Anger Management Homework for Parents
We give the following assignment to parents interested in controlling or managing their anger.
Step 1: Before starting, make a clear commitment. Think about it. Do you really want to express your anger differently? If so, make a list of the top five or ten reasons why you want to change your anger behaviors. Also, make a list of the benefits you’ll experience from changing this behavior.
Step 2: Get curious before you get furious (an idea from Families First Boston). Take time to contemplate the “buttons” or “triggers” that, when pushed or pulled, result in an angry reaction. Draw some big buttons on a sheet of paper and label them. Common parent buttons include: (a) child disobedience, (b) children having a “smart mouth,” (c) children who lag behind when you’re in a hurry. Try to identify a reasonably long list of the main child behaviors that trigger your anger. Remember, when it comes to dealing with anger constructively, knowledge is power.
Step 3: Identify the signs and symptoms of your increasing anger. Some people say they become angry very quickly and that it’s hard to identify the signs. This may be the case for you. If so, study your anger patterns and ask for feedback from someone who knows you well. Your anger signals may include (a) feeling hot; (b) muscular tension; or (c) thinking angry thoughts. The purpose of knowing your anger signs is so you can begin derailing the process as soon as possible.
Step 4: Think prevention and self-care. We’re all more likely to get angry when stressed or when short on sleep. For some parents, prevention will help you move from having anger flareups to anger sparks. Prevention ideas include:
- Regular time to work out at home or at the gym (e.g., yoga, dance, or kick-boxing)
- Hot baths or hot-tubbing
- A regular date night for Mom and Dad
- Getting a therapeutic massage
- Regular meditation
Many other self-care strategies are available. Make your own best prevention and self-care list and then incorporate your unique self-care strategies into your life on a regular basis.
Step 5: Make an excellent plan for what you want to do instead of engaging in negative anger behaviors. Excellent plans are specific, clear, and easy to immediately implement. For example, you might decide—because music is a natural emotional shifter—that you’ll take a three-minute break to listen to one of your favorite calming songs if you feel yourself getting angry. To accomplish this, it will help to have a preplanned statement to make (“Daddy needs a quick break”) and a prerecorded playlist on your iPod or other music device to immediately listen to.
Step 6: Practice your plan. The best-laid plans aren’t likely to happen unless you practice them. Brain research suggests that whatever we practice (even as adults) generates changes in our brains to make us better at whatever we’re practicing (Jenkins, et. al., 1990). This also makes good common sense. Whether you repeatedly bite your fingernails or repeatedly get very angry and yell, you’ve developed neural pathways in your brain that make these patterns more likely. The best way to address this neural pattern is to develop a new neural pattern by practicing new anger behaviors. For example, if your plan is to use your spouse as a partner and for one of you to tag the other when you get too stressed and need a break, don’t just say, “How about if we tag each other when we’re stressed?” Instead, say it and then physically practice it like you’re preparing to perform in an upcoming drama production. It will feel silly, but practicing or rehearsing is one of the best ways to change an undesirable repeating behavior pattern.
Step 7: Reward yourself. Many people make the mistake of thinking they should be able to change pesky, habitual behavior patterns solely on the basis of willpower. If that were the case, most of us would be practically perfect. Instead of completely relying on willpower, develop a reward system for yourself. For example, if you make it an hour or a day or a week without an undesirable anger explosion, give yourself a reward. Your reward can be as simple as thinking a positive thought (“I’m doing very well at this”), or a much more elaborate system of awarding yourself points for handling life’s challenges calmly and taking them away when you blow up. If you have a spouse or romantic partner, the two of you can develop a program for supporting and rewarding each other. Self-behavior management is one of the best uses for behavioral techniques.