Aha! Parenting Blog

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Angry? Don't lose it. Use it!

"When my little boy shouts at me, it really pushes my buttons. I just can't help it. I always end up shouting back, or worse." - Shannon

In our last post, we talked about how to cut the drama when your child triggers you. But what if you find yourself exploding often? That's a message that you need to do some work on yourself. After all, no one ever really "triggers" you. They're your triggers, from your own childhood, from other traumas, or from your current stress. Your child has simply unearthed them and is giving you the opportunity to heal them.

Life has a way of doling out lessons that we didn't ask for, but that help us develop more wholeness. When we resist those lessons, they land in our lap over and over -- usually with more force -- until we finally tackle them. And children, who trigger our deepest emotions, are often our greatest teachers.

At the moment when your child's behavior sends you into your own temper tantrum, it's not likely that you'll feel grateful. But you've retrained yourself to see your child's big emotions as an opportunity for him to do some healing, right? So are yours.

Here's how.

1. Stop, Drop (whatever your agenda is at that moment) and Breathe. You can't avoid getting triggered, at least sometimes. But you can train yourself to notice when you're losing it, and to step away from the situation. That's really hard, because you'll feel an urgent need to take action to set your child straight. But that urgency is your clue that you're in fight, flight or freeze. When your child starts looking like the enemy, just bite your tongue and turn away.

You can still set limits with your child. Once you calm down, you'll be able to connect before you correct, so you can calm the storm instead of making things worse. (No, you don't look weak. You look like someone who can manage her anger. You're the role model, remember?)

2. Notice where the anger is in your body. Breathe into it. Hold yourself with compassion. This won't feel good. In fact, you might feel like you're going to hyperventilate, or even vomit. But every time you can breathe through that unbearable feeling without lashing out, you're emptying your emotional backpack so you won't get triggered as easily. You're also building neural pathways for better self-regulation -- actually re-wiring your brain.

3. Work on yourself. Why not use those episodes when your child pushes your buttons as an opportunity to de-activate them? (Preferably the buttons, not the child.) When you start feeling stuck about some issue with your child, stop focusing on your child's behavior and focus on your own reaction. Write in your journal. Vent to another parent, making sure you get to the deeper tears and fears beneath your anger. Explore your childhood connections to this issue. How is past trauma or current stress playing a role? What can you do to make things different?

As you unlock your own turmoil and breathe through your feelings -- without taking action -- you release the stuck place in yourself. Somehow, that you'll see your child begin to change, too.

The paradox is that the child seems to be creating the problem, but when we work on our part of it, the problem always diminishes. Is that because once we come to peace with the issue, we can set firm but kind limits and help our child with his emotions, instead of adding fuel to the fire?

Or because when we love ourselves more, we can give our child the unconditional love she needs?

Or because we're in a spiritual relationship with our child, and he brings us the issues we need to heal inside us?

Or simply that once we stop pushing our child to be different, she's free to stop resisting and change?

Regardless, once we melt the tangle in ourselves, our child so often makes a breakthrough too. We both heal and grow.

So today, when you get triggered with your child? Don't lose it. Use it!

And say thanks to your little Zen master, at least in your mind.

See this article in Chinese.

Click here to watch Dr. Laura's video: How Parents Can Stop the Cycle of Yelling.

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