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Diffuse family anger by talking differently — to yourself!

Case #1: Jeanette and Tom had been married 15 years. Wanting to surprise him for his birthday, Jeanette bought (with her own money) Tom a big-screen LCD television.

Tom’s reaction? He instantly blew up and berated Jeanette for spending so much money, buying more television than they needed, and buying a bigger one than they had previously looked at together. Jeanette was dumbfounded at his reaction, as she truly thought this would be a gift that would greatly please her husband.

Case#2: Jim was having a friendly beer with his brother-in-law Jack when the discussion turned to Jack’s extreme success in life.

Wanting to complement him, Jim commented on how far he had come, how proud of himself he must be and how much he is an inspiration to others, given his background with alcoholic and dysfunctional parents. Rather than seeing this as a complement, however, Jack became offended and angry and began to berate Jim for having said such a thing that he was interpreting as a “put down.”

Anger is caused by our view of things

As these examples clearly show, people are not disturbed by things or events, but by the view they take of them—an observation made in the early 2nd Century by Greek philosopher Epictetus.

When an upsetting family event occurs, you have a choice of how you are going to explain it to yourself —what you are going to tell yourself about it—which will greatly influence how angry, stressed, or upset you will become over it.

Learning to change what you tell yourself – your self-talk – is a powerful tool to break a cycle of negativity that can often poison our minds when we get angry. We all have a voice in our mind that tells us messages and stories about family members and how they behave.

Tom, who exploded when his loving wife bought him a new television was telling himself things like: she has such poor judgment buying a bigger TV than we need; there she goes again, spending money excessively; why can’t she ever do what I want her to do? Why did I marry such a woman?

Of course, none of these things made any sense to Tom once he cooled down and became his rational self again. But, at the moment of anger explosion, all those self- statements seemed 100% real and true to him.

Jack who became offended at being congratulated for overcoming his past, was actually having the following conversation in his head: he is putting me down because I had alcoholic parents; he is saying I am not capable of being successful on my own instead of “overcoming” something in my past; he is mocking me because of how I grew up.

No wonder he became so upset at Jim’s innocent attempt at a compliment. Like many of us, he was responding to his perspective of what was being communicated —not Jim’s.

Three Steps to Change Self-Talk

Step 1 – Retreat and Think Things Over. Do not respond immediately to a family anger or stress trigger. Give your body and your mind a chance to calm down so you can think rationally. Research shows this may take at least 20 minutes.

Step 2 – Look at the evidence. The most convincing way of disputing negative self-talk toward a family member is to show yourself it is factually incorrect. Do not lie to yourself, but like a detective simply and honestly look at all the evidence around the issue at hand.

For instance, when calm Tom remembered that his wife was excellent with money and rarely overspent. Jack remembered that Jim never disparaged him and, in fact, had always supported him throughout the years of their friendship.

Step 3 – Find alternative ways of interpreting the behavior of family members that is more positive—and more useful.
Tom was finally able to see his wife’s buying behavior as a sign of love and caring for him, rather than trying to hurt him or cause stress.
Jack was eventually capable of seeing that Jim was truly trying to complement him and that he truly saw Jack as someone to be admired because of how far he had come in life.

Six parental tips for your angry children

It was labor day when 8 year old Brandon’s mother heard a commotion from her child’s room. Seems that his 14 year old visiting cousin said something that upset Brandon which caused Brandon to strike the other boy. His mother Michelle hysterically called her therapist wondering what to do and how to handle the anger in her young son which seemed to be escalating as he became older.

Her therapist wisely explained that children become angry in a variety of situations. Common causes of childhood anger include: frustration, needing attention, feeling powerless, being misunderstood, not feeling good about themselves, feeling helpless, being belittled or made fun of, not having physical needs taken care of, having a parent take over instead of asking if the child wants help, being disappointed, having difficulty saying what they need, or being punished.

The problem of excessive childhood anger is growing. Yet many parents—like Michelle—feel they don’t have the tools to teach their children how to deal with normal angry feelings in an appropriate manner, without hitting or yelling at others, or losing control. Therefore, some parents ineffectively deal with their child’s anger by demanding that he or she stop being angry. Worse, some parents actually yell at or hit their child in attempts to “teach” their child not to be angry. That is like putting them alone in the woods unarmed with a raging black bear to teach them not to be fearful!

