Why Anger Hurts Kids: How Moms & Dads Can Make it Better!
© 2023 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, Masters in Psychotherapy, Licensed Professional Counselor
Is parental anger harmful to kids? How can parents avoid harsh communication and gain successful outcomes? Read these practical tips to build healthier connections with your children!
Why Anger Hurts Kids: Learn What Parents Do Instead of Getting Mad
Anger is a natural human feeling, an emotion that occurs when we interpret external stimuli with frustration, conflict, and feeling put upon, creating reactions in our brains and body. Unfortunately, every person has triggers that, left unchecked, can lead to anger, aggression, verbal abuse, and in extreme cases, domestic violence.
Although parenting is rewarding in many ways, not having the knowledge and coping skills to avoid getting mad is hard on parents and children alike.
Parental anger contributes to children experiencing isolation, hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, and aggressive behavior. Parents can identify their anger triggers and learn healthier ways to manage the frustration of child-rearing.
Can a Parent's Anger Cause Behavioral Issues in Children & Adolescents?
Many moms and dads believe that getting angry with their kids is part of the discipline process. Parents often think they're correcting misbehavior 'in the moment' but find the long-term results are not what they intended. Research shows that parents' frequent and elevated angry expressions toward their kids lead to long-term behavioral problems.
A parent's anger often increases aggressive behavior in their children. A 2013 research study published by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) concludes that parents who shout at their children have elevated uncooperative behavior over time.
A 2014 study highlights how harsher discipline from fathers and mothers statistically increases aggressive behavior in children.
Levels of yelling, threatening physical discipline, and engaging in corporal punishment are high.
Researchers found that:
- 67% of fathers and 77% of mothers shout at their children as often as once every two weeks
- About 20% to 24% of parents threaten to slap their children
- 15% have done some form of physical punishment, such as pinching their children's arms.
As written about in Child and Family Blog, parents who practice corporal discipline can increase children's behavioral issues, leading to lower self-esteem, poorer school performance, impulsivity, and inability to make informed decisions.
Could Parents' Anger Lead to Childrens’ Stress & Depression?
Parental anger can make their children feel sad, hurt, and scared. It can also cause deeper mental issues that carry into adulthood. A growing body of research shows a connection between a parent's verbal abuse leading to higher stress, depression, and anxiety in their children.
The common result? Destructive actions could include risky sexual activity and substance abuse. Likewise, your child may develop:
- Sadness and low mood
- Hopelessness and worthlessness
- Irritability, guilt, and anger
- Difficulty focusing and low energy levels
Other adverse results could include more susceptibility to addiction, suicidal thoughts, vocal outbursts, school, parental defiance, tension headaches, stomach distress, lower school performance, extreme self-criticism, and frequent mood swings.
The Harvard Gazette reports that 63% of parents in the U.S said multiple cases of anger, yelling, and verbal abuse occur toward children in their homes. Child protective service departments classify extremely harsh verbal treatment as abuse and are grounds for removing children from their parents.
A guardian or parent's emotionally abusive behavior is considered maltreatment and is devastating for the child's physical and emotional development. Expressing rage, threatening physical punishment, and very loud, angry shouting are common forms of verbal abuse.
Major depressive disorders, such as long-term stress and anxiety, can significantly interfere with your kid's ability to function. These long-term mental issues can trigger suicidal tendencies among children.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3,000 adolescents die daily due to mental problems. Suicidal tendencies and thoughts can trigger children to commit a life-threatening act.
According to Kids Health, compromised mental health contributes significantly to young people's death. After cardiovascular diseases and accidents/injuries, death by suicide is the third-leading cause of death among adolescents and teens between ages ten and twenty-four.
A Link Between Anger and Chronic Physical Health Conditions?
A 2017 research study highlights a solid connection between adverse childhood experiences, including being the target of a caregiver's anger, yelling, shouting, and other forms of verbal abuse resulting in the onset of painful chronic health conditions in a child's adult life.
These conditions often include chronic headaches, arthritis, and neck and back pain resulting in more limited activities and enjoyment of life.
Does Anger and Verbal Abuse Increase Poor Self-Image?
A negative self-image is a common effect of parental anger and verbal abuse. For instance, your child may believe: "No one likes me," "I am not smart enough," or "My mom or dad do not love me."
