When Mom is Mad: Thinking About Anger Management for Adoptive Parents

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Every parent has been there at some point… that place where the sometimes stressful complications of family life suddenly get the best of you, and you momentarily change from a reasonable, functioning and nurturing mom or dad into a ball of fury, frustration or despair.    Let’s face it.  Parenting is not only rewarding and thrilling it is also demanding and difficult.   All parents can benefit from  learning about anger management and positive parenting.  It is even more crucial for adoptive parents (particularly those who are parenting children who started life in less than optimal circumstances) to explore these topics.

Katie and I have ended up in several conversations lately about “mad moms.”  We keep hearing from or about adoptive parents (in our examples moms but it could be either moms or dads) who are dealing with difficult behaviors in their adopted child and are responding to that child with anger.   While we certainly can identify with the difficulties facing these parents (having been there ourselves) my blog today is spurred from a larger concern.  I’m afraid that because these kiddos’ behaviors can be so challenging it often times leads adoptive parents to lose sight of the bigger picture and to visit that “ball of fury, frustration or despair” moment all too often.  And when that moment becomes the norm instead of the exception no one in the family benefits.  The child stays stuck where they are emotionally and developmentally or gets worse and the parent becomes even more distressed and challenged to make good parenting decisions.

Optimally we want parents focusing on meeting the child’s needs, moving them to a healthier place on the attachment continuum and building brain based skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, trust and empathy.  These are the things that ultimately will produce the desired behaviors in their children.  Punitive punishment and parent raging will likely only create more frustrating moments and build zero skills.   But that is easy to say and so very hard to do when you are in the parenting trenches with a child that has difficult behaviors.

So when is it ok to be mad at your child and what do you do about it?   OK wait a minute.  A feeling is a feeling.  Right?  I mean you can’t help it if you feel mad.  Can you?  It is not  a “right” or “wrong” kind of thing really.  Is it?  Well yes and no.  Katie has been known to quip, “You wouldn’t get mad a child with only one leg because he couldn’t win the three legged race,”  reminding us that if a child does not possess the skills and abilities necessary to behave in a certain way it doesn’t make sense to be mad at that child or respond in anger.

Anger management strategies suggest that when a parent stops in those difficult moments and asks themselves a few key questions it can have a major impact on what happens next.

Questions like:  Am I mad at my child, myself, someone else, or is this a case where there is really no one to be mad at?

The self reflection might go something like this:

I’m tired of my child’s temper tantrum and raging but mad doesn’t make sense since this child does not yet have impulse control and is struggling with attachment and unresolved trauma.  Of course she is having temper tantrums.  Maybe I’m not mad.  A more accurate word might be weary or defeated.  Maybe I’m even scared.  What if these tantrums don’t end?

Or this:

My child just purposefully wet her pants after refusing to use the bathroom before we left home.  It sure feels like I’m mad at my child.  But maybe there is actually no one to be mad at.  After all I know this child has control issues stemming from her years in care and challenges with attachment.  I also know that toileting issues are classic struggles for children with control issues.  It doesn’t make sense to be mad at her for this issue.  But I sure am tired of wet pants and frustrated with dealing with this problem.

It’s important that parents take time to reflect on their feelings before they act because people who are not skilled at correctly identifying their own feelings often choose counterproductive responses to their feelings.  For parents who routinely identify their feeling as “mad” this might look like:

Labeling their child…….”He’s hostile. ”   “She’s unmanageable.”  “He’s selfish.”

Commanding their child……. “Shut up!”  “Be quiet.”  “Sit!”  “Move!”

Name calling…….” You brat!”  “Don’t be a baby!”  “You’re a pain!”

Sarcasm…….”Well I can see we are going to have a wonderful day!” (response to tantrum)

If you see yourself in these responses take time to self reflect about the behaviors  that are prompting this response in you, what the root causes of those behaviors are, what your real feelings are relating to that behavior, and what a productive response to that behavior would be.

And beyond that make sure that you are getting your own needs met.  Do you have someone to talk to that understands the trials and joys of parenting the child who has waited?  If not seek that person out.  Taking care of yourself  is no longer a luxury.  Your child needs you to be healthy so that you can continue to meet their needs.

I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks and Katie and I are tossing around the idea of a webinar that addresses this topic further, but for now we would love to hear your thoughts and the  strategies that you use to keep a calm head in the face of parenting storms.

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4 Responses to “When Mom is Mad: Thinking About Anger Management for Adoptive Parents”

  1. estherseye Says:

    Thank you SO much for this! There is so much out there about the “angry adopted child” but less about the angry adopted parent. This is very helpful and specific content.

    I find that an issue may “start” with the angry, adopted child but it is so challenging to transcend the situation and not be reactive. Coming from an angry place even when you love your children so much is such a tough “disconnect.”

    Knowing that little ones have been traumatized, I feel that the standard should be “higher” to establish them in secure attachment. However there are plenty of days where just “not reacting” seems so hard to achieve. 🙂 This helps and I appreciate it.

  2. Julie Drew Says:

    We have scheduled the webinar! And who more perfect for a guest on that webinar than Heather Forbes? We are so excited! You can check out the registration details here:

    http://www.heartofthematterseminars.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=123&Itemid=68

  3. Julie Drew Says:

    I think it would be a great topic for all of us! We are thinking about adding a guest to our webinar for this topic too! Watch our website for an update soon about our webinar calendar.

  4. Shannon Says:

    I would love it if you did a Webinar on this topic! My husband & I struggle with this when dealing with constant non-compliance at home, but we know that he follows directions at preschool.

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