Gentle Discipline: Expressing Anger Healthily

Angry Child

I have noticed a tendency amongst parents practising gentle discipline (or loving guidance, as it’s otherwise known) – a tendency to try to be calm and collected all of the time, and to feel as though we have failed if we shout, lose our temper or snap at our kids.

Yes, parents who practice gentle discipline veer away from punitive methods of parenting – shouting, shaming and time-outs are not on the agenda – but sometimes we all lose our cool.

Shouting is something I, personally, really struggle with. I am by nature a loud, intense, fairly highly-strung person so it takes a lot of effort to dial down the decibels and attempt to exude an aura of calm. On top of this, my previously angelic Monkey has entered That Fateful Stage in which he has turned into somewhat of a monster, often leaving me unable to react in any other way than “WHAT THE HELL?!”

I’m not saying that it’s OK to shout at our kids. It’s not OK. When I lose my temper and shout, it doesn’t solve anything. It either makes the behaviour worse (therefore adding to the negativity), or it stops it – at the expense of seeing my spunky Monkey hunch over, broken, with fear in his eyes, and knowing that I made that happen. Ouch. Cue the shame spiral (I’m such a crappy mum, what’s the point, I don’t deserve them, etc) and what could have been an insignificant happening from which we escaped unscathed is now suddenly the exact opposite.

So no, shouting at your kids in order to discipline them is not a great idea. Having said that, it’s important to remember that we are only human. Do we really want our children to grow up with a fake role model? Do we not want them to know that being angry is OK and normal, and that we need to express it healthily rather than hold it in and allow it to explode?

On that note, lets think about some healthy ways to express anger and frustration – before it reaches the point of no return.

#1 – Direct the shouting away from the child

Something that I find to be very helpful is shouting around the kids rather than shouting at them. Instead of “What did you do that for, for goodness’ sake, what are you thinking?” I’ll turn away from the child and shout “Oh, I am so cross! I feel like I could pop! I’m going to go into the hallway and take a breather, please give me a few minutes to chill out.” This way, the anger is expressed wholeheartedly, without being directed at anybody – there’s a big difference. Now when Monkey gets angry, he will take himself off “to chill down” for a minute, just like his mama does.

#2 – Reconnect

When you feel the red mist start to rise: stop doing whatever you are doing, grab that small person and hug them like you’ve never hugged before. This, for me, is one of *the* hardest things to do – when they are behaving like little brats, the last thing you want to do is hug them – but by god, it works. Feeling them in your arms reminds you just how small they really are. I’m sad to say though, this doesn’t work every time for us – simply because my Monkey is pretty stingey with hugs these days, especially if he is cross.

#3 – Hit the deck

Something that is sometimes recommended for families with older children especially is the Hit the Deck technique. If a situation begins to escalate, any one of the involved family members can say “Hit the deck!” Signalling to everyone to, literally, hit the deck. Everyone should quickly lie down on the floor in order to put a rapid stop to the confrontation. The action of laying on the floor and taking a few deep breaths is very grounding and it brings everybody down to the same level.

#4 – Go outside

Often, for us, the only thing that calms us all down if we’re having a particularly stressful day is getting out of the house. Even if it’s just to walk into town and get the bus home again. It totally hits our reset button.

#5 – Breathe the anger down

The old “breathe and count to ten” routine just doesn’t work for me. Never has, probably never will. I find that breathing the anger down is more effective. Here’s how I do it:

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose
  • Breathe out through your mouth whilst visualising the negative energy travelling down through your feet into the ground, and dissipating out of your fingertips. Whilst doing this, shake out your hands and arms
  • Rinse and repeat

I’ve come to accept that I am who I am. I am a loud, shouty person with a short fuse. I do my best to rein it in, but sometimes that just ain’t possible. Sometimes I am just SO ANGRY that I do end up shouting at one of my kids. We all do it, so how can we lessen the impact? How can we turn a negative experience into an opportunity for connecting with our kids?

#1 – Apologise

It doesn’t matter how small your child is, always apologise. Get down to their level and say you’re sorry.

#2 – Explain why you shouted

Obviously you’ll tailor this part to the age of your child. With Monkey, I say something like “Mummy got very cross, and because I was so cross I forgot how to use my words properly. Next time, I will try my best to remember to have a breather before I get too cross.”

