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How Parents Can Break the Cycle of Anger

We must allow children to experience the consequences of their choices.

A consequence is defined simply as “the natural outcomes of behavior”. Consequences teach a valuable lesson: we make a choice/take an action or we do not, either way there is an impact on the outcome of events. Logical consequences teach children that there is an equal reaction to every action and in turn they gain some very valuable feedback about their behavior.

If we fail to exercise and eat well, the consequence is that we will gain weight and possible experience greater health problems as we age. We can have wonderful intentions to exercise daily, or avoid high fat foods, but in the end, reality does not care about our intentions. Our intentions don’t keep us from gaining weight; healthy eating and exercise do. The same is true for children: they either do their homework, practice piano or speak politely or they do not.

Although you may still pine to administer a stiffer punishment that more fully meets the severity of the crime, you can feel satisfied knowing that you have provided a consequence and not tolerated the misbehavior. Bear in mind that a more severe punishment would almost certainly have side effects that would make it harder for you to help improve your child’s behavior. Also, you will have modeled a calm, controlled reaction rather than an impulsive, uncontrolled one.

Following through with consequences for children allows them to experience the repercussions for all of their behavior and in turn teaches them take ownership for their choices. Teaching children responsibility is not easy. It is, in fact so challenging, that many teachers and parents opt not to do it. Instead, they choose options that are often short sighted and easy. Unfortunately, it is the children who suffer.

Children need to have successful experiences with self-control and consistent effort to become responsible adults. Wellbeing does not come from easy indulgence, but from the sense of being in control of life by personal effort and being the master of one’s fate. Difficulties in life are related to problems with impulse control or self-regulation. This is a central component of many psychological disorders from alcoholism to drug abuse to gambling to pornography addiction.

And, of course, if you really want to change your child’s behavior and not just endure it, you have to combine crisis-handling techniques with teaching better behavior to replace the problematic choices. Wait until a time when both you and your child are calm and then work with her on how to act when she is angry and in the mood to provoke you. You can decrease the likelihood, over both the short- and long term, that an undesirable behavior—such as flagrant disrespect—will occur.

Try these steps:

1. Problem solving: When you’re both in a good mood (out of the blue is fine), propose a problem to your child—”Let’s say you’re really mad at me”—and together identify a few possible ways he might respond. Three would be great. Discuss with your child in each case what the results of his response would be—that is, how you would respond to his response. A great deal of research supports the efficacy of talking with your child about problem situations and possible positive solutions. When you’ve discussed the possibilities in advance, the child is much more likely to use one of the solutions you’ve identified as positive.

2. Point out positive models: When you see (in public, on TV, wherever) good examples of children disagreeing with their parents, children expressing anger without losing it, or parents expressing disapproval, point it out. Label specifically what is happening and why it’s good. “You see how mad that kid is at his dad, he’s really frustrated and angry, but look what he’s doing: He said X and Y, but he didn’t yell or scream.”

3. In a calm moment, have the child role-play being calm when she’s angry—at you or anybody else: It helps to simulate the hot-button situations when everybody’s cool. Wait until a quiet moment and then say, “Let’s pretend you’re mad at me, and let’s practice how you can tell me you’re mad in a calm, respectful way, so we can make it better.” Since your child isn’t really mad, she will not find it hard to play her role properly by saying she’s angry at you in an appropriate way that doesn’t set off a confrontation. When she does it right, offer lots of praise and maybe even a small treat or extra privilege (it can be nominal; for a smaller child, extending bedtime by 10 minutes, for instance) to reinforce this positive opposite of disrespectful provocation.

This kind of practice will give your child a repertoire of appropriate responses to which she can turn when she gets mad, in the same way that having a preordained routine and consequence ready to go allows you to stay a little calmer and respond more reasonably when your child’s behavior provokes you.

How Parents Can Break the Cycle of Anger

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2019). How Parents Can Break the Cycle of Anger. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Aug 2019
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