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Reducing Parenting Stress
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In the last section, we discussed Communication Problem-Solving. This included Talking About Your Child’s Feelings and Needs, Talking About Your Feelings and Needs, Brainstorming Without Judging, Eliminating Solutions that Aren’t Mutual, Picking the Best Solution and Developing a Plan.
Do you have a client who feels that anger towards his or her children is almost uncontrollable?
In this section, we will discuss Blowing Up at Children. This will include Stress, Trigger Thoughts and the Parental Anger Survey Technique. As you listen, think of how you might respond in a similar situation.
Sam, age 36, was recently divorced and had a daughter Cherise, age 7. Sam stated, "I get angry so easily with Cherise. I don’t think I ever had this problem before she was born…but not only do I get angry at her, but I blow up! I end up saying things that I regret and then I feel like an idiot afterwards. The most recent time this happened was a couple of days ago. Before my divorce, I was able to make my job a real priority. I have always prided myself on the extra effort I would put into projects and I was willing to stay extra hours at work.
"Since moving out, my situation has changed because I have to take care of Cherise when she comes over. I’m showing up later and later to work, and I can feel my boss’s disappointment! So, two days ago, I got up earlier than usual, because I was determined to make the extra effort to be on time. Well, Cherise lost one of her shoes and she couldn’t find it, and I was helping her look, all the time knowing that I was inching closer and closer to another late start at work. In a last-ditch effort to speed things up, I divided up tasks with Cherise. I said I’d find her other shoe if she’d go brush her teeth and we could be on the road in less than 5 minutes.
"I found the shoe and came in the living room, and found her watching TV! She was ignoring me on purpose! She should know better than to wait until the last second! I was so angry I punched off the TV button and blew up at her. She started crying, which didn’t help…anyway…I feel like this sort of thing is happening more and more often, and I’d like to be a good dad, you know? I just feel so aggravated by her!"
As you listen... to what I told Sam, evaluate if you have a client that also might benefit from hearing this information.
I stated, "Anger is often a result of two factors, stress and trigger thoughts. There is an important reason why stress and anger are so closely related. Except when you are being physically threatened, the main function of anger is to alleviate stress. Anger can momentarily discharge or block awareness of painful levels of emotional or physical arousal, i.e. stress. If stress levels get too high, they may feel intolerable, and anger is a quick method for discharging some of that mounting tension. As a parent, you know that stress comes in many forms. Caring for children is not only an awesome responsibility, it’s a job that requires total commitment, infinite patience and constant attention."
Sam stated, "And being a parent is only one of the hats I wear! I have a very demanding job and I’m still recuperating from my divorce…I have muscle pains from tension and my boss is getting edgy with me because I’m struggling to meet deadlines at work…" I stated, "You’re absolutely right. You still have to face the stress of every day in the adult world. Despite all of these things that you are facing in your life, you can recognize that as a parent, and as an adult, you manage a tremendous number of responsibilities that inevitably create stress. Therefore, any effort you make to cope with anger must also include effective strategies for coping with stress."
♦ Trigger Thoughts
Sam stated, "But it isn’t stress by itself that sets me off, you know? I mean, I don’t tend to blow up at my co-workers, even though I’m probably the most stressed at work!" I stated, "Anger is a two-step process. Stress is a precursor to anger, but the presence of trigger thoughts is a necessary second component of the anger response. The assumption behind trigger thoughts is that a transgression or wrongdoing has occurred. The child has somehow been bad, and therefore some kind of punishment is justified."
Sam stated, "But intellectually I know that’s not what Cherise was doing! I know that she didn’t mean to make me late…but somehow, I still get really upset when it happens."
How might you have responded?
I stated, "Even then, when a thought passes through your mind during a state of stressful arousal, it may feel true enough to set off an angry reaction. You mentioned feeling that Cherise was purposely ignoring you. The implication in her behavior, to you, was that she was deliberately delaying you by disregarding your requests. Perhaps, in your stressed state, being late for work, you felt she was being bad and deserved punishment, in your eyes." Sam asked, "Can’t trigger thoughts change?"
I stated, "Of course. Since the level of anger that you experience toward Cherise is directly affected by the kinds of trigger thoughts you use, one way to reduce your anger is to change your thinking patterns in difficult situations. An important first step toward anger control is to determine what kinds of trigger thoughts are most likely to get you mad."
♦ Technique: The Parental Anger Survey
I asked Sam to try the Parental Anger Survey Technique. In this technique, I presented Sam with a list of possible trigger thoughts associated with high levels of anger. Examples of trigger thoughts included "You’re defying me," "I can’t stand it" and "You’re so selfish."
I stated to Sam, "Look back on events like the one you described with Cherise and try to recall which of the trigger thoughts in the list you might have used during any of those episodes. Try to pay particular attention to any trigger thoughts you have had on more than one occasion. You may use many different trigger thoughts depending on the situation. Put a check mark next to the triggers that you remember having at least once. If any of the trigger thoughts stand out as ones that you’ve used often, mark them with a star. You might want to give these thoughts specific attention as you learn more about identifying and changing your thinking patterns in stressful situations."
Upon completing the survey, Sam stated, "I guess a lot of my trigger thoughts are those of assumed intent…I’m always thinking that Cherise is misbehaving deliberately to upset me, when that’s not always the case…I just hope I can remember this in the moment, when I know my anger is rising!"
Do you have a Sam... struggling with controlling his or her anger towards his or her children? Might he or she benefit from hearing this section?
In this section, we discussed Blowing Up at Children. This has included Stress, Trigger Thoughts and the Parental Anger Survey Technique.
In the next section, we will discuss 3 Misdirected Goals. These will include attention, power, revenge and the Reinforcement Technique.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Canfield, C. F., Miller, E. B., Shaw, D. S., Morris, P., Alonso, A., & Mendelsohn, A. L. (2020). Beyond language: Impacts of shared reading on parenting stress and early parent–child relational health. Developmental Psychology, 56(7), 1305–1315.
Kistin, C. J., Touw, S., Collins, H., Sporn, N., & Finnegan, K. E. (2020). Impact of a community-delivered parenting curriculum on perceived parenting stress and parent-reported outcomes in a low-income diverse population. Families, Systems, & Health, 38(1), 57–73.
Louie, A. D., & Cromer, L. D. (2014). Parent–child attachment during the deployment cycle: Impact on reintegration parenting stress. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(6), 496–503.
What are 2 steps to anger getting out of control?
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