Additional factors that contribute to negative self-image in children could include:
- Unsupportive parenting
- Traumatic experiences
- Mood disorders contributed to by a parent's anger
- Stressful events like moving houses
In addition, verbally abused children whose self-image is negative have higher risks of physical aggression, interpersonal issues, and delinquency.
For example, your kids who have been on the receiving end of your anger may:
- Behave more aggressively, and hit other children
- Have more quarrels with children in the neighborhood or in school
- Exhibit increased cruelty towards animals
Self-destructive acts, such as using knives or razor blades to cut their skin and other forms of self-injury, can be contributed to by parental anger. Reckless discipline, harsh punishment, or angry outbursts can put your kid in danger. Moms and dads often misunderstand different ways to discipline or communicate with their children.
The Journal of Clinical Psychology and Nicole Svenkerud's research study demonstrate that anger is not a necessary form of "tough love." Penalizing your child is unnecessary and shortsighted.
Even though getting mad might work temporarily, anger and verbal abuse have long-term consequences. They might include aggressive behavior, low self-esteem, and negative self-image.
How Anger Contributes to Sleep Disorders in Children
Anger is one of the most significant contributors to emotional trauma among children, leading to various problems, including difficulty sleeping at night. Research shows childhood abuse, including verbal abuse (anger, yelling, shouting, etc.), is a risk factor for various sleep problems, including:
- Less sleep efficiency
- More nocturnal restlessness
- Longer sleep latency
According to Cleveland Clinic, Children need at least 8-10 hours of sleep every night. A lack of sleep can severely affect their brain's neuronal pathways, leading to poor school performance, a lack of interest in extracurricular activities, and de-socialization.
Difficulty sleeping caused by parental anger can:
- Trigger impulsive behavior
- Increase frequency of accidents and injuries
- Contribute to mood disorders
- Affect learning and ability to concentrate, including poor memorization
- Slow reaction times
- Contribute to breathing problems
- Increase overeating
- Lead to trouble staying awake during the daytime
The Best Anger Management Strategies for Parents
Most moms and dads find raising their children to be rewarding overall. However, parenting is also very demanding. Increased anger is more prevalent when you have pressing problems such as:
- Inadequate housing
- Financial issues
- Drug or alcohol challenges
- Relationship difficulties with a partner
- Fear of violence
Utterly stress-free family life is impossible because relationships with children always have a certain degree of conflict. However, if you think there is too much stress or frustration in your life, you may not improve your life for yourself and your children.
Suffering from stress, depression, and anxiety often increases anger in moms and dads. Although most everyone gets angry from time to time, you must not frequently use anger in parenting. Instead, do your best to refrain from expressing anger in ways that could harm your child.
Low levels of anger without much frequency can be expected and still not rise to the level of unhealthy anger. Can some anger still be Ok? In this article on our website, we discuss the difference between healthy and unhealthy anger.
Here are a few anger management strategies for parents to adopt and manage their frustration to protect their children from harm.
Think About Why You are Angry with your Children
An article in Thrive Works discusses controlling your anger, frustration, and more extreme outbursts so you understand the reasons behind the behavior. I agree with their writers that it is good to begin by asking yourself questions such as:
- How often do I get angry?
- How can I tell when I get mad? What are my clues?
- What sort of things do I initially think?
- How have I typically expressed those thoughts in words?
- What often triggers me to become angry?
- Can I do something about those triggers other than getting mad?
Additional questions to ask are:
- How stressful do I feel? How can I reduce my overall level of tension?
- What have been the usual outcomes of my anger toward my kids?
- Have I ever become violent, physically, or verbally abusive with my children?
- What happens after I have been angry?
- Have I felt remorseful?
- Have I apologized?
- Are my apologies no longer taken seriously due to the many recurrences of my anger?
Learn how my “Transform Anger” course can change behavior long-term.
Understand the Triggers of Anger Towards Children & Teenagers
Although you know much better how you feel when you get angry, there are a few early warning signs to understand. Marriage 365 states that understanding the signals that cause anger is crucial because it helps you develop better strategies to control it. So, ask yourself:
- Do parts of my body tense up?
- Do I clench my fists?
- Does my heart beat faster?
- Does my jaw tighten?