Alternatively, good parenting requires teaching children the practical skills needed for anger control. Although feeling angry is a part of life that no one can avoid because it is “hardwired” in our brains as a protective and survival mechanism, we can teach our children positive ways to cope with these normal angry feelings. Learning the tools of anger management empowers children, makes them more effective and pleasant human beings, and improves the world by decreasing hatred, violence and conflict.
Following are six tips for parents to help their children manage anger, based on our model of anger management called the eight tools of anger control”:

Tip #1 – Teach how to respond instead of react
Parents can teach their children the difference between feeling angry and acting on anger. Michelle explained to Brandon that feeling mad is neither good nor bad, but hitting someone out of anger is not OK. She then explained that we have choices as to how to deal with angry feelings. Encouraging your child to take time-out until they cool down, to keep a journal, draw, or talk out their emotions are positive outlets for feelings of anger.

Providing a means by which to channel feelings into positive actions is another tool to help your child deal with his or her angry feelings. Examples might include taking a relaxing walk, writing letters and cards, doing something nice for another person, or donating time to a worthwhile community project geared toward helping others.

In the short run, life at home will be easier when children learn how to work through anger. In the long run, children will continue developing ways to cope with anger as they become teenagers and adults, and will pass these skills along to their own children.

Tip #2 – Be aware of how your children are seeing you
Start by setting a good example. Children learn from observing your behavior. Be aware of the messages you are sending your child in terms of how you behave toward them, how you behave toward other people, and how they see you handling your own anger and stress.

Unfortunately, some misguided parents create hatred in their children by modeling prejudice, intolerance, disrespect or violence toward other people that may be different from them or have different word views. Teaching “empathy” (the ability to see the world from the perspective of another), openness, tolerance and understanding are extremely valuable anger-management tools to teach yourself and your children.

Tip #3 – Tell children personal stories of triumph
Your children need to hear stories of how you may have overcome hardship, adversity, or other life challenges. Research shows that hearing your stories of empowerment over rough times or situations can make your children feel more attached to you, and give them more hope for themselves to be able to overcome their life difficulties. Having more optimism and developing more positive attitudes can often reduce anger in children and adults alike.

Tip #4 – Be consistent in parenting
At any age, anger is often generated between the gap between what is expected and what actually occurs in reality. With children, it is especially important to outline exactly what the consequences are (positive and negative) for their behavior—and then stick to it! Consistency makes children feel more secure, less anxious, and less likely to react angrily if they don’t get “their own way.” Parental consistency between parents or other adults in your child’s life is also very important to create stability and a sense of predictability.

Tip #5 – Reduce family stress
Coping with family stressors is an important tool of anger management, as angry outbursts are much more likely to occur as personal and family stress levels rise. There are many ways to buffer family stressors such as maintaining regular rituals for eating together, sharing the day with each other, finding time to play together, and emotionally supporting each other.
Parents can also help their children learn to calm themselves or self-sooth when angry. It is often helpful to calm their anger by using the five senses: touching, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing. Squeezing play dough, splashing in water, running around outside, listening to music, painting a picture, tensing and relaxing muscles, taking slow deep breaths, or eating a healthy snack are all good responses to angry feelings.

Children who respond well to touch can be taught how to massage their own neck or arms as a self-calming technique. These same children also may find a great deal of comfort in stroking or caring for a pet. To reduce stress, try telling your child the following:

  • Let’s draw a picture about how you feel
  • A warm bath sometimes helps wash away angry feelings
  • When you feel hungry and irritable, tell me and I’ll find a snack for you
  • Sit down and take slow deep breaths until you have calmed down

Tip #6 – Teach your child how to solve problems
Parent can teach their older preschool, school-age and teenage children to problem solve as a “prevention” tool for getting angry. Michelle, for instance, taught Brandon to “stop and think” the next time he was angry—before losing control and striking other children. She also taught him how to listen to his cousin with both his eyes and ears, before getting upset so that he could “name” the problem and discuss what was upsetting him.
Turns out that Brandon’s cousin had made a disparaging remark about Brandon’s father who happened to be incarcerated. Once the issue was named, Michelle taught Brandon to think of different ways to solve the problem. They agreed on Brandon telling his cousin how much it hurt his feelings to hear “bad” things about his father. As a final step, they agreed to discuss how well their planned worked in a few days.

