Don't Let Anger Sabotage Your Parenting

By Extension Professor, Naomi Brower

Frustrated parents

Does it ever feel like your child has pushed your buttons to the point that you are about to lose it? This is a common experience for many parents. When we experience anger, our bodies release adrenaline and our heart rate and blood pressure increase. Such a strong reaction can be a hard thing to control, especially when you add in all of the other stressors we deal with every day. Parents that don’t find healthy ways to express and cope with these feelings are likely to find themselves losing their cool, and when this happens on a regular basis, there can be some fairly serious consequences. For example, research has shown that when parents yell at or use harsh discipline with their kids, it can make their children feel insecure, more physically and verbally aggressive (Gershoff et al., 2010), and more likely to experience depressive symptoms (Wang & Kenny, 2014). 

The last thing we as parents want to do is to hurt our kids by saying or doing something in the moment that we will later regret. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping your anger in check when tensions rise between you and your child.

  1. It's okay to have anger. Your anger is an indication that something is bothering you; the key to dealing with it is to figure out what that something is. In other words, try to dig deeper to understand what is at the core of your anger. For example, are you angry at your child because you feel disappointed in his or her behavior? This is especially likely when they do something that you have specifically told them not to do. Maybe your anger reaction stems from seeing them doing something dangerous and you are afraid for their safety or wellbeing. Once you have a better sense of what is causing your anger reaction, you will be in a better position to work through the issue and address it with your child in a calm and thoughtful way.
  2. Don't take it personally. It can be hard to remember in the moment that your child is just doing what is normal for their age when they act out or say something mean or rude to you. Pushing boundaries, getting frustrated when they don’t get their way, and talking back or yelling at you are all ways that children are learning how to interact with the world around them. Try to remind yourself that they aren’t making you angry, their behavior is, and behaviors can change with time and effort.
  3. Don't wait until you're about to explode. There are times when we react with anger because of something that happens out of the blue and then there are times when our frustration builds over time because we see patterns of behavior that we don’t like. It’s always a good idea to ‘pick your battles’ with your kids. For example, you can’t get on them for every single thing you wish they would do differently or you probably wouldn’t have time to do much else. However, if you see a pattern starting to form that is irritating you, be proactive and calmly let them know what you expect from them and what will happen if they don’t meet your expectations. When you have clearly laid out what you expect, it makes it easier for you to calmly remind them of what they are supposed to be doing and follow up with the consequence you stated earlier.
  4. Take a time out before you lose it. When you notice your anger starting to bubble up to the surface, take some time to calm down before interacting with your child. Let them know you are upset by saying something like: “I am too angry to talk to you about this right now, but we will talk when I calm down.” Another approach to use when you aren’t ready to respond is: “I need to think about what just happened and we will talk about it later.” Some things to try when you need to calm down include: shaking out your hands to release the tension, splashing cold water on your face, going for a walk or exercising, or talking to someone about what happened until you start feeling calmer and feel ready to have the conversation with your child. Also remember that taking care of others starts with taking care of yourself. It is important to make time to regularly engage in self-care so that you can be at your best when it comes to interacting with, and setting a good example for, your child.
  5. Recognize and praise what they do right. As a parent, it is easy to notice and focus on all the things our children do that we don’t like, especially when we are angry or upset. Try adding positive reinforcement into your daily interactions with your child. You will be improving your relationship with them and making it more likely that they will listen to you when you do have to correct their behavior (Novotney, 2012). Positive reinforcement can include verbal praise when you notice they have done what you asked (e.g., “Thank you for cleaning your room” or “Great job with the dishes”) or other rewards such as getting to watch their favorite show, going for ice cream, or getting to pick a fun activity to do with you when they consistently meet your expectations. Your child will appreciate the positive attention and you are likely to see less of the behaviors you don’t want as a result. Check out the resource below for more information on positive reinforcement.

What happens if you do lose your cool and yell at your child or say something you regret?

Use it as a learning opportunity to demonstrate that when your emotions get the better of you, you should recognize it, own it, and apologize. As they see you setting a good example for how you handle your anger, chances are they will learn how to deal with theirs a little bit better as well.


Parenting Children with Positive Reinforcement: 


  • Gershoff, E. T., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Lansford, J. E., Chang, L., Zelli, A., Deater-Deckard, K., & Dodge, K. A. (2010). Parent discipline practices in an international sample: Association with child behaviors and moderation by perceived normativeness. Child Development, 81(2): 487-502. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01409.x
  • Novotney, A. (2012, October). Parenting that works. Monitor on Psychology, 43(9). Retrieved from
  • Wang, M. -T. & Kenny, S. (2014). Longitudinal Links Between Fathers’ and Mothers’ Harsh Verbal Discipline and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptoms. Child Development, 85(3), 908-923. doi:10.1111/cdev.12143