A wise and funny man, Dr. Laurence J. Peter once said, “Speak when you are angry — and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” Not only was he wise, he was right. No matter who you are angry with — children, spouse, boss, a clerk, even your government — it does not pay to unload your anger when you are white-hot mad.
Adrenaline and hormones are the main culprits for cloudy thinking and in many cases loosening our words. The fight or flight response kicks in for a threat to our safety, authority or territory whether real or imagined. When we drive down the road and are cut off in traffic or a vehicle wedges in front of ours we may see it as a challenge or an outright insult then fingers and words begin to fly.
The term loose cannon would apply to anyone not in control of their anger; here in my home we call the verbal onslaught flushing the toilet. That is when one of us lets loose with all the saved up anger and spews forth verbally — imagine the eruption of a raging volcano.
Many outside influences come into play before an eruption: Dealing with traffic, office politics or even a thoughtless clerk. In some cases, it does not take much to push those buttons. With children it might be unfinished chores or homework, the appearance of laziness, clutter and sloppiness or an item damaged, misplaced or lost. Pile on the added pressure of time or expense and any one thing becomes the last straw as the flush is set into motion – and this is where it gets ugly. Everything comes out; all the anger, rage, misinterpretations, thoughts and feelings — all of it. Out it comes until the flush is complete and everything begins to settle.
We can put safeguards in place to depressurize situations or to give ourselves time to gather our thoughts or to calm down and formulate a plan to address situations or issues. Addressing issues as they arise allows all concerned to share information and troubleshoot for solutions so there is less stress or pressure to vent in a not-so-friendly manner.
Learning to recognize those pent up emotions before an outburst and then taking steps to deal with the triggers can help. Expect heavy traffic during rush hour and leave earlier or later; offer assistance to children struggling with homework or a messy room; cancel the engagement you did not want to attend; tell your neighbor about a lawnmower sale so he will have his own; instead of talk radio, listen to recorded books; be extra nice to a clerk who annoys. Every single situation that causes anger has a solution; when there is no fix you can change how you react to it.
Children learn how to process difficult emotions by watching how their parents behave when they are upset and angry. Holding family meetings on a regular basis is an excellent way for everyone to have an opportunity to speak, be heard and kids to learn to vent in a healthy manner. Compromises and negotiation can be used to solve any problem in a more amiable atmosphere when there is open communication with respect and safety to all.
Parents can watch and listen to their own words come out of their children’s mouths. What are you teaching your children?
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Walter Lim Under Flickr/CC License.
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her blog here.