Most children will need adult help in thinking through this process and coming up with creative ways to solve problems. And it does take time. The advantage, however, is that after doing this process over and over, most children soon will become fairly good at identifying a problem and coming up with different options for solving the problem on their own. A child that has much practice in thinking of different ways to solve a problem is much more likely to solve a conflict in a positive way instead of just reacting with the anger response.

Sports parents who lose control

Pennsylvania — A parent body slammed a high school referee after he ordered the man’s wife out of the gym for allegedly yelling obscenities during a basketball game.

The referee was treated at a hospital for a concussion and released after the attack. Charged with simple assault, assault on a sports official, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct was a 47 year old father.

Kentucky – A father of a T-ball player was briefly jailed after an outburst against an umpire during a game involving 5- and 6- year-olds.

The accused threatened to beat the umpire moments before walking onto the field and starting a fight with an official., according to the criminal complaint. A girl who was playing in the game suffered a minor injury when she was struck in the face during the scuffle.

Every day in America and around the world, sports officials are physically and verbally harassed. Most incidents do not require police or medical assistance, but in some cases, the harassment turns violent.

The fact that such behavior occurs at sporting events involving youth participants is appalling in itself, but the frequency in which these reports now occur is even more disturbing.

NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) receives more than 100 reports annually that involve physical contact between coaches, players, fans and officials. The nearly 18,000 member organization is not the “clearinghouse for bad behavior,” says NASO President Barry Mano, but it is the belief by NASO that the reports it receives is only the “tip of the iceberg.”
Loss of control by parents has long-term negative effects on the lives of the children, the school, and the parents themselves, as the following story illustrates:

Florida—A Parent enters the soccer field to check on his son, who has been injured in a skirmish for the ball. Angry that a more severe penalty had not been levied on the opposing player, the parent confronts the referee and shoves him to the ground.

After the school had to forfeit the game, the parent was later banned from attending all extracurricular activities involving the school for at least one year and possibly through his son’s graduation.

What causes parents to lose control?

According to sports psychologist Darrell Burnett, Ph.D., often such parents are reliving unrealized dreams through their children. They somehow get caught up in the win-at-all cost frenzy.

The core problem comes from parents being too invested, emotionally and financially, in their children’s games. They sometimes have misplaced self esteem. Another factor, according to Dr. Burnett, is a general attitude in our society encouraging us to retaliate when frustrated rather than using negotiation skills: “somebody pushes their buttons and away they go.”

Can these parents change?

Yes, if they desire it. Learning to manage sports anger is a process of applying two of the eight core tools of anger control: (1) Adjust expectations of performance to realistic levels and (2) communicate displeasure you may have with assertive communication skills.

Specific tips for Sports Parents

  • Keep a moderate level of intensity – not completely detached, but not overly aggressive.
  • Adjust your expectations to a realistic level by putting the sporting event into proper perspective. Also:
  • Don’t yell at the coach or child. If you have an issue, discuss it assertively at the appropriate time.
  • Don’t try to coach from the sidelines. Again, if you have an issue with the coach, your child, or other children, discuss it privately.
  • Stay interested, supportive and positive.
  • Praise the effort and the progress as achievement, not just the outcome.
  • Model good sportsmanship.

Five tips to raise the optimistic child for better mental health

I had just completed a session with 17 year old Julie with severe depression and a firm belief that she was a total failure, she would never be able to change anything in her life, and all her shortcomings were her fault.

Where, I asked myself, did such a young person acquire this negative and fatalistic thinking?

The answer soon became apparent when I invited her parents into the session. They began discussing numerous life events and explaining them in ways that their children were learning. The car got dented because you can’t trust anybody these days; Mom yelled at brother because she was in a bad mood; you can’t get ahead in this world unless you know somebody.
As a parent, your own explanatory style is on display and your children are listening intently.

Why would you want your child to be an optimist? Because, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, “pessimism (the opposite of optimism) is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement, and even unexpectedly poor physical health.”

Children with optimistic thinking skills are better able to interpret failure, have a stronger sense of personal mastery, and are better able to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives.

Because parents are a major contributor to the thinking styles of their children’s developing minds, it is important to follow the following five steps to ensure healthy mental habits in your children.

Five steps for parents

Step 1 – Learn to think optimistically yourself. What children see and hear indirectly from you as you led your life and interact with others will influence them much more than what you “teach” them directly. Model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into you own way of thinking. This is not easy and does not occur over night, but with practice almost everyone can learn to think differently about life’s events – even parents!

