Until you are well along on your journey to achieving "earned security," you will most likely need to use certain tricks to help you handle the intense emotion of anger. As you get more in touch with your emotions and find yourself less triggered by problem behaviors in your child, you will find it less necessary to use these anger management techniques. These techniques will do little to prevent the intense feelings of anger that may well up within you (the steps in the previous section will help you there). Listed below are stopgap measures to help you avoid letting your anger disrupt your ability to use the Three Parenting Principles:
□ NEVER GIVE A PARENTING CORRECTION OR CONSEQUENCE WHEN YOU ARE ANGRY. The first thing you must do is to take yourself away from the situation. Be certain your child is in a safe place and then leave. Tell your child "I am quite angry right now and I will return when I feel calmer." Remember that the most beautiful thing about silence and leaving the room when you feel triggered is that you never have to take anything back. Remember to use your one-liners constantly. If you need to use your favorite one-liner a hundred times a day that is fine. Your child will view this as a powerful response and an indication that you take his behavior seriously.
□ NEVER USE PHYSICAL PUNISHMENT. If you feel that you might strike your child, use your one-liner, and exit the situation immediately. Find a quiet spot and rethink what just happened.
□ BREATHE. Now that you are safely away from your loved one, breathe as deeply as you can 10 times. The extra oxygen you send to your brain will help you calm down and enable you to think more clearly. Talk to yourself and say something like the following: "I feel furious but my intense anger is OK and I should not feel guilty about having these feelings." Remember that feelings are not the same as actions. Remind yourself that it is perfectly OK to feel these emotions while it is not OK to act out these feelings. Thinking horrible thoughts is completely different from doing horrible things. What you do with your angry thoughts makes all the difference.
□ ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS OF EXTREME ANGER. The action of verbalization acts like the valve on a pressure cooker. Describe how you feel out loud. Talk to yourself—mirrors in a private bathroom work wonders. Learn to accept intense feelings and thoughts within yourself while reassuring yourself that you are perfectly capable of not acting on those feelings.
□ RECOGNIZE THAT THE INTENSITY OF YOUR EMOTIONS RIGHT NOW RELATE MORE TO YOUR PAST THAN TO THE BEHAVIORS OF YOUR CHILD.
Repeat the following phrase in your head: "Yes, my child has done something wrong, but I am this angry because of my old stuff." Remember that when your toddler or preschooler misbehaves and you feel incredibly angry, it is likely that your child has just "triggered" you to feel old emotions buried deep within you. It is extremely unlikely that your child's behavior is so terrible that he deserves that much anger from you. This "cognitive reframing" of the event will give you a further opportunity to calm down and allow you to think about how your child's behavior has just reminded you of your own pain and emotions. Remind yourself that as you continue to share your Life Story with a trusted friend you will heal and feel less anger.
□ REMIND YOURSELF THAT IT'S OK TO HAVE AMBIVALENT FEELINGS TOWARD LOVED ONES. Knowing that it is acceptable to feel both hatred and love at different moments toward loved ones is an important thing for all humans to acknowledge. Remember that there can only be moments of intense hatred where there is intense love. This will help calm you down when you feel out of control. For example, it's OK that your child said, "I hate you" when you denied him something. Although this angers you and makes you feel rejected or abandoned, remind yourself that kids and adults can hold these feelings temporarily toward a loved one without it being a true attachment injury. Understand that your goal is to help your child label and accept his emotions without having this behavior manipulate you into trying to make him happy again.
□ WAIT UNTIL YOU FEEL CALM AND CENTERED BEFORE THINKING ABOUT YOUR CHILD'S MISBEHAVIOR AND WHAT GOODIES YOU WILL DENY. At this point, you can feel safe and return to your child. Share your Principle #2 consequence with your child as a calmly considered response to his behavior. Remember, no matter how endearing or penitent your child now appears, it is important that you carry through on your decision. Principle #2 gives you guidance on how to wait to react so your parental response avoids hurting, insulting, demeaning, or inspiring feelings of rage and revenge in your child while also teaching him that his behavior was inappropriate and comes with consequences.
□ REMEMBER THAT INTENSE FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS ARE WORSENED BY FATIGUE OR STRESS BROUGHT ON BY LIFE EVENTS THAT CAN HAVE LITTLE TO DO WITH YOUR CHILD. Don't shortchange health habits as an important way to avoid getting angry with your loved ones. Take regular exercise breaks to relieve irritability and tension. Eat meals on time—both yours and your kid's patience and tempers become short with a low blood sugar. Avoid too much caffeine and get enough sleep.
□ REMEMBER THAT PERFECTLY NORMAL CHILDREN AND ADULTS CAN HAVE AND SHARE STRONG EMOTIONS AT TIMES. Just because your child is defiant, screams at you, or engages you in a power struggle doesn't mean that either of you is disturbed. If you and your child have a healthy, securely attached relationship, an occasional strong "unhealthy" knee-jerk verbal reaction from you will not harm him. In fact, it's healthy for him to see a broad variety of emotions in you. In the heat of the battle, even the best parents can lose their cool and say and do things from a gut level of response. Just be sure not to make a habit of delivering "unhealthy" responses. Regular and frequent parent responses of ridicule, intense anger, or disgust are damaging to a kid's self-concept (see Appendix #4 for a list of unhealthy responses that can be damaging to your child).
The goal for parents then is to learn to express their natural feelings of anger without harming their children physically or emotionally. Looking honestly at your life allows you to see things for what they are. Honestly examining your own childhood can allow for emotional maturity, a lessening of fear, a greater ability to control your emotions, and an ability to feel "triggered" far less often.
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