It looks like flossing my teeth has now become a habit. It used to be just a good intention – until I read an article about how much gum disease can affect your general health. The information acted as motivation.

So it is with anger. All parents get mad at their kids sometimes. In fact, dare I say it, all parents lose the plot and yell at their kids now and then. But the more I find out about how destructive that can be, the better I’m getting at staying calm and expressing anger appropriately.

Let’s face it, single parents are emotionally vulnerable. Take frustration and a lack of support, add stress, a pinch of financial worries and a large dollop of fatigue – and you’ve got a recipe for blowing up.

One of the myths about anger is that it’s “best to let it all out” – the belief that venting anger is healthy and that if you get it out, it will go away. Yelling or hitting can temporarily release tension, but it fails to deal with the underlying problem.

More importantly, children are hugely affected by a parent who yells and screams. They become fearful and insecure, walking on eggshells, and often develop a pattern of lying in order to avoid a scene. They can also end up victims of playground bullying or as bullies themselves.

The opposite myth is that, “all anger is bad, so don’t show it.” Anger per se is not bad, it’s neutral. Physiologically, anger is a fight or flight response to stress or threat; it’s how we express it that makes it positive or negative.

Much of the way we react depends on our family of origin. Women who were yelled at as children often become loud, abusive mothers themselves. This is critical for single parents – the realisation that how we alone model anger is most likely how our children will express it too.

Psychologist Miranda Bain says anger management is a learned skill. One of the first keys is to become self-aware: figure out what makes you get angry and when; and identify the physical signs you’re starting to lose your cool.

“For some parents, it might be a pit in the stomach or shaking hands. If you can monitor yourself, you’re on the way to managing anger appropriately.”

Train yourself to talk in “I” statements and avoid labelling children. For example, “I’m angry that you pulled all the books off the shelf,” and not, “You’re such a naughty girl and you make Mummy mad.”

Crouch down when telling children off. A loud, upright, gesticulating parent can be quite frightening.

Loud is not always bad – it depends on the type of family and culture. For example. raised voices may be quite the norm in an American-Italian family! Loud can be harmful, however, if you and your family are not normally that way.

One of the best tools for parents is time out, not just for children, but for yourself.

“Tell your child, ‘I need some time out, I need to go and sit on the deck for a minute or two,’”says Miranda, who has co-ordinated empowerment programmes for women.

“Time out can be a consequence, but it can also be a tactic that everyone uses to keep their behaviour in check. Where families use this, I’ve often seen children putting themselves in time out.”

It can be just about impossible for single mothers to get any space from their children. “But even sitting on the deck and counting to 100, or phoning a friend, can help. We need to show children we can self-soothe too.”

Miranda says if single parents don’t have support from family or friend, they can be more vulnerable to becoming abusive.

“It’s very important for solo mums to find ways of creating a community for themselves.”

Yelling at the kids is often an indication of anger in some other area of life – for example, anger which is part of the grief process after divorce or separation; or anger over access or child support money.

Again, self-awareness is important in order to identify the true reason for your anger. Remember to deal with adult issues away from the children.

Of course, if you are concerned about your anger, or if anyone is getting hurt, then don’t hesitate to seek help as soon as possible.

And, finally, don’t forget to apologise to your children when you mess up.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, I was wrong to yell at you. Please forgive me,” is humbling, powerful and tremendously healing.

Useful Websites

Anger Management Courses

Relationship services offer a range of courses throughout New Zealand, including anger management courses.  You can read more about their services and contact details in our article on Relationship Services.

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Sandi Paterson is a freelance journalist based in Tauranga. She lives in a 1950's bach with her daughter, a grumpy cat, and a budgie who sits on her computer when she writes. This article appeared originally in Little Treasures magazine.

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disqus_DhjT3oQivb

Some great tips. As a single dad I couldn’t help noticing all the “single mom” references. I can assure you single dads face the same pressures.

