All of us who are parents, including fathers, tend to learn about parenting from watching our own parents. If you were fortunate enough to grow up in a home where parents were calm, cool and collected in every situation, then you may not need a lot of help with expressing anger appropriately. But if you belonged to one of those families with a lot of yelling and spanking, you might find it a little difficult to keep your emotions under control. So here are some recommendations about how to keep angry feelings within appropriate boundaries, and still have an effect on the behavior of your children.
Time Required: As long as needed
- Understand how we express anger. Usually, anger manifests itself in one of three ways. Outward expressions of anger include yelling, screaming or violence, and even less threatening approaches like sarcasm. Inward expressions include feelings like seething, biting your tongue, or suppressing angry feelings. Neither of these approaches is healthy. The third way to express anger is control and channel it into more acceptable methods of expression.
- Realize that anger is a choice. One of the great things about human existence is our ability to interject something between stimulus and response. Thus, no one can really "make us mad;" we choose in each instance to become angry. So if we are choosing anger, then we also have the ability to choose another response. Taking responsibility for choosing to express anger in unhealthy ways is an important step in learning to make other choices.
- Figure out your triggers. An angry response is triggered by some stimulus. For each of us, that stimulus may be different. For you, it may be walking into the garage and finding all your tools out and not put back where they belong. For others, it may be hearing a child talk with disrespect to you or to his mother. It is a helpful exercise to try for a week or two to jot down at the end of each day the things that happened to trigger feelings of anger, and to look for patterns.
- Develop options to anger. For each of those triggers, think about what another option might be rather than yelling or spanking. For example, if your tool bench is left a mess, rather than stomping into the house to look for the culprit, you could count to ten, walk into the house calmly and find out who had been working with your tools. Then you could walk out with the offending child, direct the cleanup, and then ground him from the tools for a period of time.
- Watch for physical signals. Outbursts of anger are almost always preceded, if only for a moment, by physical signs. These might include feeling hot, a racing heartbeat, sudden tension in your arms, neck or shoulders, or the onset of a headache. Figure out which ones you experience so you can learn to feel the outburst coming before it gets there.
- Take time-out. I knew an older man once who told me that he decided early in his marriage that he would not react in anger to his wife, and that he determined to leave the house and take a walk until he was calmer and more able to deal rationally with her. His comment to me was, "And I am still healthy in my eighties because I have walked so many miles every week of my married life." So when you feel the urge to anger, take a walk, listen to some calming music, pray or visualize a peaceful scene. You’ll be amazed at the perspective you can gain.
- Empathize. Putting yourself in your child’s shoes for a minute will sometimes help you see their point of view. After all, only rarely do our children do things just to make us angry. Remember their age and stage of life; sometimes we expect too much--more than they can deliver. If your son, like the son of one of my friends, is found breaking eggs and pouring the contents down a heater vent, consider the need to teach him more effectively how to figure out how to make something to eat (and letting him help with the cleanup).
- Send I-messages. When you are needing to express your anger, and you want to do it constructively, remember to send messages that start with "I". For example, "I feel angry when I go into the garage and see a big mess. It makes it hard for me to do what I need to do." Dr. Stephen F. Duncan in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University calls these, "feeling-when-because" expressions. The formula is "I feel _____ when _______ because ______." This is a more accurate and less threatening way to communicate your feelings and to get a positive response from others.
- Plan ahead. Finally, Dr. Duncan also suggests creating an anger response plan. Have an alternate approach already in your mind for when anger is triggered. He suggests you identify, for each anger trigger, (1) your physical reaction, (2) your typical actions, and (3) what you will choose to do instead.
- Counting to ten (or a hundred) is still wise counsel
- If all else fails, consider a family counselor
- Ask your family for feedback on how your plan is working
- Talking to other dads who have been there can give you hope.