- Do I feel hotter?
- Do I pace or fidget?
Reduce the Pressure of Unrealistic Expectations Placed on Yourself
Even though you may feel it is motivating, self-imposed pressure can increase your stress levels and increase frustration leading to anger.
Parenting is a challenging job, so additional pressure due to unrealistic expectations will work against you, leading to a greater likelihood of anger.
Find reasons to feel good about yourself as a parent. More patience and fewer incidents of angry outbursts are likely consequences. Very Well Mind has highlighted several ways to avoid self-pressure.
- Take notice of your achievements
- Talk yourself up with positive self-talk
- Take up a new hobby
- Do a project that helps you feel productive
Empowering Parents lists these stress-relieving strategies for parents:
- Deepen your connection with your children by spending quality time together.
- Be OK with your kids making mistakes and help them resolve their problems.
- Increasing quality time with your spouse and children by:
-Taking an evening walk
-Having a picnic on weekends
-Spending time in nature is a way of calming your mind
Reduce Anger by Refusing to Compare Your Kids to Other Parents' Children
Every child is different; don't compare their kids with yours. And don't compare you and your spouse with other parents based on their kids and how well you perceive they are doing. Additionally, what looks to be the case from the outside, may not be the true reality.
Comparison just puts extra pressure on you and your co-parent, often resulting in feelings of frustration that could escalate into anger.
Parents can remind themselves that they are OK, and their kids are OK. From time to time, healthy parents acknowledge to themselves, their co-parent partner, and their kids that everyone is doing good enough.
Cultivate Stronger Compassion to Reduce Angry Yelling at Your Kids or Teenagers
The stronger the connection to yourself and your feelings of self-compassion, the higher your self-esteem. Doing so helps you be less demanding on yourself, your spouse, and your children or teenagers.
Practicing self-compassion also can reduce the incidences of comparing yourself with other parents. We suggest:
- Express gratitude to your mate and family members
- Be more mindful of when you have done well and when your children have met expectations. Acknowledge those times
- Employ a growth mindset for yourself, your partner, and your kids
- Practice generosity in giving positive feedback and expressing appreciation
- Practice forgiveness for yourself, your partner, and your kids
Parents Lower Anger by Focusing on Positives with Humor
Speaking more positively and thinking more positively boosts your mood, increases your serotonin levels, and improves your mood. Instead of getting stressed about your young one's misbehavior, look for and reward your child's good behavior.
Empowering Parents recommends humor as the best way to lower the heat from stressful situations, allowing you to let go of what has made you angry. Do your best to find the funny sides of what you initially saw as stressful or frustrating situations.
Distract Your Child & Yourself to Avoid Getting Mad at Your Kids
Your young children or your teenager may test your limits. Developmentally toddlers and teenagers have higher levels of emotionality. They can have resistive behavior and are more prone to talking back to you.
As Kids Health recommends, use distractions to keep things optimal and calm. For example, despite multiple directives not to do so, your young child may mess with the dog's food.
Just place it out of reach for a time rather than getting angry. Then point at something that could be fascinating to your young one to distract yourself and your child from the power struggle with the dog's food.
What are Effective Tools to Reduce Anger Directed at Family Members?
Realize the Difference Between Anger and Aggression:
My experience aligns with the American Psychological Association (APA). Anger and aggression share similar features and often occur together.
Anger occupies the emotional realm. You are more likely to experience getting angry when facing disappointment, frustration, lower self-esteem, and a feeling of not being treated fairly or respectfully.
Aggression differs in that it is premeditated and more of a mental process. It has hostility in the mix, and the intention behind a parent's aggression is to punish children.
Follow a Proactive Approach:
When you feel a wave of anger or the outburst is about to erupt, talk to yourself about the acceptable and unacceptable ways you can handle the situation. Follow a preventative approach; you can find creative ways to address a problem lowering the risk of it turning into an outburst on your part. Look for creative options at the moment to avoid repeating habitual patterns of getting mad.
Give Yourself a Storm Warning:
Tell yourself: "I seem to be getting angry. I need to exit from the situation for a few minutes, so I don't make things worse by getting angrier." It helps you identify the intensity of your anger and frustration to realize what is happening. Doing so gives you the needed distance from the frustration. This is the time to give your child and you some mental or physical space.
