Shhhhh . . . . Anger is Telling You Something (or Speak Up . . . . I can't hear you!)

Photo by mattjeacock/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by mattjeacock/iStock / Getty Images

Anger is a wily one. It can come out so loud that we can't hear over the yelling, shaming and blaming.  Or, it can go undercover (repressed) anger and be so quiet that we don't hear any message at all.  Anger is a message, see below for some common translations.

Values: When we are chronically angry about homework, table manners, grades, keeping rooms neat we might have hit something that we value and hold in high esteem.  

Alternatives to Anger: If I value homework getting done maybe I create a quiet and device free zone from 7-8 each night.  I could inspire us with some new school supplies.  And listen to this, I could sit and do my own work while my child works.  I could do some AP modeling  and let my intellectual curiosity shine by studying my own books or information I find interesting. See, I'll be so busy doing all that highlighting and note taking,  I won't have time to yell or nag.

Personal Space: Sometimes kids can just be too much and we feel smothered by all the needs, wants, desires and strong feelings that kids bring to us.  Our anger might be a way of telling us that we need a wee bit more time alone, or more help around the house, or our kids need to get used to some benign neglect so we can read a book, or paint our nails, or watch the basketball game.  

Alternatives to Anger: If I need more personal space and feel smothered - well it's summer soon and there are tons of teens out there who would like to make a buck or two, why not ask them to take the kids to the park twice a week, just for a few hours, and enjoy my quiet house?  It will minimize the yelling (not extinguish it).

Ready for Responsibility (but they need the pink slip first):  If we get angry every day about our kids' waking up, packing their backpack or getting dressed it could be that anger is telling us it's time to hand over responsibility.  The trick here is we have to really hand them the pink slip to waking up in the morning (packing their back back, getting dressed) and it might get bumpy. Aint' nobody gonna take responsibility for something they don't own!

Alternatives to Anger:  If it's time to hand over responsibility to my kid I could ask someone with older kids how they did it and get support in letting go (it's harder then it looks).  I could train the beloved child in waking up to an alarm clock and see what happens.  If I let the child struggle with the alarm clock instead of me I won't have to stomp upstairs so many times ready to rumble.  I can greet the child (who might be early or late) with open arms and find out what he learned.

Nice and Accommodating (repressed anger):  Here's a twist - sometimes our anger goes way underground and our theory is that if we are just super duper nice and accommodating then really the child has to do what we want them to, right? I'm so nice, how could they not? Just like we try to control through fear and bluster with aggressive anger, so too can we try to control with sweetness and light.  If we say things in just the right way, with just the right timing, with just the right healthy snack - well then why WOULD'T they do their homework (have good manners, get good grades, keep their rooms clean)?  (What we might really mean is  "How COULD they not do their homework, have good manners, get good grades, keep their rooms clean, AFTER all we've done for them?")

Alternatives to Anger:  If I control with over-nicing people I might have no idea it's a problem because, after all, I'm so nice how can anyone criticize me?  If I have a good friend, an honest spouse, a wise teen, they might tell me and then I could see where I'm being just as controlling as my angry counterpart.  I could turn some of the nice on myself and treat myself to all those kind words and healthy snacks.  Then I'll have more energy to learn and discover the child I actually live with, rather then the one I'm trying to control.  And when I'm not spending so much time being nice I can discover who I really am too. I might just not be so nice . . . . and that might be a relief to everyone we live with.

Stress & Overwhelm: Sometimes we are angry simply because we are tired, hungry,over caffeinated, have to go the bathroom, under caffeinated, are mad at our brother-in-law, had something go terribly wrong at work or any other number of things that upset us normal, everyday, overbooked parents.

Alternatives to Anger: If I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed I could drink 1/2 a cup less coffee today, I could add in a 15 minute walk around the block, I could realize that my brother-in-law is doing the best he can, I could go to the bathroom before I talked to the kids about all the legos on the floor.  Sometimes I can short circuit an anger episode just by realizing it's something I can easily fix or alter in my own routine.

Diagnosing the problem correctly can take a heavy load off us (and our relationships).  We have to listen to the anger, we have to see what's underneath the fury, we have to feel the vulnerable emotions (see Anger: A Primer).  Scary, but you know what, we can do it!  Our tempers and emotions are the climate control for the house, let's learn how to use that thermostat properly and effectively.