5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself Emotionally

How to deal with anger and anxiety while raising children.

Posted Jun 20, 2013

"What I start to feel is not just anger appropriate to the situation, but old feelings I carry from the past. And those feelings have nothing to do with my child or the situation. They have come up for me to take a look at them. They are part of me. But they don't belong in my relationship with my child. They have to do with me and the person who raised me." -- Laura Davis & Janis Keyser

Life is full of emotions that we don't have time to process in the moment. And if we have kids, we probably have more emotions and less time. Parenting is the hardest job there is. It gives us constant reminders of the places in us that need healing. So it's not surprising that sometimes we just need a good cry.

Most of the time when we lose it with our children, it’s because we’re lugging around a full backpack of emotions we haven’t taken the time to process. Sometimes we're actually angry at our boss, our spouse, or the clerk in the store. Sometimes we're rushing and our anxiety fuels anger at our child. But most often, we have childhood issues that get triggered by our own child's behavior.

Is it ever appropriate to get angry at your child? Well, it's unavoidable, if you're human. Like a blinking light on the dashboard, anger is a signal that you need to address something so your engine doesn't overheat. Ignoring it can be disastrous.

But anger is never a constructive impulse when aimed at your child. That "fight or flight" response makes your child look like the enemy, and your child is never the enemy. Whatever guidance your child needs will be more effective if it's offered from a place of love. And your child can't feel your love if you're angry.

Most things that make you angry with your child wouldn't trigger you if you weren't already tired, rushing, afraid your child is becoming an ungrateful brat, or worried about whether you're a good enough parent.

To avoid sloshing our own anger, anxiety and other emotions onto our child, we need to be responsible about processing our feelings as they come up. How?

1. Remind yourself to notice your mood as you go through your day. Be vigilant when negative thoughts hijack your mind and send you into a downward spiral. Before you know it, you'll be gathering kindling -- evidence that the other person is wrong ("Who does he think he is?!"). Enough kindling, and you can't avoid a firestorm. Instead, keep yourself on a positive track: "He's acting like a child because he IS a child....Don't fret the small stuff...Two steps forward, one step back still takes you in the right direction." Most of the time, there's no reason you can't be in a good mood. If you're not, check in with yourself to figure out what's happening.

2. Stop Stressing. Stress is behind 80% of our outbursts. Even when something else is going on, stress is what causes the explosion. And yet, stress is mostly a choice. If you really want to reduce the stress in your life, you can. Don't over-schedule. Don't try to do computer work or phone calls with kids present. Leave early for every appointment. Don't take kids on errands they can't handle. Is that extra errand really worth a family melt-down?

3. Nurture Yourself. Are you feeling sad or scared about something? Don't ignore your own upset. Schedule a time later to write in your journal or talk to a trusted friend. Simply breathing and accepting sadness or hurt is the best way to let those feelings go. If we can't do that, we fend them off by acting out in anger. Resist the urge to take action when you're upset. Instead, love yourself through your upset: "Breathe. It's just sadness. Go ahead and cry. You'll feel better soon." 

You deserve a parent like that...So be your own!

4. If you're feeling angry, deal with the source. Can’t fire your boss or leave your four year old in the mall? Ok, but you can make a plan to prevent a replay of whatever set you off. You can’t change the other person, but you can often change the conditions. Better yet, you can consciously feel your own old emotions so they dissipate and you don't get triggered as often. When you change what you bring to the interaction, the other person always changes too.

5. If your upset has more to do with you, make healing a priority. “Vent” with someone you trust, who won’t feel a need to solve your problem but can simply listen with compassion so you feel heard and can sort things out for yourself. Or make an appointment with a counselor. If someone in your past made you miserable, shame on them. But now it's time to heal that. If you stay miserable, and visit it on your child, shame on you.

But what about in those awful moments when your child is acting like a demon and you just want to act like one yourself? We'll get to that next week with How Can You Tend to Yourself Emotionally When Your Child Pushes Your Buttons?

When you were a child, you deserved to be loved, complete with all your inconvenient feelings and desires. You deserved infinite tenderness. You still do. Why not start giving it to yourself right now?