Step 2 – Teach you child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. You can do this most easily by saying aloud how your own thought about adversity created a negative feeling in you.
For example, if you are driving your child to school and a driver cuts you off, verbalize the link between your thoughts and feelings by saying something like “I wonder why I’m feeling so angry; I guess I was saying to myself, “Now I’m going to be late because the guy in front of me is going so darn slow. If he is going to drive like that he shouldn’t drive during rush hour. How rude.”

Step 3 – Create a game called “thought catching.” This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that flit across his or her mind at the times they feel worst. These thoughts, although barely perceptible, profoundly affect mood and behavior. For instance, if your child received a poor grade in school, ask “when you got your grade back, what did you say to yourself?”

Step 4 – Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that the things you say to yourself are not necessarily accurate. For instance, after receiving the poor grade your child may be telling himself he is a failure, he is not as smart as other kids, he will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements may not be accurate, but they are “automatic” in that situation.

Step 5 – Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen and use them to challenge your child’s automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).

Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to “de-catastrophize” the situation – that is, to help your child see that the bad event may not be as bad or will not have the adverse consequences imagined. Few things in life are as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds until small glitches become mental catastrophes.

Conclusion: Parents can drastically influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic thinking, teaching the connection between thoughts and feelings, how to evaluate automatic thoughts, and how to dispute negative beliefs that led to pessimism and depression.

Recommended Resource: “The Optimistic Child” by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, 1995. (ISBN: 0-06-097709-4)

Anger in the American family – four steps to teach family to treat you better

Case #1- Elizabeth, a 40 year old homemaker was always feeling angry and “used” by her family, constantly saying that everybody took advantage of her. She felt that she worked like a slave but her family showed no appreciation or acknowledgment of her many efforts.

Case #2- Bill, a 34 year old husband complained that his critical wife was always angry at him. He spent his life trying to cope with her outrages which often escalated him into defensive anger which didn’t happen anywhere but in this relationship.

Case#3- Betty, a 42 year separated mother struggled with her soon to be ex-husband’s contempt and disrespect every time she angrily called him to discuss details of their divorce.

These three cases bring up the question often asked by participants in our anger management classes: Is it possible to control how family members treat us? The short answer is “no” — but often we can teach them to treat us better!

Believe it or not, we are constantly teaching our family how to treat us— both by our responses to their behavior, and by the behavior we display to them which they react to. In our case examples:

By automatically doing whatever her husband and children requested, Elizabeth was “teaching” them that there are almost no limits to what she would do for them. With his behavior, Bill was actually teaching his wife that the way to get attention from him (even if it was negative attention) was for her to create drama.

Betty was so intimidated by her husband, that her defensive “attitude” was “teaching” him that to deal with her, he had to push back with the contempt and disrespect that he constantly showed her.

The dance of anger

Our interchange with family members is often like a carefully choreographed dance. They make a move. You make a move in response to their move. They then respond to what you said or did and ….well, you get the idea!

How do you change the dance? Start by seeing yourself as a teacher—of how you would like your family to treat you.

Four ways to change what you teach others

  1. Try a softer-start-up. Marital research shows that the first few seconds of an interaction can predict the final outcome of the encounter. Try being softer, more polite, more respectful, less hostile, or more empathetic—and see how this change in your approach actually teaches others to respond better to you.
  2. Take a time-out before dealing with the conflict or situation. Conflicting or arguing family members often work themselves up to a point at which problem solving is impossible. The solution is to retreat and give yourself time to calm down and think things over. This takes at least 20 minutes, often much longer. Before taking your time out, it is important to tell the other person that you will commit to returning soon to deal with the conflict, after you are calmer—then be sure to do it!
  3. Acknowledge that you see how they must be seeing the situation. Called “empathy,” this response on your part teaches others that you care about their feelings and viewpoints, and opinions. Acknowledgment doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with their viewpoint—only that you see it. Sometimes, your family needs to know that you care about them and respect their opinions before they listen to what you say.
  4. Set limits and boundaries for your family members. Limits and boundaries are basically rules regarding acceptable behaviors toward you as well as what you are willing or not willing to do. If you feel others are taking advantage of you, ask yourself what you may be doing (or not doing) to give the message it is “ok” for them to do whatever they are doing. Often you can change their behavior toward you by teaching them different rules of being with you. The easiest way to do this is simply to respond differently yourself. For instance, they make you the core of a nasty joke. Being a nice person, you pretend it doesn’t bother you( even though it does), so you laugh with everybody else. As an alternative, try not laughing with them, which is a way of teaching them that they have crossed a boundary with you.

