Anger in Parenting

Many of us feel uncomfortable when our children openly express anger.  We feel it is our duty to make the anger go away as soon as possible.  Many of us feel uncomfortable with our own issues involving anger in parenting because if we feel angry in our parenting, then obviously we are a bad parent, right?

Nonviolent Communication views anger as a gift!  How is that possible, you may ask?  On page 144 of the book “Nonviolent Communication”, Marshall Rosenberg states that:  “At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.  This anger can be valuable if we use it as an alarm clock to wake us up – to realize we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that is unlikely to be met.”

Wow, this is such a powerful thought.  Marshall Rosenberg goes on to discuss how anger takes our energy and directs it toward punishing other people instead of using our energy to meet our needs.   He has this to say about the way we use our language:

We say: “You make me angry.”  “You hurt me by doing that.  I feel sad because you did that.”  We use our language in many different ways to trick ourselves into believing that our feelings result from what others do.  The first step in the process of fully expressing our anger is to realize that what other people do is never the cause of how we feel.”

This is so important to hear in parenting.  You have a choice how you react to your child. Your child is supposed to be immature, otherwise they would have been born a wrinkly 70-year-old.  You set the tone in your home, and you have a choice how you act.  Anger gives you a chance to figure out how your child is feeling – you don’t have to ask an under seven-year-old how they are feeling! You can probably tell at that moment what your child is feeling, and if you can stop and think, perhaps you can ascertain what you need as well.   NVC is a wonderful framework for you as a parent!

Marshall Rosenberg outlines the four steps to expressing anger as 1- stop and breathe; 2- identify our judgmental thoughts 3- connect with our own needs and 4-express our feelings and unmet needs.  A Waldorf perspective would say that while this framework is valuable for the adult to go through and work off of, it does not need to be shared with a small child under the age of seven.  As an adult, once we practice, perhaps we can do this in our head and then show the ACTION to our child.  What we do to meet the child’s needs, and our needs.

It is also most important for children, especially children under the age of seven,  to see how anger RESOLVES.  How you can take a deep breath and say, “Wow, I am so glad that I am over that!  Let’s go get a cup of raspberry tea!”  Children under the age of 7  need to see how we regain control when we are angry because they will imitate that – and they do not need to have many words around it other the notion of  I was upset and you were upset,  now it is over.

One thing that comes up frequently when mothers talk to me is that the mothers are so tapped out they cannot pay attention to their children’s needs because their own needs are so completely unmet.  If your needs are met in some ways as well, it becomes easier for you as a parent to connect to your child and what they may need.  Pam Leo, in the book “Connection Parenting” has this to say:

“While learning to decode behavior may seem challenging, it makes the job of parenting more joyful and less a struggle.  When we see parenting as the job of trying to control children’s behavior, parenting is a struggle because we cannot control children’s behavior.  When we see our job as that of meeting children’s needs, we enjoy our children, because we can meet their needs.”

The book “When Anger Hurts Your Kids: A Parent’s Guide” by Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, et al.  is based on a two-year study of 285 parents and details the when and how parents get angry at their kids, the most important causes of anger, and the best ways to  cope with anger.  In their study, two-thirds of the parents reported feeling anger to the point of shouting or screaming at their children an average of five times per week.  They also found that children received less emotional support, nurturing and encouragement as parents get angry.  They also discovered that children of angry parents are more aggressive and noncompliant, that children of angry parents are less empathic and have poor overall adjustment.  Anger is a natural emotion, and it is an alarm clock for our own unmet needs.  However, for the health of our children, it is very important to pay attention to what we can do to solve the situation.

Again, all parents get angry, and in the above book, McKay and the other authors detail why parents become angry.  Their list includes the following:  parents are “in charge” every hour of every day, including all night long; children are messy; children are noisy; caring for children involves repetitive and time-consuming tasks; children are self-centered; children push the limits; children need a tremendous amount of  attention and approval; and children require eternal vigilance as they are often drawn to danger. 

