Discipline and Anger


If you are like most parents, you’ve probably made several parenting resolutions for the New Year.  Yelling, spanking and issuing empty threats are common discipline methods that parents want to reduce.  Now that it’s way past New Years, how are you doing?  If you find you are making no progress, it’s easier to understand by examining why we use those methods to discipline.


Most parents discipline when they are angry.  When children do things that make us mad, we want to relieve our hurt, often by hurting them, which may not be the best tool to teach them anything or help them solve problems. And it leaves us feeling very guilty.


It’s far better if parents separate their anger from their discipline measures.  We make better discipline decisions that way, and use more moderate, respectful, thoughtful tools.  A time-out is an example.  A time-out is often used to cope with a parent’s anger than to teach the child anything. And when the child doesn’t cooperate with the time-out, the ensuing power struggle just adds to the parent anger.   It’s better for the parent to remove herself from the situation to take a breather than to make another person do it.


How can you separate your anger from your discipline?


Think Ahead…


1.            Stress.   A stressful life combined with the normal trials and tribulations of parenting can lead to many angry outbursts.  Try to prune your life of unnecessary stress.  One of the most common ones for parents of young children is getting out the door on time.  Instead of yelling “Hurry up!  We are going to be late!”, change your attitude to “That’s okay, take the time you need.”   If you are late, will it really matter in five years from now?


2.         Take lots of “me” breaks.  Take little chunks of time during the day to nurture yourself.  Read the newspaper, have a cup of tea, work on a craft project for five minutes. Nurturing yourself increases your patience level.


3.                  Knowledge.  It is essential to read a book on child development.  Knowing that children are naturally messy, noisy, self centered, excited, clumsy, etc. and that they are not just acting that way to get your goat on purpose, can really help reframe your anger at their behaviour.  Especially learn about Temperament and Children’s Developmental Needs, and how some children and babies can’t help being more needy.  Also learn about Developmental Stages and how it’s very normal that children go through “ annoying” stages to order to develop.






In the heat of the moment…


1.                  Take a parent time-out.  When your child does something that needs a disciplinary response, no one says that you must react immediately.  Take the time to calm down, think, deep breathe, and come up with a disciplinary solution that you will commit to and is reasonable, related, and respectful.  Discuss it with your partner if you wish.  Then get back to the kids about it.  You can always say “Mommy is so mad right now, I need to make a safe choice and lock myself in the bathroom and scream!   I will get back to you on what we are going to do about this…”  What terrific anger management skills you are modeling, instead of yelling, hitting, or forcing a time-out!


2.                  Use self-talk to moderate those trigger thoughts that get your anger boiling.  A handy list of coping thoughts (about normal child development) on your fridge might help to calm your anger.  These are adapted from the book, “When Anger Hurts Your Kids”, by M. Mckay, P. Fanning, K. Paleg, and D. Landis.



Separating your anger from discipline is a learned skill.  With practice, it becomes easier and easier. 


Judy is a certified P.E.T. educator, writer, and mother of five children, and is currently offering the one-night, LAST CHANCE DISCIPLINE workshop for parents of toddlers, preschoolers, and school aged children.  Please e-mail jarnall@shaw.ca for dates and locations of monthly workshops or to book a workshop.


Copyright jarnall@shaw.ca 2005