Anger management of your child’s tantrums at home during Covid Pandemic

The Science of a Child’s Tantrums – How to manage before it starts

LeAnne Simpson’s 6-year-old daughter had thrown plenty of tantrums before the pandemic. But after a few weeks of lockdown, minor frustrations that used to lead to short-lived outbursts were now setting off writhing-on-the-floor freakouts.

“First, she’d get so frustrated she couldn’t talk,” Simpson said. “Then she would start screaming, drop to the floor and roll around flailing her arms, often kicking or hitting me if I came close to her.”

Simpson tried every tantrum-defusing strategy she could muster, from playing soft music and offering a snack to squeezing her daughter between couch cushions (a calming technique recommended by an occupational therapist).

But nothing worked except sitting quietly nearby, and occasionally consoling her with words or touch. In the aftermath, Simpson would often ask her daughter what had made her so mad. “She’d always say she didn’t know,” Simpson said.

Meltdowns, common as they are among young children, are a complicated physiological response related to the brain’s threat detection system. Mid-freakout, it’s helpful for parents to understand what’s going on beneath the surface, then to mitigate the “threat” by establishing a sense of safety.

The physiology of a meltdown

According to R. Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist and author of “Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain,” a temper tantrum involves two parts of the brain: the amygdala, which is primarily responsible for processing emotions like fear or anger; and the hypothalamus, which in part controls unconscious functions like heart rate or temperature. Think of the amygdala as the brain’s smoke detector and the hypothalamus as someone deciding whether to put gasoline or water on the fire — with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

When your daughter suddenly starts wailing about sleeping alone in her bed at night, she’s probably not consciously being difficult — her amygdala detected a threat and her hypothalamus caused her to snap. During the stress response, your child might experience a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and tense muscles (or just an overwhelming urge to punch you). As much as you may want to reason with your writhing child, don’t expect her to listen. For one thing, the stress response can dampen a child’s already-limited capacity for self-control, a function generally associated with the prefrontal cortex, or PFC.

“When you have a fire burning in your house, you don’t want to sit and ponder, you want your body to fire on all cylinders so you can escape,” said Dr. Carol Weitzman, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and co-director of the Autism Spectrum Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

With a bit of logical self-reflection, adults can hit the brakes on a stress response. “When a driver cuts you off on the highway and your blood begins to boil, it’s your prefrontal cortex that allows you to think, ?Wait a minute, I don’t have to act this way,’” said Dr. Weitzman.

But the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until adulthood and, according to Dr. Fields, inhibition and impulse control are among the PFC’s most complicated functions. “So when you try to reason with a child, you’re appealing to a part of the brain that isn’t fully functioning.”

Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Virginia and a consultant at Tulane University, likens child meltdowns to a pot of boiling water, with the PFC acting as its lid. “In these moments, the intensity of the feeling overwhelms the child’s ability to organize it, so the feelings get stronger than the lid,” she said.

Fortunately, with your own developed brain, you can help your kid replace the lid on the pot during a meltdown moment by using your prefrontal cortex as a surrogate.

First, manage your own emotions

Before engaging with your upset child, it’s helpful to first regulate your own stress response, said Lisa Dion, a play therapist and founder of the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute in Boulder, Colo.

If your child is safe, leave the room to take a few deep breaths or confide in a partner — whatever you need to deescalate your own frustration. This, according to Katie Rosanbalm, a senior research scientist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, allows you to use your own calm state to calm your child.

It’s not completely clear how this works. There are likely several physiological components, but one might involve mirror neurons, brain cells that fire in response to your own and other people’s behaviors. Watching someone run, for instance, seems to activate a similar brain region as when you run yourself.

Mirror neuron research on children is scant, and there’s still a lot to learn. But what scientists do know about this group of brain cells may help parents understand how their reactions affect their kids (and maybe even their newborn babies).

For example, mirror neurons have been found not only in the motor areas of the brain, but also in the areas that deal with emotion. The same part of your brain that lights up when you’re feeling happy may also light up when you observe happiness in others. “So your child may not just do what you’re doing, but feel what you’re feeling,” said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Next, manage your kid’s reaction

It’s also important to pair your calmness with warm and empathic cues, which can signal to the amygdala that there’s no danger, Dr. Rosanbalm said. “The amygdala stops sending out the alarm, which causes the stress response cascade to cease.”

