Managing Your Anger
by Naomi Drew, M.A.
author of Hope and Healing

We’ve all been shocked by the story of the young mother who recently beat her child in the car. It’s brought into focus the need many parents have to deal with anger more constructively. Did you know that according to the American Psychological Association, the average American family has a conflict every eight minutes? Knowing how to deal with our anger is one of the most critical skills we can possess.

The first rule, according to counselor Cecelia Cardano, is this: Don’t meet anger with anger. Doing so escalates the problem. Our children learn by our role modeling, and they desperately need examples of self-control. Seeking to manage our emotions and gain understanding is the only thing that really works. What our children see us do, they will do themselves someday. This happens in the small moments of our lives -- the way we react to them when they do something that upsets us, how we respond to our spouse or partner, what we do when someone cuts us off on the road.

Below are four life-saving tips for managing anger. Practice them ahead of time, so when anger strikes, you’ll be prepared:

1. Abdominal Breathing. You can use this technique to calm yourself whenever you fell upset, angry, frightened or nervous. By breathing deeply, we send oxygen to the brain, enable ourselves to think clearly, and calm the body. Then we can more easily detach from feelings of anger, hurt, or upset. The pulse slows, the body relaxes, and before long we feel more in control. This is an invaluable tool for coping with whatever life throws at us.

Here’s how to do it. First sit up tall and put your hand on your lower abdomen. Imagine this part of your stomach is like a balloon that you can fill with air. Take in a slow deep breath in through the nose and imagine the air going right down to your abdomen. Hold the breath in for a moment, and gently let it out through your nose. As you do, deflate your stomach. Now try it again. Breath in slowly, deeply, and gently. Let the air fill your stomach and chest Feel the air inside your body and hold it there for a moment. Now let it out, slowly, gently, and quietly.

This is something you can do that’s absolutely free and will calm you down enough to think straight. Be sure to practice it ahead of time

2. Use Positive Self-Talk. Anger is magnified by the thoughts we think. Researchers have found that we actually heighten our own reactions to angry situations by the negative statements that come into our minds. Our bodies react to anger, giving us uncomfortable sensations like a rapidly beating heart or dry mouth. These physical sensations are compounded by the thoughts that come into our minds, sometimes unbidden. The combination of tense physical sensations and negative thoughts can lead to volatile reactions.

The good news is - we can gain control over our negative reactions by replacing angry thoughts with positive ones. This, combined with deep breathing will help restore us to a place of groundedness in the face of anger.

These kids are driving me crazy, could be changed to I can calm myself . My personal favorite is, I can handle this.

Positive self-statements should start with I can rather than I can’t, or I won’t. I can handle this is pro-active and positive. It gives us the message that we can gain control of a situation or feeling that seems out-of-control.

3. Observe your own reactions. Author Gary Zukav urges us to look inside ourselves when we are angry instead of looking at the person who triggered the anger: “Ask yourself what’s being triggered in you.” So often when we get angry it’s about something else: feeling threatened, taken advantage of, afraid, or out-of-control. Zukav urges us to use every angry episode to discover what’s inside ourselves that has us react. By taking a step back and observing, we regain control.

4. Cool off. Take a step back, breathe deep, and let yourself gain some emotional distance before doing anything. Avoid the impulse to hit or yell. If you need to take yourself away from the situation, then do it. For example, the mother who beat her child, could have put the child in her car seat and stepped away from the car for a moment until she got her bearings. If she had removed both herself and the child from the store when the problem began, she would have prevented her daughter’s behavior from getting out of hand along with her own emotions. She waited too long, and by then, she was ready to explode. Stop and cool off when the problem begins. If you need to short-circuit a shopping trip, do it.

Consider some of the following ways of cooling off: breathing deeply while making your calming statement, looking at the sky, if you’re home -- straightening up, splashing cold water on your face, writing in a journal, or taking a time out. If you’re in the car, pull over. Determine ahead of time what works for you, then do it. This will prevent you from engaging in actions that you’ll later regret.

Our responses to anger don’t have to be negative. If you have patterns of reacting to anger that are, it’s never too late to change. Thousands of parents have found relief in the strategies you just read about. You too can be one of them. Remember, violence is a learned behavior. What we’ve learned, we an unlearn.

Naomi Drew is recognized around the world as an expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking in schools and homes. Hailed as visionary, her work has enabled educators, parents, and people of all ages to live together more cooperatively.

Her work has been recognized by educational leaders throughout the country. People of all ages have attested to durable changes in their relationships after applying the principles Drew outlines. Her work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, radio, and TV and she currently serves as a parenting expert for “Classroom Close-ups,” a public television show.

She is the author of four books, serves as a consultant to school districts, leads seminars, and runs parenting courses. Her latest book is Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World. Visit for more information on Naomi Drew and her work.


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