Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Angry? Don't lose it. Use it!

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, whether from stress, from your own childhood, or from other life traumas. 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 which 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.

Why not use those episodes when your child pushes your buttons as an opportunity to de-activate them? (Preferably the buttons, not the child.) Here's how.

1. Commit now to using your anger as a learning opportunity, rather than acting on it. That way, next time you slide into "fight or flight" and your child looks like the enemy, you'll already have made the decision to move away from your child. It's hard to do, but it's always the first step of anger management. And don't worry, it gets easier every time you do it. You're building neural pathways for better self-regulation -- actually re-wiring your brain.

2. When you get angry, hit the pause button. Shift your attention away from your child, move away, and turn inward. 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 in the future.

3. Empower yourself. 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 become able to notice your emotions and breathe them -- without taking action -- you release the stuck places in yourself. That means you're unplugging emotionally from the drama with your child. The result? Your child begins 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.

***

Too hard to do this work? You're not alone! This is the hardest work anyone can do -- clearing out old patterns to live freely. If you want more support, consider registering for Dr. Laura's self-paced Online Course

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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