Anger Management for Parents: How to Keep Your Cool

anger management tips for parents
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Sometimes it seems like kids are hardwired to push buttons. They test limits, push boundaries, and often rely on selective listening. The good news is that pushing back and testing limits is a function of increasing independence. The bad news is these behaviors can be very frustrating for parents.

We are all exposed to stress and frustration at times, and we all have our own coping styles.

When you combine various stressors with a particularly trying day of parenting, parents can feel increased anger.

Anger and frustration are perfectly normal emotions, but how we cope with them is important.

Displaced anger can be overwhelming and confusing for young children. Children are not on a mission to anger parents, but sometimes their choices can contribute to parental frustration. Taking that frustration out on the kids not only sets a poor example with regard to coping with anger, it also leaves them feeling guilty and defeated.

It's important for parents to have an anger toolkit on hand to help cope with those frustrating moments in parenting, and to teach kids how to cope with anger and frustration by example.

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Recognize your triggers:

When parents ask how to help kids cope with anger, I often recommend tracking triggers and circumstances leading up to outbursts in a notebook. Finding the patterns that emerge helps parents figure out a starting point. Does hunger seem to be an issue? Look at the meal/snack schedule. Is insufficient sleep a problem? Revisit bedtime.

The same works for parents. Chances are, the last little behavior that caused the parent to yell out in anger wasn't the real problem. Parents, like kids, are likely to carry around many emotions throughout the day, and when a few (or more) negative moments pile up, parents can experience intolerable levels of frustration.

Keep a notebook for your own moments of anger and frustration. What's happening at the time of the event? Are you hungry? Tired? Overworked? Pressed for time? What other stressors are weighing on your mind?

Understanding your own triggers helps you find a starting point for coping with your frustration and a place to start problem solving ways to avoid future flare-ups.

{ MORE: To the Parent Who's Raising Their Children Differently Than They Were Raised }

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Take breaks:

Forget about time outs for kids, those don't often work, anyway. But time outs for parents? That's an entirely different story!


Taking a break from the source of frustration gives you the chance to calm down, regroup, and consider ways to resolve your feelings in a healthy manner. While you usually can't just leave your kids alone for ten minutes, you can create “relaxation boxes” for each child to pull out during stressful times. Stocked with relaxing activities like coloring books, play dough, and beading projects, relaxation boxes for kids help parents, too. When the kids are safely engaged in a relaxing activity, parents can sit in a quiet space and regroup for a few minutes.

If you happen to have friends or family nearby who are willing to help out in a pinch, take them up on the offer. Parenting is hard work, and helping each other out makes the experience better for everyone involved.

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Anger toolkit:

A relaxation box might help your child shift into soothing activities, but what about you? What's in your anger toolkit?

Parents need specific strategies to calm down in the moment and work through difficult emotions. Your “toolkit” should include strategies that work for you, but try a few of these:

  • Relaxation breathing: Breathe in for a count of four, hold for three, and breathe out for a count of four. Repeat three times. Relaxation breathing slows your heart rate and decreases your stress reaction. It clears your mind of the clutter that contributes to your stress and frustration.
  • Anger list: Getting your feelings out helps you work through emotions. Writing an anger list to vent your frustrations can be very beneficial to your emotional health. Try writing out your feelings and then tearing the paper up. Letting go can be a very powerful experience.
  • Familiar music: Put on headphones and listen to an old favorite song. Familiar music can help you escape feelings of frustration by revisiting a happier time in your memory. Allow the music to recreate memories and positive emotions as you sit back and relax.
  • Exercise: Get the kids on their bikes or in a stroller and take a ten-minute brisk walk. Physical activity can center you and help relieve stress. No time for a walk? Jumping jacks, jumping rope, and yoga can all be done at home in the presence of your kids. And never underestimate the feel-good nature of a family dance party.

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Phone a friend:

Sometimes you just need someone to listen and empathize. Resist the urge to suffer in silence and phone a friend instead. Chances are your friend has been there and knows exactly how you feel.

Many parents feel pressured to go it alone these days, but that's a mistake. We all have ups and downs along the parenting journey, and building each other up can have a huge impact on how we parent our children.

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Anger Management for Parents: How to Keep Your Cool

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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