They then come back to the same conclusion as Marshall Rosenberg; that anger is often tied to “trigger thoughts”, such as “He should know better than this!”  “She is just doing this to push my buttons!”  “They have no respect for me at all!”

If we are familiar with developmental stages, we can identify which ages may be more likely to be developmentally challenging for our child and be more prepared.  This book details 20 typical situations that stimulate “trigger thoughts” in parents and alternative explanations, along with short descriptions of each developmental stage from one through age nine including quotes from the Gesell Institute books (“Your One Year Old”, “Your Two Year Old”  “Your Three Year Old”, etc).

This book talks about changing your “trigger thoughts” into coping statements that normalize things, such as “All kids go through these stages.”  “This is normal for this age.” 

They suggest thinking about what the child needs in a situation, and specific statements  for you to say to yourself in response to typical trigger thoughts.  Their other suggestion is one I have brought up earlier in this post, and that is making sure your own tank is filled.  McKay, Fanning and the other authors suggest learning relaxation techniques including deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, relaxing without tension, cue-controlled relaxation, breath-counted mediation, and how to cue into your own physical signs that you are getting angry early on.

They suggest:

  • Using coping thoughts at the first sign of tension or anger.
  • Stop and breathe.
  • If it helps, physically turn away from the scene that is causing you anger (Of course the mom in me was thinking here, why yes, but have these researchers ever had a child wrapped around each leg screaming their heads off?)
  • Take a “parent time out” if you need it to calm down.
  • Meet your child’s needs – they suggest food, water, rest, time to calm down, sleep, safety, security, attention, hugs, kisses, praise, diversion or distraction, help doing things, help solving a problem, to be listened to, a need for freedom, autonomy,power, clear limits and rules, consistency, stimulation and activity.

Here is something to think about regarding the idea of “power, clear limits and rules, consistency”  mentioned in the last sentence above.  Nancy Samalin, in her book “Love and Anger:  the parental dilemma” details this account in her book:

“One of the few men you attended my morning workshop, Ted was deeply committed to being a good father to his four-year-old daughter, Jessica.  During the course of the workshops, Ted revealed that the reason he took parenting so seriously was that he wanted to avoid at all costs making the same mistakes his parents had made.  Ted grew up in a tense and punitive home, where there were frequent angry confrontations between him and his parents.  He remembered that as a child he had often felt intense feelings of hatred for his father, and he couldn’t bear the idea that his daughter would ever have such feelings toward him.  He bent over backward to avoid confrontations in their home, and described how he would always explain his restrictions carefully to his daughter to she would “understand” the reasons for his limits. “She knows why she has to be in bed by eight o’clock,”  Ted said. “And she can accept it because it doesn’t just seem like an empty rule.”

I could see how much Ted valued the solid communication that existed between him and his daughter, and I didn’t want to say anything that might burst his bubble. But if there was one thing I knew about four-year-olds, it was that they have a tremendous capacity for unreasonable behavior, even given the most patient explanations.  Although Ted and his daughter were close, by their very nature preschoolers do not take kindly to the limits adults set, no matter how reasonable and necessary these limits are.”


Nancy Samalin goes on to say there was an event that Ted experienced with his daughter that demonstrated when there is a conflict of needs, the conflict cannot always be reasoned away.  She goes on to write, “Ted  needed to be firm without being punitive, but he also needed to accept the inevitable – that Jessica would be upset  at having to stop what she was doing and accede to his wishes.”  She goes on to suggest keeping the limit, but a small choice in how to carry the limit out  – “I know you want to stay and play, but we have to leave now.  Would you like to walk or be carried?”  Waldorf probably would move this more into the realm of fantasy and movement, but you do get the idea of how to keep a limit in a loving way.

