Although there are many myths of anger management
, parents are faced with two major myths that impact their relationship with children. These two myths are "If you get it out, it will go away" and "All anger is bad, therefore
get rid of it."
The first myth is the most common one for parents to contend with. Parents and children have bought into the idea that venting and tantruming
will make your anger go away. To some extent
this is true. Yelling or punching something will release tension but it fails to deal with the underlying problem.
Let's assume that letting your anger out does work. Obviously, something must be working if so many people are prescribing to it. The truth is that it does work in the short-term. Letting your anger out does release built up tension and frustration. Unfortunately, it won't solve problems per se. It may cause children to avoid parents or walk on "egg shells" around them. This is not the type of solution parents should be looking for.
Letting out anger can also be addictive to some degree. Many parents like the feeling that anger gives them. They may feel more powerful, in control, or simply alive. Research shows that this kind of behavior can have a physiological rush or high association with it. Of course, it does not consider the interpersonal or physical costs of such behavior.
Lastly, letting out anger can be a way to get your needs met. The best example is a tantruming
child. Why do they throw a tantrum? Because it assists them in getting what they want. Otherwise, they wouldn't bother with it (discipline hint). Adults also throw tantrums. They may find that employees, spouses, and children are more likely to do what they want when they are angry. Many parents will admit that the only time they can get their child's cooperation is when they yell or scream. They don't like their actions
but they find it useful.
The reality behind the myth of letting anger
out is that it doesn't go away permanently. Anger comes back instead of going away. And it comes back in greater force now that the parent feels guilty about their last public display of anger and their coping skills have failed. Failure and frustration is a deadly combination that leads to even more anger.
The second major myth of anger management is that all anger is bad, therefore it must be eliminated. This myth is learned by children when parents tell them to stuff or repress their anger. Parents will say: "Don't take that tone of voice with me, young man!" or "If you're going to act like that, you can go to your room!" Parents are following society's lead that anger is all bad.
The reality is that anger is neither good or bad. Anger is a neutral emotion with a specific purpose in our psyches. It is a God-given emotion that warns us of a real or perceived threat to ourselves. It is also an early warning detection system that informs us of a need to change an undesirable situation.
Physiologically, anger is a fight or flight response to stressors or threats. These stressors might be real (a child ruins their new clothes) or perceived to be real (the thought that a child is going to ruin their clothes by running around outside). The mind does not discriminate between the two. Furthermore, physiological research shows that the higher order areas of the brain that control forethought, decision-making, and planning become less stimulated and the more primitive or basic function areas of the brain become more stimulated. These primitive areas control involuntary functions such as breathing, heart rate, and large muscle control. This is referred to as the fight or flight response and appears to be the body's natural reaction to a stressor or threat. Another (albeit a tongue-in-cheek) way of describing this is that "anger makes you stupid!" When we get angry, we do things we wouldn't ordinarily do and say things we wouldn't ordinarily say.
Perhaps this is one reason that experts suggest parents count to 10 or backwards from a hundred before responding to their children. It allows parents to re-stimulate the higher order areas of the brain so that they are back in control of what they say and do.
Anger is also part of the normal grief process. It allows parents to take action to correct a wrong or change an injustice that being depressed (another stage of grief) does not allow parents to do. Depressed parents have difficulty setting limits or being nurturing to their children. Angry parents, if not abusive, can use their energy to set firm but kind limits and teach right from wrong. Following this
they can reassure their child that they love their child by giving them a hug and a few words of comfort.
I think Benjamin Franklin said it best: "Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one." Most parents' anger is not bad, but they use it inappropriately and feel bad as a result. Hopefully, understanding how these two myths affect parents' lives will enable them to use anger as it was intended to be used and manage it more effectively.