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Parenting Feature Articles


Managing anger

Leanne Spengler, former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension and Kim Leon, former Human Development Specialist, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri


Everyday we are faced with trying situations. Sometimes these situations make us angry. One study found that some people got mad an average of six times a day and another study of parents found that two-thirds of the group shouted or screamed at their children an average of five times a week.

Anger is defined as a basic human emotion that is 'triggered' by some frustration and thoughts about the event. Anger as an emotion is not a problem. The problem is how often anger occurs or how anger is expressed. New skills may be needed to solve the problems and resolve the conflicts resulting from inappropriate expressions of anger.

Anger is a signal for change. The age-old purpose is to prepare for 'fight' or 'flight' responses which are useful in situations that present real danger or a threat to survival. However 'fight' or 'flight' is not an appropriate reaction to most ordinary parenting situations such as dealing with temper tantrums or noncompliance. The following suggestions may be helpful in reducing anger:


  • Change how you think
    Some people are so angry they can't think or are not thinking clearly. Try to eliminate negative thoughts, which can lead to unkind reactions. Reinterpret negative behaviors in a positive light. For example, instead of telling yourself, "Sally is refusing to wear her coat because she wants to be difficult," you could reinterpret the situation as, "Sally is refusing to wear her coat because she is asserting her independence. That is normal behavior for a two-year-old."
  • Change what you do
    Develop relaxation and coping skills that can give you some time to make a constructive rather than a destructive response. One technique to try is abdominal breathing. Place one hand on your abdomen and take a deep breath, counting to four as you inhale. Hold the breath for a second, then slowly exhale, counting to four again. You should feel your abdomen rise as you inhale, if you are breathing deeply enough. Repeat this 10 times and you should feel yourself calm down.
  • Change what you say
    Develop and practice assertive communication skills that identify your feelings and keep the lines of communication open. State your feelings using I-statements: I feel ___________ when you ____________ because _______________. For example, "I feel frustrated when you leave your things lying all around the living room because I work hard to keep the house clean." Also, expressing angry feelings in a journal or to a friend can help you remain calm when communicating with your child.


The way parents deal with anger and conflict sets the example that children are most likely to follow. These behaviors create the family patterns that children will also pass on to their families.


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Last Updated 06/24/2014