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Anger Management for Parents of Defiant Teenagers

"Hi Mark, I have been following the course now for 4 weeks. There have been many improvements, but the hardest part for me (single mom) is remaining calm and keeping a Poker face and I am continually mentally beating myself up as a failure. Are there any other pointers which will assist me in keeping calm and a poker face?"

Every parent has been there at least once (and usually dozens of times). Your youngster does something that flips a switch inside you, and in a single moment you transform from a reasonable mom to a raging b____. Learning how to control anger is a skill that can save you from reacting inappropriately with your kids. In addition, watching a mother or father deal effectively with angry feelings teaches children ways to cope with their own emotions.

Here are 25 tips that will help parents manage their anger:

1. "I," not "you"— Avoid attacking your youngster with "you" statements—"You are such a slob!" or "You'll never learn." Instead, think in terms of "I": "I don't like picking clothes up off your floor every day" or "I get upset when we're not on time." These are less hurtful and inflammatory.

2. Be Honest With Your Children— Being honest about how you feel can be a huge relief! It's okay to acknowledge to your kids that you are angry. In fact, they probably know this already. You'll want to keep in mind, though, that being honest does not mean telling them the details they don't need to know. You can simply say, "I'm feeling angry right now, but I'm working through it, and I know things are going to get better soon."

3. Carry a tape recorder— When you feel yourself about to blow, turn it on. If you explode anyway, play back the tape and imagine yourself as the youngster on the receiving end.

4. Confide in a Friend— Get together with someone you trust and pour out your broken heart. It may be difficult to share some of the pain out loud, but think about this: If the roles were reversed, wouldn't you want to be there for your friend? Let someone in and share how you're feeling. Chances are, you'll feel a whole lot lighter.

5. Create a Space for Dealing with Your Anger— Let's face it. As a single parent, you don't get a lot of time to yourself. Add to that the fact that you're probably trying to conceal some of your emotions around the children, and holding it all in can take a heavy toll on you. Try to create space in your life for processing your feelings. Close your bedroom door and have a conversation in front of your mirror, or sit in the living room after the children have gone to bed and listen to some music that you identify with.

6. Eat healthy and exercise. Release tension by laughing with your kids instead of having a temper tantrum. Make time for fun.

7. Exit or wait— When you feel your anger getting the better of you, briefly withdraw from the situation until you calm down. Step out of the room, count to ten, go to your bedroom, and close the door—whatever it takes to restore your cool.

8. Expectations and Experiences From the Past Can Trigger Anger— One very important step toward learning how to control and defuse your anger is to uncover the assumptions and expectations you have of your kids and the way they should behave. Often these expectations come from your own childhood. If you were raised in a family where kids were expected to clear their plates before leaving the dinner table, you may find yourself feeling upset if your children don't want to eat what you serve them. Understanding how past selves influence current behavior is an important step in learning anger management skills.

9. Get Moving— Physical movement is a great way to deal with anger. Make time in your schedule for regular walks, whether that's putting the baby in a stroller first thing in the morning, or getting out of the office on your lunch hour. It's a perfect opportunity to be alone in your head, and the fresh air and exercise will provide added benefits.

10. Give Yourself Permission to Be Angry— Chances are, if you're feeling angry, it's for a good reason! But sometimes we make it harder to process our anger because we don't recognize it. Are you angry? What about, specifically? This may feel odd, but try saying that out loud to yourself. "I'm angry because..." How does that feel to you?

11. Implement a schedule, but allow some flexibility. Kids need a schedule as much as you do. An easy way to start is by putting them to bed on time every night.

12. Let Go of the Shame— It's okay to be angry about going it alone. That doesn't make you a bad parent! On the other hand, being angry and not recognizing it can hurt you and those you love. That anger is going to come out, one way or another. Naming it is the first step toward dealing with it in a healthy way.

13. Make yourself and all family members accountable for lashing out— Institute a "no losing it" rule to make children and moms aware of the times they go ballistic. But do it with a light touch. For instance, make a chart and tack on a sticker when one of you has an outburst. If one family member is accumulating a lot of stickers, it's time to talk about it.

14. Put it in writing— If you are too angry to speak, don't. If your youngster is old enough to read, express your feelings in writing. Sometimes just the time required to find pen and paper will help you to cool off.

15. Recognize what the problem is— Is it really your youngster's messy room? Or are you sleep-deprived? Feeling overwhelmed at work? Mad at your husband or mother or boss? Be aware of when you are more vulnerable to anger and resist the urge to transfer negative feelings to your youngster. 

16. Remember That You Can Choose to Change— Angry feelings often arise when a person is shamed, criticized or feels trapped. Lashing out in anger or burying angry feelings may feel like the only option in the moment, but it doesn't really change anything. The key to really changing behavior is to use emotions and feelings as tools and guides for learning.

17. Restore good feelings— When you do lose it, reconnect with your youngster as soon as possible. That may mean saying you're sorry and giving a hug and kiss to a younger youngster. For an older youngster, you may want to offer an explanation of why you were angry along with an apology. Don't worry that apologizing will diminish your authority—it won't. It shows your youngster that you respect him and teaches him that everyone can be wrong sometimes.

18. Spend time away from the kids. Schedule special times with your spouse or friends. By having a scheduled “date” with your spouse at least once a week (even if just for a couple of hours) you feel refreshed.

19. Spend time in prayer.

20. Stay in the present— When your youngster makes you angry, don't work yourself into a tizzy by listing every offense he has committed in the past week and is likely to commit in the future. Stick to the issue at hand.

21. Take a Time Out for Yourself— If you find yourself in a situation where one of your buttons has been pushed, try removing yourself from the situation for five minutes to allow yourself the time and space to cool down. This is especially helpful if you already use time outs with your kids, and it can be valuable for them to see a parent using time outs as a way of calming down instead of a punishment. Before you begin, explain to your kids what you are doing and why, then go to a room with a door that closes and take several deep breaths. Visualize yourself dealing with the situation without losing your cool, then go out and do it.

22. Take care to get proper rest. Take a nap or bubble bath when your youngster naps.

23. Talk to your spiritual leader or a trusted, experienced friend, or an older parent if you feel highly stressed or like you are "losing it."

24. Use cognitive therapy— This technique is sometimes used to calm fearful fliers. Analyze your thoughts and put them in perspective. (Fliers learn that their fear is of crashing, not flying. And since crashing is unlikely, their fear is not reasonable.) Ask yourself—when your kids are fighting, say—if it's really that horrible. Think of the situation as aggravating but normal behavior that merits a calm, rational parental response.

25. Write it Down— Even if you're not a person who typically enjoys journaling, you may find it extremely helpful to get the anger out of your heart and mind by putting it down on paper. Sometimes it's even helpful to write a letter you never plan to mail, telling the person at the center of your angry emotions how they've hurt you and why you're angry.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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