When Your Anger And Rage Starts To Impact Your Kids
We’ve all done it. A kid can’t find a shoe. A tween yells at his brother. A 7-year-old pretends not to hear you. A 10 year-old talks back. A 3-year-old screams in your face. A 5-year-old upends his juice on purpose. And when it happens, when you’re already on edge, the parenting rage coming out.
Many parents don’t understand this. But when you’re already struggling with anxiety, and that anxiety manifests itself as rage, it can be hard to ignore these little things that pepper the average parenting day: backtalk. Lost backpacks, shoes, jackets, hats. Defiance. All normal. All rage-inducing to a parent who needs to have all the things together or feel like all the things will fall apart.
Parenting with anxiety is tough. Parenting when your anxiety manifests as rage — when socks on the floor sent you spiraling into rage — is its own special kind of hell.
I know. I’ve been there. My poor kids have dealt with my yelling, my temper tantrums, my skyrocketing stress levels over normal childhood behavior, like whining or blocks left on the ground or messes on the kitchen table. They’ve seen me rage about any number of stupid things. I’ve threatened. I’ve belittled (“Why can’t you do better?!”). I’ve bribed (“I’ll up your allowance if you just …”). I’ve just yelled, and yelled, and yelled. I’ve yelled myself hoarse.
I’ve cried afterwards, because I know I don’t want to treat my children that way. I always swore I would never treat my children that way. But for those of us who suffer from anxiety, it’s much easier to slip into the parenting patterns we learned as children. I learned yelling. I learned rage. I learned that it’s acceptable to belittle a 5-year-old for knocking over a glass of milk. So when my anxiety ramped up, that fear came out as pure, unadulterated rage.
What All That Rage Does To Your Kids
I knew was passing on a generational cycle I didn’t want to perpetuate. According to Live Science, one study found that while there’s plenty of room for experience and environment to play a role, “the brain function that underlies anxiety and depression is inherited.” In other words: because I have anxiety, my kids are more likely to have anxiety.
This anxiety has the chance, like my anxiety, to manifest as rage. I didn’t want to pass that genetic tendency, and the behavioral tendency that goes with it, along to three sons. Would they, in turn, have the strength to break the cycle, or would it continue to hurt my grandchildren?
They needed to learn to manage their own anger. That’s really hard when Mama is screaming at them. I started to see it in my own children: in my tween, who throws massive tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. Part of that, of course, is his ADHD. But some of me thinks that part of that is his seeing me throw tantrums. My other children get can rage sometimes as well, and they don’t seem to know how to cope.
So we work on it. We do the same things I do.
How To Manage That Parenting Rage
First, you need to understand the underlying emotion that is causing the anger. You might be anxious. You might be afraid of something, usually of disorder or a lack of control. And that fear could be driving you into fits of rage at your children, and then at yourself, when you realize what you’ve done. Or maybe you’re hurt or stressed or just dealing with too much all at once.
Once you’ve recognized the underlying cause, you need to learn to catch yourself raging. This can be difficult. You need to learn to see when you’re spiraling out of control. In the moments when you’re freaking out, it can be hard to see that you are, indeed, freaking out. It takes plenty of practice. It took me a very long time, in fact, because my rage felt so real, so visceral, and so legitimate.
Kids can have a hard time with this. You may need to spend a lot of time pointing out to them that they’re raging. This may cause more rage, because their emotions feel so real — and you can’t argue with an emotion. But if you’re patient, and you couple it with the next step, it can be effective.
Then you need a plan.
This plan can include several things, and you have to try to see what works well for you, depending on your personality and the situation. I simply need to remove myself from the situation. I will argue and argue until I get the last word; that’s not productive for anyone. To short-circuit that, I have to walk out.
My oldest son needs to do the same thing. He will become overwrought and upset, then start to say things (like me) that he doesn’t really mean, just to hurt people. Usually, he retires to his room to read. If I can possibly manage that, I do the same thing. Both reading and removing yourself will help with both the anxiety and the rage.
Other people find it effective to take deep breaths. This has a lot of evidence behind it; the University of Michigan says that “deep breaths can help you relax.” This will also help with both the underlying emotion and the rage. My children always wail that they “can’t take deep breaths,” and I always forget to, so it’s not something that works for us.
You can also take a time-in. This means that rather than push your child away, you draw them close. You hug them. You tell them you love them. According to Psych Central, “Hugging induces oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” that’s renowned for reducing stress, lowering cortisol levels and increasing a sense of trust and security.” In other words, you lower your own levels of rage, you lower your child’s rage, and you help your anxiety at the same time. Bonus.
This is really, really hard to remember in the middle of a rage fest, and probably the last thing you want to do. It’s also probably the most effective.
Parenting with anxiety can be difficult, and when you add rage into the mix, you need some special parenting tools in your arsenal. Your kids don’t deserve your yelling — but you don’t need me to tell you that. You’ve spent your own time crying over it. You don’t want to pass the pattern onto them — and you’ve thought about that, too. You want to start a new way of managing anger and stress in your house.
Hopefully, you can.
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