opportunity to de-activate them? (Preferably the buttons, not the child.) Here's how.
1. Commit now to using your anger as a learning opportunity, rather than acting on it.
That way, next time you slide into "fight or flight" and your child looks like the enemy, you'll already have made the decision to move away from your child. It's hard to do, but it's always the first step of anger management. And don't worry, it gets easier every time you do it. You're building neural pathways for better self-regulation -- actually re-wiring your brain.
2. When you get angry, hit the pause button.
Shift your attention away from your child, move away, and turn inward. Notice where the anger is in your body. Breathe into it. Hold yourself with compassion. This won't feel good. In fact, you might feel like you're going to hyperventilate, or even vomit. But every time you can breathe through that unbearable feeling without lashing out, you're emptying your emotional backpack so you won't get triggered as easily in the future.
3. Empower yourself.
When you start feeling stuck about some issue with your child, stop focusing on your child's behavior and focus on your own reaction. Write in your journal. Vent to another parent, making sure you focus on your feelings rather than your child's behavior, so you get to the deeper tears and fears beneath your anger. Explore your childhood connections to this issue. How is past trauma or current stress playing a role? What can you do to make things different?
As you unlock your own turmoil and become able to notice the physiological sensations of your emotions and breathe through them -- without taking action -- you release the stuck places in yourself. That means you're unplugging emotionally from the drama with your child.
The result? Your child begins to change, too.
The paradox is that the child seems to be creating the problem, but when we work on our part of it, the problem always diminishes.
- Is that because once we come to peace with the issue, we can set firm but kind limits and help our child with his emotions, instead of adding fuel to the fire?
- Or because when we love ourselves more, we can give our child the unconditional love she needs?
- Or because we're in a spiritual relationship with our children, and they bring us the issues we need to heal inside us?
- Or simply that once we stop pushing our children to be different, they're free to stop resisting, so they start to change?
Regardless, once we melt the tangle in ourselves, our child so often makes a breakthrough too. We both heal and grow.
So today, when you get triggered with your child? Don't lose it. Use it!
And say thanks to your little Zen master, at least in your mind.
Would you like more support to parent this way?
The Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Course Online Course is a self-paced 12-week program that gives you the tools and inspiration you need, to become the parent you want to be. It's offered twice each year -- in September and January.