One evening I was home feeding dinner to my little girls while my wife was out. It had been a long, stressful day, and in my distracted impatience, too self-absorbed to calmly handle a seven-year-old complaining about a meal she had “loved” just a couple weeks before, I rose up and said…Well, what I meant to say, incredulously, was “Do you really want to argue about this meal Mom cooked that I know you really like?” But instead, for some inexplicable reason, I blurted out “Do you want to fight?”
She froze, suddenly silent, her eyes as huge as could be. My tongue-tied, careless words and actions frightened them, and I felt small and humiliated. We didn’t let too much time pass before we set things right with each other, but it reminded me that an anger outburst can be really damaging. Every interaction with our kids is either building a wall or building a base of trust with them. Whether you’re dealing with an occasional outburst or a chronic habit, we can reduce the intensity and damage of future angry outbursts towards a child with some preparation, shared expectations, and a dose of humility.
Here are three things to do now, in the calm times, to better avoid or handle those anger outbursts:
1. Honestly Name the Problem.
In calmer times, perhaps during a meal or a pre-bedtime conversation, let your family know that you want to get better at controlling your anger, and you want to help the whole family, too. Discuss how anger, when it is not dealt with, can get more and more damaging over time, maybe by sharing examples from your own past relationships. Share how important it is to avoid and overcome anger, and to work together to help each other. Set the tone for the team.
2. Give Your Child Permission to Tell You How Your Anger Hurts Them.
Kids are often too frightened with an angry parent to be honest about how their angry outbursts affect them. But ask any adult who had a very angry parent and you’ll quickly learn, those wounds can run very deep. Assure them that you respect their opinion and want them to be able to honestly share their feelings for you. It will help you understand the impact of your anger and be more specific when you seek to make things right with them. Above all, do not be defensive as they honestly answer you. If something unresolved from the past is mentioned, take time to apologize without conditions or justifications.
3. Give Your Wife or a Close Friend Permission to Hold You Accountable.
When our anger is welling up in a tense situation with a child, sometimes our wives can see the outburst roiling more quickly than we can. Let her know that you need and want her to help you see when an outburst is coming. Give her permission to gently remind you of your desire for calm and control. Help her understand the best way to communicate with you when your anger might be building. Though she’s as imperfect as you, she also can be your best teammate in keeping your cool and dealing constructively instead of destructively in the heat of the moment, if you let her.
If you are a single dad, seek out a close friend or family member that you trust to help you with this step. They may not be there every time you have an outburst welling up. Ask them to check on you regularly, being blunt with you if necessary, about how you’re handling your heart with your kids. And ask them if they’d be willing to take a call or text from you on the spot if you need their help to take a break and cool down in the heat of the moment.
A team that is accountable and responsive to each other’s needs is one that builds resilience and grace for the hard times. Applying these three actions will not guarantee the end of all outbursts, but it will set you up better to avoid them.
Sound off: What do you do to control your angry outbursts?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you feel when I get angry?”