In my earlier post on anger management, I shared a bit about anger management and its effects on children. Today, I will be touching on the two main ingredients of anger: stress and trigger thoughts, and how to manage them. (Information courtesy of the NUH Women’s Emotional Health Service’s anger management workshop.)
Stress predisposes us to anger. It sets the scene for anger. Ever wonder why sometimes you react differently towards the same behaviour in your child? Stress is the main reason. Your state of mind, or more specifically, how stressed you feel at the time is a key determining factor.
A trigger thought is the automatic thought that pops into your head, interpreting the situation. It happens in a split second, and often you don’t even know you’re thinking it until you sit down and reflect after the incident.
That thought (usually something about your child) sets off an angry response, converting that internal stress into something expressed externally: anger / frustration / crying / yelling / hitting.
If we want to better manage our emotions, we need to deal with both fronts.
Self-care for Stress
To help keep stress levels in check, take care of your needs. Self-care is important, especially as a modern, multi-tasker mum. Watch over your basic needs; have sufficient rest, exercise, maintain a healthy diet. Also, watch your emotional needs. Keep communication lines open with your spouse, schedule couple time, and even some me-time. Go ahead, you deserve it.
Basically, anything that can help you be in the best state of mind, is beneficial to your family too.
Talk back to trigger thoughts
In my earlier post, some of the readers already identified the thoughts that were in their minds at the point of an angry outburst. These could be: ‘You never listen’ or ‘You’re being difficult’, or ‘He’s driving me crazy!’
One way to combat these negative and often extreme thoughts is to talk back to them. Try these talk-back thoughts instead:
- It’s just a stage. Kids have to go through these stages.
- This is how he’s coping with his feelings and needs. It’s not about me.
- I can cope with this. I don’t have to get angry.
These thoughts help to offer a more realistic view of the situation and your child, as opposed to than the emotional-charged trigger thoughts. The next time you find yourself in a tense situation, take a step back and see what is going through your head at the moment, and then try and see if you can come up with your own talk-back thought. I know it helps because I’ve tried it too, though it might take a while to get used to, and changes may not occur overnight.
Here are some other ideas that I took home from the workshop:
- Understand your child’s developmental stage – certain traits can be expected at different developmental stages, and it’s helpful to understand what these are before concluding that the child is deliberately misbehaving. For example, around age 2-3 years old, a child tends to blur fantasy and reality, so when she says something that is untrue, it’s not that she’s trying to lie to you.
- Anticipate your child’s needs – for instance, he may need food, water, rest, sleep, security, attention, etc, so if you can see it coming, then try to prepare what you can to avoid potential tantrums and crankiness.
- Practise calming techniques – such as deep breathing, walking off your anger, resting a few minutes in an air-conditioned room, or telling yourself “I can calm down”, etc
- Communicate assertively – Use “I feel ____ when you _____”, e.g., “I feel frustrated when you don’t listen to me.” Then set clear boundaries for behaviour, such as “I want you to pick up your toys every evening before bedtime.”
I’ve found some of these coping strategies useful in helping me to stay calm in tense situations. And I certainly hope they work for you too.
What’s a common issue that you face with your child, at his/her current development stage? How do you manage your emotions when conflict arises?