Learn how my “Transform Anger” course can change behavior long-term.
Leave the Room to Calm Down to Avoid Expressing Anger
Remove yourself from the conflict, then think about what you want to say or do. After you have calmed yourself, address the situation more optimally. Staying away may take a few minutes, but sometimes longer if your level of anger is high.
Breathe Deeply to Calm Anger Towards Your Kids
- First, exhale the old air.
- Take a breath and make it long and deep.
- Continue inhaling and exhaling deeply.
- Ask yourself, "Is this worth being angry?" "Is this incident all that I am angry about?" "Is there something else bothering me?"
Healthline highlights the following benefits of deeper breathing:
- Conscious breathing can induce a feeling of centeredness and relaxation.
- It lowers your heart rate
- It reduces blood pressure levels
- Deeper breathing releases serotonin, giving you increased oxygenated blood flow to your brain.
Going Outdoors Provides Fresh Air & Can Reduce Anger Towards Your Teenager
Go for a walk, jog, or run to breathe in the fresh air and soothe your nerves. Perhaps do a yard project. Doing so will wear off the energy built up from your previous frustration and anger.
Positive Interactions with Your Children Prevent Anger
Children raised in positive families feel more accepted, loved, and valued. Kids learn valuable ways of accomplishing while increasing their happiness and cooperation with you as the parent. Parents who intentionally cultivate peace in the home lower their own and their children's anger levels.
Ways to Listen & Pay More Attention to Your Kids
My own experience as a licensed professional counselor concurs with Positive Parenting Solutions. Tell and show your child that you love, accept, and respect them. Give your young one lots of one-to-one time and attention. Find activities that they would enjoy doing with you, including:
- Reading books and stories that might educate and entertain
- Playing a story-oriented video game
- Engage in playing a board game together
- Playing a game of catch, frisbee, or tag in your yard or at a park
- Actively listen to your children. Doing so helps to boost their self-esteem and builds confidence in themselves.
Encourage and praise your child, build them up and avoid putting them down. This article from our website tells you how to skillfully encourage others.
Skillfully Handling Your Child's Mistakes to Minimize Their Frustration & Yours
In addition, allowing your children to make mistakes is the best way to help them learn from their mistakes. On the other hand, when you use overly critical words, your child will more often be more focused on feeling hurt and unaccepted. They won't necessarily notice the correction you are endeavoring to make for how to fix their mistake.
Instead, use supportive, kind, and skillful words, especially when your child has made a mistake. Provide your child with positive comments with the understanding that they have made a mistake, as we all do. Show your forgiveness and compassion while showing your love.
Finish talking about the mistake with a cheerful voice, a smile, and a hug. Demonstrate that the error is not a reason to withdraw affection. With this strategy, your child will correct future errors more readily, and they will feel loved and appreciated by you.
According to WebMD, instead of shouting and yelling at your child, you can help them understand what is OK and what is not. Although you can give your child appropriate boundaries, make sure you don't expect too much from them. Be mindful of their developmental age when choosing how to handle a mistake on their part.
Explaining reasons for rules helps your kids better understand why specific ways of behaving are best. You give your child essential life skills by better understanding how to manage and express their emotions. Listen to them and accept what they tell you even if you don't at first understand.
Final Thoughts on Reducing Hurtful Anger Strengthening Your Relationship with Your Children
You have learned the danger to your children of letting your anger build and becoming angry with your kids and teenagers. Don't bottle up your anger until you explode.
Instead talk to your wife or husband, a friend, a colleague, or mental health professional. Perhaps visit your medical professional to see if you have something physical that has contributed to excess anger.
Remember, you are the adult in the household; it is your responsibility to set a good example. When experiencing high frustration levels, look for ways to manage the situation and your feelings.
Don't project anger onto your children because doing so is harmful to them. Lead by example so your children do not learn that it is acceptable to rage at others just because they feel frustrated. What you do is more influential than what you say.
Break the cycle of anger in your family by starting with yourself. Learn to manage your anger, and your whole family will be happier and healthier. Use the information in this article to no longer hurt your kids by expressing anger. Instead, commit to growing in healthy ways for your benefit, your partner's benefit, and the well-being of your kids.
Learn how my “Transform Anger” course can change behavior long-term.