Angry Mothers: Learn Mindfulness. Then Teach It To Your Children!

Copy of assertive-arm and hand movements angry woman

The Problem
“I can’t deal with my own children,” lamented a young mother in one of our anger management classes.“They won’t listen, they do exactly what they want, they constantly fight with each other, and they won’t do their chores without a major argument.”

This young mother was ashamed that she was constantly angry at her own children. In response to their behavior, she would yell at them, call them names, and make empty threats of horrible consequences for non-compliance.But these responses did not seem to work; in fact, it made things worse as the children developed resentment and increased defiance toward their screaming mother.

The Solution As in an airline emergency, first put the oxygen mask on yourself. Then, put the oxygen mask on your children. You can’t expect your children to show good coping skills. and to handle stress well if you are impaired yourself.

Start by learning and then teaching mindfulness. to your children. It is amazingly simple, yet very effective over time. It helps mothers first deal with their own stress and anger and then gives her tools to teach to their children so that they can generally cope better with life. The positive effects of mindfulness has much science behind it and has many applications for both children and adults.

Mindfulness can be many things, but at its core, it is the skill of learning to focus on our present thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgement. Many people associate this with meditation, but meditation is only one path to achieve mindfulness. It is very useful for relaxation, but it is much more than that. For children, it helps them become more attentive, balanced, and aware. For some, it has the potential to help kids see their lives more clearly, to become more positive and less tired, and to chose appropriate life paths.Learn more about this on CPR Classes Tampa.

As a first step toward helping our stressed client deal with her own stress, we taught her various tools of anger control. As a starter, we introduced the concept of mindful meditation consisting of simple breathing exercises. Mindfulness helps both mother and child calm down, to re-focus on what is important, to become more reflective, and to perhaps teach both to respond in different ways to family stress. Research shows that mindful practices over time increase “emotional intelligence” in children as they better understand how their brain works and how to develop more self-control with that knowledge.

Following are some simple breathing meditations that mother and child can practice together, taken from a book called “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland :

Counting 1-1-1-1-1-1. When you breath in, let your body relax. When you breath out, silently count one, one, one, until your lungs feel empty. Repeat by relaxing again as you inhale and silently counting two, two, two, two, two, as you exhale. Repeat once more by relaxing as you inhale again and silently counting three, three,three, three, for the entire out breath. Continue this exercise in sets of three breaths (counting 1 on the first exhale, 2 on the second, and 3 on the third), until your mind quiets and you can rest in the physical sensation of breathing without counting.

When teaching this to your child, be aware that it takes time for them to accept the idea. Don’t force the issue, or another power struggle may develop, making things worse. For younger children, you may have to start with a 1 minute exercise, then gradually expand the time as your child progresses and sees the benefit. Don’t force them to close their eyes; some people prefer to keep eyes open.

The actress Goldie Hawn has written a delightful book on mindfulness called “10 Mindful Minutes.” which I would recommend to all parents. Among the wise nuggets of information is the followng: “Mindful parenting involves recognizing and nurturing our children’s unique personalities and not seeing them as projections of ourselves. There’s simply no cookie-cutter standard for how to treat our children.”

In our anger management classes we teach parents to respond instead of react to the behavior of our children that is troublesome. Hawn, in her book, amplifies this approach by saying that “reactive parenting can be very detrimental for our children. Yelling at them for forgetting something or doing something we don’t like only frightens them – it doesn’t make them stop.” We can gain control over our anger by understanding that our higher thinking has been hijacked by our emotional state; hence, we’re no longer in control.”

Once parents learn to respond differently to their children – not just react in knee-jerk fashion- the next step is to teach their children the same. Children need to understand how their brain works and how to deal with anger and frustration that all people experience. Hawn explains this simply as follows: “The anger and frustration that we feel in such moments is simply our Guard Dog amygdala {section of the brain} responding to the perceived stressful situation and taking over our emotions. Once we understand this, we can learn to recognize when we’ve been hijacked and accept that the path back to clear thinking is mindful awareness. ….”

In summary, a mindful approach to parenting quiets the minds of both parent and child, reduces stress, and puts both of you more in control of your emotions. Doesn’t that sound better than living in a family with constant yelling, screaming, negativism, and fighting?

Anger Management in Action: Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

I have listened for over 30 years to couples fighting in couples therapy. This includes dating couples, newlyweds and couples that have been conflicting for 50 years, still trying to understand each other and relate to each other. Why so much conflict between people who  truly love each other – or used to?

While it is obviously complicated, most unresolved conflicts remain unresolved because people use logic only to solve the issue rather than understanding that it is emotions- not just logic- that determine our behavior, get us so upset at each other and motivate us to change. To influence behavior , motivation(emotions) has to come first, then information (logic).

In my experience, many peopke do not care what you know until they know that you care! A person has to be OPEN to listening to what you are saying, or your words will fall on deaf ears. 

Having understanding of this concept can make you very bright……that is, it will give you high emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence and how will it help your relationship?

Emotional intelligence (EI), as used here,  is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, and understand the emotions of your partner and how you should respond to elicit cooperativeness instead of rebellion from your partner.  It is a crucial skill to have in relationships because, in my experience, it is nearly impossible to solve an emotionally based argument with logic alone without dealing with the emotions  lurking beneath.

As proof this, remember the 1996 movie, “The Break-up” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn? In the “wash the dishes” scene, Jennifer’s character (Brooke) asks Vince’s cahracter (Gary) to help her wash the  dishes after a dinner party. He resists. She insists. He relents but with an attiitude and says “all right, I’ll help you with the dishes” to which Jennifer gets angry because of his attitude. Gary then says, What’s wrong? I told you I’d help you with the dishes” Brooke then says: “I want you to want to help me with the dishes.”

Gary, like many partners, had no clue as to what was happening. So, he replied: “Who (in their right mind) would want to do dishes” ?

And on it goes. Neither could understand the other or why the other was so upset. Neither could understand why the other was so uncooperative. Both initiated in each other patterns of responding in their brains (neural circuits) which were pretty much beyond their control at the time they were occurring.

The problem escalated because neither could respond effectively to their partner at a time when the proper response would have de-activated the whole thing. 

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills to elicit cooperativeness from your partner-  at a time when your partner is being the most uncooperative. It is a set of skills to influence your partner’ s level of cooperativeness through your responses to their behavior rather than responding on automatic pilot as you may have done in the past.

This is not easy to do because we are wired (in our brains) to respond in certain ways to other people, including our partners. Too, when we are upset with our partner, we usually think that the solution to the problem is for THEM to change their behavior.  However, those with emotional intelligence skills understand that you can also get your partner to change sometimes by modifying how YOU respond to what they do. This may have immediate impact on them and on the argument. In fact, it may stop the argument dead in its tracks. It may also impact how your partner behaves in the future.

In our example, if Gary had hugged Brooke and acknowledged  her for all her work in preparing the meal, can you imagine there may have been a different outcome? If Brooke had responded to Gary’s refusal in a less hostile way, would that have made a difference? Maybe. The odds certainly would have improved.

Successful couples sometimes experiment and try different ways of responding to each other until they find a way to “fine-tune” their communication and learn to interact with each other to elicit cooperativeness instead of defiance, rebellion, or passive-aggression.

Being mindfulness of the affect that your response is going to have on your partner is another skill of emotional intelligence that should be practiced daily- but only by those who want a more peaceful and less conflictual relationship!

Emotional intelligence skills are central to our approach to both anger management and couples therapy. Two of the most important emotional intelligence skill that we teach are empathy and social awareness. To learn more, we suggest:angrcoach or angecoachonline.com