The right way to be angry with your child

No matter how patient you are, your children are going to make you angry sometimes. But how you handle that anger will make all the difference - not just to you, but also to them.

Mother lecturing daughter in living room
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Children can try the patience of a saint, which means there's no point beating yourself up about the fact that your kids make you livid sometimes. Anger, after all, is a normal, healthy emotion and it's how we respond to it that's important. Put simply, we can either yell and punish, or try to teach our kids better behaviour.

A study by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children found that 135 cases of domestic violence towards children were recorded in 2010. Of these, 24 per cent involved emotional and verbal abuse and 15 per cent of the abuse cases were physical.

"Though it may not create the same physical scars, research has clearly indicated that emotional and verbal abuse is as damaging to a child's psychological well-being as physical abuse. Children who have experienced persistent emotional abuse tend to emotionally withdraw as they are frightened of what reaction their presence will have on others," says Amy Bailey, a clinical psychologist at kidsFIRST Medical Center, Dubai (

How children react to anger

Just as children may experience many different emotions when a parent shouts at them - from humiliation and anxiety through to confusion, anger and fear - so their reactions can be hugely varied.

- Laughter Some children play the clown and laugh and giggle. This is often because they are nervous and are trying to hide their pain and humiliation.

- Aggression Others may replicate parental behaviour by acting in a more aggressive manner at home or at school.

- Testing Some children may test the boundaries to see if their parent will respond in an angry way again.

- Deceit Many children lie to prevent their parents from shouting at them.

- Avoidance Other children may tiptoe around their parents because they're never sure what's going to set them off.

- Barriers Some children may become careful about expressing their thoughts and emotions.

- Eight ways to manage your anger

- Consider whether there are any contributory causes to your anger, such as lack of sleep, personal stress, illness or hunger.

- Think about the true cause of your anger. Is it because you feel powerless, hurt, or rejected?

Ask yourself what your child might be trying to gain from this behaviour. "With younger children, think about whether they could be hungry, tired or struggling to get your attention. With older children, question whether they're trying to get a reaction from you, even if it is a negative one. Could they be sad and therefore lashing out?" asks Ingrid Krynauw, a clinical psychologist at the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology, Abu Dhabi.

Take time out. If you feel yourself becoming angry and fear you may react without thinking, go into another room to cool down, or distract yourself by singing your favourite song or turning on the TV. This might be enough to defuse the anger.

Be aware of your body language. Relax any tensed neck or stomach muscles and breathe deeply. This will lower your levels of anger.

"Make sure you explain, in a sentence or two, what caused your anger," suggests Krynauw. "Explain what made the behaviour unacceptable and then provide your child with a more appropriate way of talking or behaving. Finally, explain what the consequences will be if they overstep the boundary again." This process will make you feel more in control, and therefore less angry, and will teach your children a healthy way of dealing with anger.

Make a plan. Take note of what triggers your anger and be prepared for when you're likely to be provoked. This will help you to control your reactions.

Spend some time away from your children to recharge. Try physical exercise as a way of letting off steam.

Case study: Ingrid Krynauw explains how she helped a father deal with his anger

"One father I worked with found it increasingly difficult to manage the complaining and testing behaviour of his youngest son, which would evoke feelings of frustration and extreme anger in him.

“These feelings would increase during family outings, where the father felt that he should be in control of his children’s behaviour in public and was increasingly embarrassed when he wasn’t.

He worked long hours away from home and expected these outings to be relaxing family events. He tried to bribe, bargain and shout to get his son to behave.“Anger management focused on having more realistic expectations of these types of outings. He realised he was setting himself and his family up for disappointment if the children stayed up too late or hadn’t had a balanced meal before going out.“After counselling, the father would take deep breaths when he felt angry with his son.

Then he would remove his son from the situation and use a consistent punishment and reward system.“He also made an effort to exercise more to de-stress and not use the family outing as a way to relax.“By having more realistic expectations of certain situations, understanding his own need for control and by taking better care of his own stress levels, this father is finding the benefit of managing his anger more effectively.”