I have a few random thoughts in closing:

  • Sometimes we do everything we can do to meet our child’s needs, but in a family of multiple children, sometimes one person’s or child’s needs has to be met FIRST. It does not mean the other children will not get their needs met, but that sometimes there has to be an order to start.
  • As a child hits the 3 year old and up range, wants and needs are definitely not the same.  What your child is telling you what they want may not be what they need, and it is your job as the parent to look under the want to find that need.  Loving limits are not the enemy in parenting.  No spanking, not so many words, a loving, warm, kind presence, and yes, loving limits set with redirection of  fantasy and movement at first and then moving into short, simple phrases during that six-year-old year.  This is what children need.
  • Have a plan ready for when everything is going crazy – even if that plan is just to stop and breathe, to take a parent time-out.
  • Have someone who you can call if you are at the breaking point – maybe another mother who is a close friend who would be willing to come over and watch your children for a moment while you pull it together. We should all be so lucky to have such a network.
  • Hang around with parents who also have nonviolent guiding of the child as their goal.  Seek out these parents at Attachment Parenting Meetings, La Leche League meetings, or other places in your town where like-minded parents may meet.  Get support over the Internet.  There are many Yahoo!Groups for positive discipline out there.
  • Be familiar with normal developmental stages; it helps you know what possibly coming your way.
  • Work hard to cultivate your own personal, peaceful energy.  When you are a  new mother, it is often a “good day” when your child “behaves” and “doesn’t melt down” but when you become a more experienced mother it is not how they behaved, but how YOU behaved that day.
  • Keep reminding yourself that you set the tone for your home in how you respond to things, anger happens, you can make a mistake and it will be okay. You do not have to be perfect, you can be an Authentic Leader (go back through this blog and search for the Authentic Leadership posts if that helps!) 
  • Rhythm and less words really help carry the three to six year old set.  Please do look back through this blog for those posts.  Hopefully they will inspire you and help you.


If you feel as if your child’s needs are being met and every day is still a battle, I would encourage you to seek help for you and your family.  Some children have food allergies, sensory processing disorders or other needs that need to be addressed before your family can live in harmony.

If you feel as if your anger is actually your issue and not being triggered by things in parenting, I encourage you to speak to a find a nonviolent communication support group, a therapist, a  mentor, a neutral third party, to assist you in uncovering the need hiding beneath the anger.  Many of the Waldorf consultants on the Waldorf consultant list on this blog will do telephone consultations, and while not therapists, may be able to assist you with seeing the larger picture with parenting and homeschooling.

Many peaceful blessings to you, my dear reader.

5 thoughts on “Anger in Parenting

  1. Oh thank you – thank you for your site and also this recent post hits home. I’ve been dipping into NVC and was battling how to transform it into a non-wordy/non-logic version for little babes. I’ve been reading many of these books and while I feel the progress, I still can’t seem to keep up.
    Thanks for always sharing so deeply on these subjects so near to my heart.

  2. Great post, Carrie, and one I really needed today. My 6 year old and I are locked in an anger cycle with each other. It helps to read things, even if I already “know” them, to move them to the forefront of my brain! I just keep repeating my internal mantra, “Just let my struggle to improve be enough. Just let my struggle to improve be enough…”

  3. This is so true:

    Work hard to cultivate your own personal, peaceful energy. When you are a new mother, it is often a “good day” when your child “behaves” and “doesn’t melt down” but when you become a more experienced mother it is not how they behaved, but how YOU behaved that day.

    Thanks again Carie for your great post!

  4. Carrie,
    I have had issues of anger – due to many reasons – including my health.
    I have taken a vow to not vent out against my four year old child any more when I realised how hurtful it has been.
    But meanwhile the damage is done.
    She grits her teeth and then screeches (imitating me) – sometimes randomly, and sometimes when I’m trying to enforce a boundary.
    It’s horrible to see and it shakes me up.
    Please help me heal her. I’m very scared that I’ve permanently damaged her.
    (She is otherwise a very active, spirited child)

    • Di – Look for a reply from me later tonight after I properly have time to think and meditate on this okay?
      You are a good mother for changing what you can! Parenting is a journey that changes us in so many ways and sometimes we have to heal and forgive ourselves as well.
      Blessings, hugs,

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