Night Cricket

Looks like the posts are pretty old on this thread – anyone out there? I’m a father of 2. I think my wife has an anger problem. She flies off the handle at the drop of a hat, swears and screams in front of the kids no holds barred. Its an everyday occurrence and I think its escalating, recently she threw a iron at me, granted it wasn’t a great throw but still, it could have been bad. I don’t feel physically threatened by her… but I was watching something on TV explaining that that in itself makes me vulnerable… Read more »

sophie

It does sound like a serious, abusive situation. Are there any close friends or family that know about it, that you can talk to about it? Something definitely needs to seriously change. Its not the right environment for children. Seeing a doctor regarding her medication, therapy… I haven’t heard of extreme anger being associated with post natal depression?? Has she always had anger issues? Whatever it is get help!!

mamaworksit28

Definitely sounds like both of you need some support and professional help. Her, to deal with anger issues and you, for emotional support and also maybe some ways on what you can do (how you react) when she loses it. Doesn’t sound like a healthy environment for your kids if she’s behaving this way regularly in front of them. Frustration to the point of yelling is to an extent a normal part of parenting. I regret the times I do it, and I actively try and manage my emotions and behaviour when my child is pushing my buttons. But I… Read more »

Dirigible

Yes of course she’s depressed, but that’s not an excuse. Put a video camera on her every time she acts like that. She will be ashamed. Also, be prepared for divorce. Most women have been raised to think they are the center of the universe. There’s no easy way to pull them out of the cult of self.

sadandhopeless

I have a 7 year old son who is testing the boundaries all the time and has no respect for any of our family members. He kicks at people, talks back, has to have the last word, no interest in studies, just wants to pl;ay and watch cartoon all the time, doesn’t like outdoors games or walks, puts up a fight and tantrum for everything he gets told to do but doesn’t like, e.g. have his bath, get ready for school. Everyday is a battle. Need some help please

Rochelle Gribble

Hi there – sorry to hear that you’re having a tough time! Our parenting expert, Diane Levy, has written some suggestions for you and you can see them here: http://www.kiwifamilies.co.nz/2015/04/dealing-with-challenging-behaviour-from-a-7-year-old/ I hope they help!

hopeless

I’m mother of one (one of those ‘solo mums’). I get angry all the time and often blast my child with a tirade of anger. I’m tired/isolated/depressed/don’t know where to go…I am the worst kind of mother..the mother of the one no one wants their child to play with, and feel like I’m totally wrecking my childs life now and in the future

Sally @ Kiwi Families

Hi hopeless, you are certainly not alone. Parenting is hard, doing it without immediate support is even more difficult. I have asked our Facebook friends for some words of help and encouragement – you will find these, and some ideas for how to access help on the link below. Many of these thoughts come from people who have been in a very similar place to where you feel right now. Reaching out shows you are certainly not ‘the worst kind of mother’. If we can support you further, please be in touch with the Kiwi Families team.
https://www.facebook.com/kiwifamilies/posts/512119422180024

hopeless

Thank you..I’m sitting here crying because I’m overwhelmed by the amazingly kind and supportive messages which so many people have posted -didn’t realise other people may have an idea of what I might be on about. I’d so like things to just be normal..or at least stable. I’m going to look at the possible support groups or other help which may be around, thanks for all the suggestions..it all really means a lot to us 🙂

Leo's Mum

Dear hopeless, raising a child solo can be really tough. It is often hard to get out, so I found reading some books kind of ‘brings the help into the house without leaving it’. I found 2 books particularly helpful (very down to earth and funny too, with a big heart) called “Of course I love you … now go to your Room” by Diane Levy. Most Libraries should have it. And as I have a busy and bright 7yr old boy, I also found “Raising boys” by Steve Biddulph really helpful. I wish you all the good luck you… Read more »

Dirigible

I suggest 2 things:
1. Don’t allow these emotions to guide discipline. Write down a set of rules and punishments, and force yourself to not use emotion when handing out punishments. Do not allow the child to bargain. You can also have rules about their behavior with their peers.
2. Focus on the positive. There are many good things about your child, encourage and praise those, at least as much as you discourage the bad behavior.

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