Q.  I’m a single parent with a full–time job. I live with my mother, who watches my children (ages 6 and 9) when they’re out of school. She says when I’m home, I’m making things stressful for her and the kids. I’ll admit I’ve had a lot of difficulties recently, and I’m easily angered. My mother has asked me to make a New Year’s resolution to stay calmer when I’m at home. What can I do about my anger?

A.  Ask yourself: where can this anger be coming from? Is it PTSD over the difficult situations you mention? Do you perhaps have symptoms of a mood disorder, a hormonal imbalance, a medical problem or exhaustion? Or do you simply displace saved–up anger from work on the only safe people to dump it on? In any case, it would be good to see a physician and get a checkup, then see a mental health professional to work on the best way to deal with your anger.

You say your mother tells you you’re creating a stressful environment. I’m sure you’d agree that stress is not good for you or your family. Stress plays a role in developing health problems. For adults like your mother, stress can contribute to medical problems, such as heart attacks and stroke. Children who are under stress can have behavioral and learning problems at school.

So, when you feel yourself ready to yell and react with anger, what can you do? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Stop and take in four or five deep breaths. Deep breathing has been shown to reduce anxiety and produce relaxation. Think: “I’m letting my anger go. I’m breathing in peace, and I’m breathing out peace.”
  2. Let the kids know that your goal is a peaceful family. Ask your children to help you with this goal and seek their input on how they can help.
  3. Don’t accuse others in the family, but think about possible solutions to situations, such as when the kids won’t cooperate. Would it help to have a contest such as, “Let’s see who can be the first to start on homework, finish homework or get into bed?”
  4. When you’re not ready to deal with a situation, why not say: “Let’s all take a time out or a break. Let’s stop and relax for five or 10 minutes.”
  5. Set some family rules that are positive and kind. Ask the children and your mother to contribute.
  6. Reward good behavior with positive words and hugs.
  7. Set limits, such as, “Story time is two stories, then you need to go to sleep.” If the limit is two, don’t give in and read three stories. Children almost always test their limits to see where the boundaries are.
  8. Remind your children what is coming, as in, “It’s 7:30. In 15 minutes you’ll need to brush your teeth. Bed time is in 30 minutes.”
  9. Realize that children and others will make mistakes, so help them learn from those mistakes. Ask your child, “What could you do differently next time?” Stay calm when a child makes a mistake.
  10. Remember that you’re your child’s teacher and role model. It’s likely that you’ll see your children being peaceful or creating chaos, depending on what they see you doing.

Should you take on the challenge of that New Year’s resolution, I think you’ll find you like your home life better. And know that you’re not the only parent who needs to focus on creating a peaceful environment. I see this problem in my own clients, and I find it a challenge even for myself.

Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT is an Austin-based psychotherapist.

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