How to stop yourself from doing something you regret in a moment of anger
by Andy Smithson
Our kid's big emotions tend to be a major trigger to our big emotions as parents. Anger often begets anger. Emotions are truly contagious. With that said, our emotions do not have to be our masters.
I recently experienced a little emotional contagion of my own with my six year old son, Berkeley. As I emerged from the bathroom one morning I noticed that my oldest son Cuylar was huddled on my bed, the door to my room was locked and there was a rhythmic crashing and pounding coming from the door. I quickly deduced that Cuylar had teased Berkeley and now Berkeley was going to destroy my bedroom door as well as his brother if he could. It took only a second for my fiery indignation to go from 0 to 100 on the anger meter. My initial thought was to fling open the door dramatically and yell commandingly for Berkeley to go to his room and “NEVER touch my door again!” Another thought was to grab him and remove him forcefully. Both of these thoughts ran through my mind even though my wife and I don't sue any of these tactics in our parenting. The contagious nature of his aggression and the damage he was doing to the door sent my mind down angry paths even though I have practiced and taught parents to calm themselves.
Instead of following those initial thoughts into a course of action I knew I would regret later, I saw the red flags and went straight to using the Quick Calm technique I teach to parents in my Stop Yelling in 21 Days Coaching Course. I gently opened the door as he continued to bang against it and looked at Berkeley. He was slightly startled by the door opening so I took the opportunity to get down on the floor at his level and softly held his hands in mine. I said to him, “You're really mad. I'm sorry you're so mad. I'm not going to let you hurt me, Cuylar or the door. Let's calm down.” Here's where you shake your head and say sarcastically, “I'm sure he just calmed right down.” Well, that's not what happened, at least not right away. He continued to push and fight and try to get to his brother. I offered him a hug to help him calm down. He refused. I tried to just sit holding his hands until he calmed but he didn't work eaither. Finally, I said, “I'm going to let go of your hands now but I won't let you hurt me or Cuylar or the door. I want to keep you and everyone else safe. I hope you will calm down so we can work things out and we don't have to separate from you.” I let go and he tore in the room determined to do the same thing to Cuylar that he was doing to the door. I quickly replied, “Think buddy. Don't hurt anyone.” he slowed himself and I could see the wheels turning in his head as he turn to look at me. He ambivalently walked to the edge of our bed and sat against the edge. His anger almost instantaneously dropped to a manageable level. He sat there breathing deeply. I walked to his side and thanked him for calming himself. I remarked, “You're really learning how to calm yourself down. Thanks for working hard on that.” He gave me a small smile and the hug that he had previously refused.
We've all been there:
It's no secret that we all have our moments. Parenting can be a great incubator for frustration, overwhelm, worry and irritation, all of which can lead very quickly to anger. There's nothing wrong with being angry from time to time. You're not a bad parent if you've been there. Anger is a natural response to threat, harm, injustice or disappointment and can actually be a useful emotion. It can teach us things about ourselves and our surroundings. It can help motivate us to change things. The trouble with anger is that it's often coupled with behavior that we are not particularly proud of and action that we regret. Anger is compelling. It induces a sense of urgency that is rarely necessary in the conflicts we experience as parents.
We all know the results of acting in anger. Aggressive, cruel words, yelling, and frighting behavior often accompany our feelings of anger. Parents I counsel with and parents in my courses often say, “ I know that I want to teach through positive, gentle means but how do I stop myself when I'm in the middle of a fiery moment of anger?”
An ounce of prevention is worth a gallon of cure.
Spend some time identifying and understanding what makes you angry and why it makes you so angry. Think about other perspectives and ways to view your triggers. Seek to separate old hurts, traumas or grudges from new and unrelated situations. All of the points below are important to consider ahead of time, but steps 3 through 5 are the points of action that will save you and your child a lot of grief and regret later.
1. Know what anger feels like to you. What does it feel like in your body and what do you think about? Think this out thoroughly and even write it down to bring it more clearly to your awareness.
2. Separate Your anger from your negative behavior. They are not the same thing. Acknowledge that hitting, spanking, yelling, harsh words and punishment are not anger. They are non-thinking reactions to anger. Speak or write down other ways to express anger and/or resolve anger productively.
3. Know your blinking red flags. Know your triggers for anger and your first involuntary reactions. Use those reactions as a new kind of trigger. Think about them as being a warning or prompt to slow down and act in some predetermined positive way (Step 4). Role play it ahead of time.
4. Have a “go to” calming tool, phrase and action. “Any time _______ happens, I will _________.” Plan ahead of time with your kids to have a code word to alert each other to pause and calm before acting. Drastic sensory changes can help us “snap out of it.” Move slowly and deliberately.
5. Accept and validate your anger and wait: “I'm angry. It's okay to be angry. Sometimes parents get angry when _________. Now I know what we need to work on or change.” Realize that the problem that needs to be solved can be more productively dealt with when your blood is no longer boiling. If all else fails, wait. Keep yourself and others safe but otherwise, wait.
If you do the preparation work here and practice following these steps, you'll be able to stop yourself from saying and doing things you regret in a moment of anger. It takes practice so be gracious with yourself and realize there will be mistakes. Don't wallow in those mistakes for too long. Simply use them as lessons in what worked or didn't work for you and prepare better for the next time around. If you would like help learning and applying these skills and many others to stop the frustration, yelling and hurt feelings in your home, the Stop Yellingin 21 Days Coaching Course starts soon. Register and put these skills to work for you and your family!
In my exchange with my son Berkeley I was mad and that was okay, but if I had chosen to throw the door open, yell at him and threaten punishments we may have been there all day reinforcing each other's anger. I would have carried regret later for the diminishing of our relationship and with it the loss of my parental influence. Instead, he learned something about calming himself, the crisis was diverted and we were able to part ways with our relationship intact. No regrets, just helpful lessons. You can do it! Anger does not have to be the enemy. Start today and you'll find a much brighter tomorrow where you are happier, kids learn and your family thrives!
If you found his helpful and would like to learn more skills and techniques and get the support you need to make it happen, learn morehere! When you register, you can download a free copy of the Quick Calm Toolkit immediately.
I’m a city born GQ wannabe (sometimes I don’t shave for 2 days to get that cool scruffy look) transplant to rural Idaho. When I married almost 10 years ago, I traded in waiting on rush hour traffic for waiting on farming tractors and cattle crossings. I never used the phrase, “Do we need to go to town?” for anything until I started my family. I enjoy the solitude we find close to the snake river now.
Still, don’t mistake my new country environment for making me a country boy. We still have running water and electricity and even that new thing called the internet. In the summer the beautiful Snake river calls our family’s name several times a week. We love to play, swim and ski on the river. Come winter, the nearby mountains beckon to us. The whole family loves to snow ski and spend time making snowmen, snow forts and throwing snowballs.