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The Effects of Parental Anger Bursts

by Liza Blau, studioD

It's normal to feel angry at your kid -- toddlers throw food at the wall, children behave defiantly and teenagers stay out past curfew. It's understandable if you're often pushed to your limit and get mad. The challenge of skillful parenting is to maturely manage your angry feelings and not act them out, to minimize their negative effect. Repeated angry outbursts can lead to developmental problems in a child.

Defiant Behavior

Losing control and lashing out during angry outbursts can be destructive to your attempts to discipline your child, author and psychologist Matthew McKay tells Good Housekeeping. Children observe how their parents deal with frustration and mirror their behavior when they're under stress themselves. When you're out of control, it sends the message that acting out is acceptable because that's how Mommy and Daddy behave. It can lead your child to display aggressive and defiant behavior, and even bully other children. As a result of not being able to manage your anger, you're sending your child contradictory behavioral messages and creating the emotionally unstable atmosphere that you're trying to avoid.

Fear and Anxiety

Anger is terrifying to children and teenagers, according to Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting. When they witness those who they depend on for love, survival, safety and protection so out of control, their worlds feels shaky and dangerous. As a result, they live in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. A child might feel he always has to walk on eggshells to avoid setting off an angry outburst. Instead of feeling safe and protected by you, he'll become afraid of you. He may even resort to lying for self-protection, because he's learned that telling the truth often leads to your anger.

Mood Disorders

After repeated angry outbursts, a child might internalize a parent's anger and believe something is deficient or wrong with him. As a result, he could suffer from depression, guilt, sadness, isolation, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness. Parents who are unable to control their anger cause their kids to become less empathetic, according to McKay. Developing autonomy is a healthy stage in your child's growth. He learns self-assertiveness by speaking up for his own needs and developing viewpoints that might be separate from your own. However, he may become too intimidated to assert himself because whenever he tried, your angry outbursts led him to believe that his needs aren't valuable. His lack of self-assertiveness could cause him to do poorly in school, be socially awkward and unmotivated to achieve career goals.

Keeping Your Cool

When you attempt to control your child's behavior instead of your anger, you're sending the message that you're out of control and need your kid to behave differently so you can feel better, according to Empowering Parents. But when you remain in control and manage your angry feelings, it has a calming effect on your child. The next time you feel angry, count to 10 and take some deep breaths. Repeat some calming affirmations to yourself, such as "I can handle this like an adult and not lose control." Set limits and enforce consequences. You might say, "You have until dinnertime to clean your room, or else no video games tonight." If your anger is so out of control that you're verbally or physically abusing your child, seek immediate help from a licensed psychiatrist or medical professional.

About the Author

Liza Blau received a B.A. in English from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in fiction anthologies from Penguin Press, W.W. Norton, NYU Press and others. After healing her own life-threatening asthma by switching to a whole, natural foods diet, she founded the NYC Asthma Wellness Center. Blau counsels individuals on healing their own asthma and allergies with dietary and lifestyle changes.

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