Michelle asked for tips on controlling our tempers. This is an area I struggle in a lot, and I don’t really feel qualified to answer the question, as I fail so often. But I have improved a little over the last year or so, and I’ve been given heaps of good advice (even if I don’t necessarily remember to follow it ;)), so I’ll try to pass on what I’ve found useful.
The first tool I discovered when I was new to gentle discipline was The Five Steps. This, in itself, led to increased peace in our home, simply because when my son didn’t comply with an instruction, I had a PLAN. In the past, I would panic. Smacking (spanking) ‘worked’ some of the time, but so often he would do the exact same thing again, watching to see what reaction he would get – and I didn’t really feel that it was sensible to keep smacking harder and harder in the hope he would ‘get it.’ Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind. Out of my panic and fear would rise great anger. How dare my child defy me again? How dare he NOT LEARN? Once, I scared him so badly with my rage that he wouldn’t let me near him to cuddle him for several hours afterwards. I am so grateful for my child’s grace towards me and his resilience – to be able to forgive and start again after being so badly hurt.
So, having the 5 step plan helped to circumvent that panic and the resultant anger. It also gave me a way to show my son that my words meant something without resorting to violence or any kind of punishment. As I have added other tools to my toolbox, opportunities for this kind of panic and impasse have continued to shrink.
However, I have plenty of other temper triggers. I never realised until the last 6 months or so, just how much hunger contributes to my temper tantrums, as well as my children’s. If I remember to sit us all down for a healthy snack around 4pm, before I start cooking the evening meal and all those lovely aromas start wafting and making our tummies rumble, the ‘arsenic hour’ tends to be far less ‘arsenicky’ ;). Being tired’s another one. If I have a bad night’s sleep, I’ve learned to tell myself not to push myself/us too hard that day. We take the day as it comes, do the minimum housework, get outside to playgrounds so my children’s energy doesn’t overwhelm my tired brain, cook a freezer meal… and hopefully get to the end of the day without me gritting my teeth too many times. And maybe without me yelling at all!
What I want to learn to do, is catch the anger before it catches me. To learn to walk away and regroup, with a script like “Mummy needs to calm down for a minute. When I can be safe around you I’ll come back.” This, after all, is the skill I want my children to learn: to take time away when their big feelings threaten to overwhelm them and cause someone harm. But I find my anger creeps up on me and I’m not good at catching the warning signs early enough. I am praying about this and trust God that I will learn this skill.
Most recently, I decided to deliberately put a month’s effort into building the habit of ‘a sweet and even temper.’ (This quote is from Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator who had a lot to say about building good habits in our children). I thought that, like with children, it would help to define my goal in positive words, rather than ‘not getting angry’. I prayed every day of January for God to remind me of the words ‘sweet and even temper’ when I was losing it, and to remind me to take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh when I felt my teeth clenching. On the whole, I think working on this exclusively for a month did help me, even though I am still far from where I want to be. Viewing my temper tantrums as a habit I can change, instead of (purely) a character flaw I am stuck with, is empowering. I will likely always get unreasonably angry at times, but I can change how I respond to that, with God’s help.
I want to finish with a quote I found encouraging. Following Charlotte Mason’s advice, I sought out a ‘living example’ of someone learning to control her temper and found it in the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. If you’ve read the book, you may remember that Jo had a bad fright when she almost lost her sister as a result of letting her temper run away with her…
“Oh, Mother, what shall I do? What shall I do?” cried poor Jo, in despair.
“Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault,” said Mrs March, drawing the blowzy head to her shoulder and kissing the wet cheek so tenderly that Jo cried even harder.
“You don’t know, you can’t guess how bad it is … I get so savage, I could hurt anyone and enjoy it. I’m afraid I shall do something dreadful some day, and spoil my life … do help me!”
“I will, my child, I will … remember this day and resolve with all your soul not to have another like it … we all have our temptations … and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them. You think your temper is the worst in the world, but mine used to be just like it.”
“Yours, Mother? Why, you are never angry!” And for the moment Jo forgot remorse in surprise.
“I’ve been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so … I’ve learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips, and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away for a minute, and give myself a shake for being so weak…
Your father … helped me and comforted me, and showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was their example. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own. A startled or surprised look from one of you when I spoke sharply rebuked me more than any words could have done, and the love, respect and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy.”
What are your strategies for coping with anger? Post a comment so I can learn from you.