Dealing With Anger

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.

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About Claire

I'm part-time stay-at-home mum to 3 children under 10. We're trying to raise them with the gentleness and creativity God uses with us. I'm also a part-time nurse and a volunteer breastfeeding advocate. We live not far from the beach or the bush in NW Tasmania.
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12 Responses to Dealing With Anger

  1. Megan says:

    I totally stole this idea from someone else but I can’t remember the blog I read it on so apologies to that person 🙂

    but anyway the mother wrote about how she had such a hard time controlling her temper that she decided to start working on teaching her child how to respond when mommy lost it. She taught her toddler to say phrases like “I don’t like it when you yell” and “please speak nicely” to her whenever she got angry. She said it was a great way for her to stop and realize she needed to take a moment to calm down and helped empower her little guy.

    • Claire says:

      Hi Megan
      Giving our kids permission to pull us up is a great idea. Thank you for reminding me of it! For a while, I encouraged my toddler to say ‘that’s not a kind voice, Mummy,’ but it’s fallen by the wayside. I’ve given him permission to suggest I go to the comfort corner for a break, too, but I don’t think he remembers ;).
      Another one I want to start doing, that I saw in an email list I’m part of, is having ‘prayer breaks’ whenever any of us needs to calm down. I just have to remember in the moment
      Thanks again
      Claire

  2. Lisa says:

    I had a very stressful season a few years back and that was when the yelling started. I have learned a few things through that –

    1. I have to take things slowly. When I have too much planned or am going too fast, I am not able to catch myself and the triggers are faster than I am. Now that the stressful “survival mode” season is over, I can take on more…but even now, when I am feeling not quite the me I want to be, I slow down.

    2. I learned to stop beating myself up. The guilt just gets turned inside out and how we feel about ourselves comes out at our children. I had to learn to treat myself with the same grace and respect that I wanted to treat them (and they me).

    3. I talked about how we treat each other a LOT. If I lost it, I came right back and explained that even if I didn’t like something that happened, the way I responded was not how God created me to respond. I explained that I never yelled BECAUSE of THEM…I yelled because I had lost control of ME. I talked about kindness. I gave them permission to let me know how they felt about something I said or how I said it.

    4. I learned (and taught my girls) to do the “monster dance” (or angry dance) — this helped me to get that angry energy out without directing it at them. We usually end up giggling by the time we are done and have a fresh perspective in returning to what needs to be done.

  3. Lisa says:

    Oh, and I chose very carefully WHAT to correct…I “looked above” a lot of things during that time and instead focused on investing energy into positive attention (reading together or sitting down for five minutes here and there to play with the girls). I limited the environment…if something bothered me (too many toys on the floor at once), I did not get at the girls about it, I would (discreetly) have less available the next day.

  4. Pearl says:

    This post is so timely for me! I get quite short-tempered and irritable (especially at certain times of the month), and God has been gently sending me messages that I need to find better ways to handle my anger, so as to not provoke my child to anger with my temper tantrums and impatience. It is not something I can just excuse as out of my control even if it is has an underlying cause of stress or hormones. “Sweet and even tempered” is a lovely way to positively frame this goal, and I deeply appreciate the excerpt from Little Women. I reread it recently and found it very inspirational and instructive. ❤

    • Claire says:

      Yes, I’m so glad a reread LW! I was delighted by all the great wisdom she crammed in there! I read it rather slowly (for me), trying to savour it. Then I powered through the 3 sequels in about 2 weeks 😉

  5. Michelle says:

    Hehe! Thank you so much 🙂 Looking for my triggers is a big one for me. I’ve realized that if I have a “timeline” with which I need to get x,y,z done, I get really stressed out. Schedules and time lines do NOT work for me. I’m better off with: sometime today I’d like to do x,y,z – or if it’s a more time consuming thing, then just set ONE thing for the day.

    Sometimes I get angry, and then I just want to stay angry – which is so childish. It’s almost like I am justifying my stupid outburst by continuing in my anger.

    I need to take some time and really look at what other triggers I have. Maybe this Lent would be a good opportunity to do just that.

    Thanks again!!

    • Claire says:

      You’re welcome. 🙂
      I have a feeling that insight about schedules is going to be good for me, too, as being interrupted in my plans is a huge trigger for me.
      And I know what you mean about wanting to keep being angry in an attempt to justify my outburst. It’s so hard to believe in that moment that my kids don’t deserve to be yelled at and that I don’t deserve my rage.
      …which all serves to increase my reliance on God and *His* patience when mine has run out 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed the post
      ❤ Claire

  6. Pingback: Dealing With Anger | Why Not Train A Child?

  7. Alison says:

    Another great post – I totally agree about hunger and tiredness being huge triggers. My oldest child is seven, and I – and others – can see how much less angry I am than I was when I first had kids. I have found that learning to control / sidestep / recognise my temper is a journey; naming the problem is a huge step; and learning techniques is invaluable (as well as eating very regularly and sleeping lots, I sing loud out of tune operatic arias when I’m getting frustrated – ‘go to the toilet! brush your teeeeeeth!!! right now!’ etc), which help break the spell). It all takes constant practice and self-discipline – thank God for grace and for forgiving children. Alison.

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