#3 – Invite them to share their feelings

Again, this one depends on how verbal your child is. When a parent shouts, it can stir up some very confusing and uncomfortable feelings for the little one. I will often say something like “I can see that you’re feeling sad because mummy shouted. Would you like to show me how sad you feel?” at which he will usually release the tension through crying whilst having a cuddle. Other times, he will ask for me to help him to draw sad faces on a piece of paper – this usually has the effect of lightening the mood, as he will inevitably ask me to draw silly faces, animal faces, random shapes and the like after I’ve done a couple rows of sad faces.

Reading this post back makes it sound so simple. It’s not, and even if you do all of the above you will still feel like shit when you shout at your kids. Just remember this – we can’t be perfect parents. And what the hell is a perfect parent, anyway? One who has no emotions? One that’s switched to ‘happy’ all of the time? That’s not authentic, and it’s not a good example to set for your kids. Balance, again, is paramount.

Are you, like me, guilty of being a little yell-happy? How do you deal with impending outbursts? How do you maintain connection through the challenging times?

image: mdanys @ flickr


  1. says

    Oh what a wonderful post! Beautifully written, and simply spot on. I yell far too much. Have got over the guilt feelings, but I just love your tips – will definitely be trying some of them out.

    Oh, and agree completely with the ways to make it positive – we do all those things as well.

  2. Rose says

    Exactly the post I needed to read this evening!! Thank you. I shouted (away from my kids, much as you describe) today and have been feeling so guilty.

    thanks for the reassurance and advice.
    [found this via Lisa Sunbury's fb post]

  3. says

    Wow – I’ve been working on a couple of blog posts about this very thing. Not the advice part, but the problem part. I can’t seem to get out of the vicious circle I’m in. Thanks for this great post! And, also, I love that you took the time to remind us that being the perfect parent all of the time just isn’t good for our kids. You’re right – the reality of this are that humans have emotions of all kinds and kids should know that right up front.

    • says

      Thank you! Its always reassuring to hear that other people struggle with this too. It absolutely is a vicious cycle, an I’m looking forward to reading what you have to say about it :)

  4. helen says

    Interesting article I have to admit loving guidance isn’t my method of parenting (not sure I have a method!) But there are some interesting ideas here I am going to try and put into practice (I.e print out article and put on fridge door) thanks.
    (and thanks to Clare For tweeting it).

  5. says

    great post! Will be sharing this one! Use lots of those techniques myself. The shout around them at our place is me screaming at the top of my lungs, just into the air, and it does work. It also calms down DD most often without upsetting her. She’ll just come and ask me why I am angry. I also tell her “I am getting angry and I need some time” doesn’t always work though

  6. tanya says

    What a great post! I only have one little one who is just 3.5 months old, so not much going on that makes me angry or want to yell (though I do find the best way to get over feeling frustrated or tired or overwhelmed is to give her a good, long cuddle), but my husband’s mom was a yeller and a name caller, and those memories affect him to this day. What a great reminder of why I’m committed to providing my wee person with the most peaceful, magical childhood I can give her, and yours are great suggestions I can use as Ella grows.

  7. says

    Nice piece. I don’t necessarily shout very often, but I do sometimes use a harsh-ish “business” tone. You remind me that I don’t need to and it is easy not to. I think the most important thing when a parent has wronged a child is to apologize as though the child is respected (which they hopefully are!) Glad that’s number one on your list!

  8. says

    This was just the article I needed to read at this time. I, too, am a ‘yeller’. Something about myself I have tried unsuccessfully to change. I have found it very difficult to find useful advise about this, but I found your first tip about yelling away from the child, rather thatn at the child, the most helpful, common sense piece of advice I’ve come across yet – its still an authentic reaction that helps you let off steam but isn’t so confrontational or hurtful to the child. Thank you Thank you Thank you!

    • says

      Thank you for your comment! Yes, it’s a total lifesaver for me. I used to try so hard to keep it all in but really, that’s not helpful OR honest. Kids need to know that sometimes mummies get angry and need to have their own little tantrum. Hell, I had about four tantrums today, lol.

  9. Alysia says

    What a brilliant, practical and down to earth post! Can’t tell you how much I have appreciated reading it!! Thank you! Great tips – I too have now printed it and have it on my fridge!!


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