I’ve been working for over four decades on interacting with and mentoring girls and young women. While my work is mostly with dads and daughters, I think you will find that this post applies to all dads.
I often say this: Anger is where so many kids carry the most hurt from their dads.
Stated otherwise, my goal is to help you understand what your child really wants from you, and I am seeking to lead you to look underneath your anger so you can uproot it.
Listen to the words of two young children who shared their true thoughts with me:
“I make my dad angry. Just the act of me breathing makes him angry. I’m the source of his anger and he has mentioned that I am on a few occasions. When my father gets frustrated with me I really let him have it—the cold shoulder, that is.”
“I’m sick of my dads moods and blow-ups. He corrupts peace in our home. I want the dad back that used to hold me on his lap and make me feel balanced and stable. Now I never know what I’m going to get from him.
I can’t decide if I’m done with him…or not…because at the end of the day I love him.”
If those words aren’t touching your heart deeply, I invite you to read them again.
And though I talk more about this topic in my first book, “Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart” in the chapter, “Getting Under the Anger,” here’s a short overview if you want to address what is happening underneath your anger responses:
Psychologists have often said there are five primary emotions:
I add that oftentimes the presenting emotion (a.k.a. anger) is NOT the primary driving emotion. Instead, anger often becomes the funnel through which other emotions are released.
This means that when you respond in anger, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself: What sad is under my mad?
You might be sad that the little girl who used to run and jump into your arms is nowhere to be found
You might be sad that your child is disrespecting you—or someone in your household
You might be sad that there is disunity in your home and you can’t seem to get things under control
If you can tap into your sadness without dismissing it, I promise that your anger will begin to dissipate. You will balance out your mad feelings by connecting to your underlying sad feelings.
As a result, you may cry or feel tight in your chest. You may need to punch a bag or go for a run to release the emotional intensity that’s surging through your body. Those are all good and healthy releases because you’re allowing your authentic emotion to lead the way.
And because your responses teach your child how to react to life’s challenges and conflicts, fears and failures, messes and mistakes, it’s vital that you find a way to temper your anger if you want her to do the same.
This, in essence, means you have to work very hard at not reacting to your child’s reaction. You have to respond first in the way you want to see your child respond.
Give yourself time to calm down first. Then come back and talk things out or give discipline.
After all, God had a reason for saying, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master” (Ephesians 6:4 MSG).
Your soft response is the quickest way to diffuse your child’s fire.
Your harsh response is the quickest way to pour fuel on your child’s fire.
If you’re ready to begin taking responsibility for your anger without excusing or blaming your kid or circumstances, here are five suggestions for proactive movement through the intensity of anger:
#1 Calmly remove yourself from the stressful situation.
Do this in a non-abrupt, non-explosive way so that those around you aren’t traumatized by your intensity as you get to a place where you have space to de-escalate.
#2 Breathe deeply while looking around at your surroundings.
Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can hear, and end with 1 thing you are grateful for.
#3 Give yourself a ‘time out’ as many minutes as your age.
If you’re 50, for example, you need to give yourself 50 minutes to calm your brain when it’s on fire–and if you can walk around, that will help even more because you’re activating the right and left hemispheres of your body in order to reduce and titrate the intensity you feel inside.
If you’re in a place to speak out loud, it will help your spirit lead as you hear yourself talk to Jesus. Invite God’s presence and power to give you perspective as you vent to your Heavenly Father who promises to give wisdom if we ask for it—James 1:5.
#5 Make amends while listening more than talking.
Go back to your child and ask how your response hurt, then say you’re sorry without explanations or defensiveness, finishing with asking your child to forgive you. Then honor your child’s need for space to recover and rebuild trust.
Portions of this post originally appeared at Dr. Michell Watson-Canfield’s Blog.