Parents today are extremely conscious of doing things right. Paradoxically, parents report that they are more stressed, more tired and more angry than ever before. Different parents express their anger differently. Some parents are relaxed a lot of the time but, when they blow a fuse, it is very destructive and may take weeks to recover.
Other parents are chronically irritable and cranky and do not enjoy their children most of the time and their children feel it. Many parents lose control when they are trying to gain co-operation and their children just will not comply; and some parents find that their anger mounts at classic moments like getting ready for school or bedtimes.
In my experience, parents are not always keen to share with others the frequency, or the extent of their anger because they feel ashamed. Moreover, they worry that their anger is damaging their children yet they feel powerless to change.
If you are one these of parents, fret no more. You are not alone and learning to control your anger is a skill that can be learned easily. My book No sweat rage control for parents, which will be released in two months, is a manual that details simple, techniques to quell your anger. In the meantime here are some tit bits to whet your appetite.
Cognitive behavioural psychology has proven that our anger comes from our thoughts, not an event. So, for example, if your daughter Maggie who is three years old spills milk and you yell at her: “Can't you be more careful like your friend Cathy? Now I have to clean it up and you know I hate cleaning. What a disaster!”; it is what you are telling yourself and not the spilled milk that you are crying over.
After listening to the woes of hundreds of parents, I found that there are six main beliefs that drive parents to fury.
1. “It is all about me!” This is called personalising. In this case, you would be telling yourself that Maggie knows you hate to clean up, but she still makes a mess.
2. “My child is doomed!” This is called generalising. When Maggie spills the milk, you think that she is careless generally.
3. “So you think this is bad!” I call this exceptionalising and it implies that Maggie is not like other three-year-olds, but is way more messy.
4. “This is a disaster.” When you view everyday messes and mishaps as tsunamis, you are catastrophising.
5. “But my life was supposed to be perfect!” This is described as romanticising. If you believe that messes are an aberration, then Maggie's spill certainly ruins your picture- perfect world.
6. “Woe is me!” I call this black thinking and find that it colours all aspects of parenting and underlies all questions like: “What more can go wrong?”
The way to prevent your anger is to think logically. Instead of taking Maggie's behaviour personally, you could depersonalise and tell yourself: “She is in her own little world, drinking milk and not thinking about me and my preferences.” Instead of generalising, you could see the total view of Maggie's behaviour as positive. When you tell yourself: “Maggie is very careful with her toys and bed linen. It seems she finds it difficult to be careful when she is drinking” you will feel less disappointed in her.
Rather than believing that Maggie is worse than her contemporaries, it will serve you better to see her as a regular three year old who can be messy. Still not convinced? Then ask around and you will soon discover that most of her friends spill liquid too.
Since very few things in life are real catastrophes, you will feel less stressed when you describe the event in realistic terms: “Maggie, you spilled 100ml of milk on the table. One cloth should soak that up.” On the other end of the spectrum, very few romantic dreams actualise. Telling yourself that spilled milk is a part of normal life and giving up the dream of perfection will help you stay calm.
Ongoing black thinking needs to be addressed in a more complex way. If you suffer from it, you would benefit from leaning to be more optimistic and to find happier ways of viewing life's mishaps.
In order to change your thoughts and ultimately stay cool most of the time, you need to first identify the anger-inducing thoughts you have. Then you need to practice more helpful thoughts so that they become your default mode of thinking.
It is that simple, really. Good luck!
About Renee Mill
South African-born Renée Mill is a qualified clinical psychologist and occupational therapist offering psychotherapy to individuals, couples and families. Since arriving in Australia in 1997, Renée has built up a successful practice in Sydney and has developed a unique profile.
She is a sought after speaker delivering public lectures on topics like self esteem, parenting, resilience and relationships. For corporations, she runs workshops on stress management and anger management as well as providing one-on-one executive training.
Renée writes for popular magazines like Sydney's Child, Healthsmart, Tribe and Readers' Digest. Her first book No Sweat Parenting is available for purchase at her web-store www.parentchildself.com.au which also sells many of her popular topics as downloads or CD's. Her latest book No Sweat Rage Control for Parents is due out in November 2010.