In the calm-down process, focus more on your actions rather than your words: Your child can mirror your emotions just by looking at your nonverbal communication, like your body posture, vocal tone and facial expressions.

Dr. Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, suggested crouching down and making eye contact with your child during the tantrum, which shows you’re listening and engaged. While some upset kids might like physical touch from a parent, others might find it overwhelming.

You can also encourage your child to self-soothe with other types of calming sensory inputs. Offer her a fidget spinner or Silly Putty, have her push on a wall, or simply encourage her to take some slow, deep breaths. But try to introduce these coping skills before a meltdown hits, so they can manage a tantrum on their own once it happens.

Finally, validate your child’s feelings

As much as you might want to try explaining to your kid why they should calm down, behavior correction rarely works when stress is high.

Once your child’s partially-developed prefrontal cortex is back online, take the opportunity to help her form a story about the meltdown. Shanna Donhauser, a child and family therapist, suggested validating how hard the moment was and repeating back what happened. “Then remind your child that you’re both OK and that you can still be close. You’re still there,” she said.

After exhausting all of the behavioral techniques she knew, Simpson tried focusing on connecting with her daughter during meltdowns instead of trying to change her behavior. Back in the spring, when her daughter had a meltdown about the number of strawberries in her bowl just before she needed to log on to a virtual class meeting, Simpson held her 6-year-old close as she tried to stay calm herself.

It was then that her daughter managed to articulate what was really upsetting her — it wasn’t the fruit, she said; deep down, she was sad she couldn’t hug her teacher. The two shared tears and some snuggles, then moved on with their day.

“My daughter’s tantrums sucked every ounce of life out of me,” Simpson said. “But in the end, we understood each other better and grew closer.”

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minn. 

This article reproduced with permission from NAMA (National Anger Management Association) of which Dr Fiore is a Diplomate Member.

Anger in The American family – How to stress guard your family

Joe and Emily live in Southern California with their three young children. Both work and must commute 2 hours daily on busy freeways, often not getting home until 7:30 PM, exhausted and depleted. Stressed, they have little patience for the antics of their young children resulting in constant shouting matches, defiance on the part of the children, continual yelling back and forth, and escalating family tension.

As this case example illustrates, stress is often an underlying cause of anger in family members. Sometimes the stress is caused by events outside of the family which family members then bring into the home; other times the behavior of family members causes stress and tension in the home. In either case, it becomes a problem when parents find themselves constantly yelling at their children or disagreeing with each other on parenting strategies. In the meantime their children continue to do what they please—or continue bickering and fighting with each other. Between the adults, stress can be a major factor in marital unhappiness and ultimately divorce.

How Stress can affect individual family members

Joe and Emily both suffered individual stress symptoms including fatigue, irritability, angry outbursts, headaches and a discontent with their lives. They began feeling increasing distant from each other. Their children were also stressed-out- being tired, irritable, cranky, and demanding of attention. They often fought with each other and actively did things to get each other in trouble with their parents.

Signs of the stressed family system

Just as individuals can become overloaded and stressed-out, so can families.
To understand how this can happen, we must remember that families such as Joe and Emily’s are the basic building block of our society – and of most societies. Families consist of two or more people who share goals and values and have a long term commitment to each other. It is through the family that children are supposed to learn how to become responsible, successful, happy, and well-adjusted adults. When this no longer happens due to stress, we can say that the family unit becomes dysfunctional in that it no longer serves its purpose fully, easily or consistently.

We can recognize the dysfunctional family by noting that parents and children no longer turn to each other for support, encouragement, guidance, or even love.

Such family members may continue to live in the same house – but often don’t feel emotionally attached to each other, perhaps start living independent lives, and unfortunately don’t view their family as a warm place to retreat from the stresses and demands of the outside world.

Five Tips to Stress-Guard your family

  • Tip #1 – Teach your children “resiliency” — the ability to handle stress and respond more positively to difficult events. Specific ways children can practice “bouncing back” include having a friend and being a friend, setting new goals and making plans to reach them, looking on the bright side, and believing in themselves.
  • Tip #2 – Institute family rituals to provide stability. Have a way to leave each other in the morning, and to re-connect in the evening; have a Sunday morning ritual or a Friday night family pizza ritual. Rituals create a sense of security and predictability – both of which are excellent stress buffers.
  • Tip #3 – Model and teach your children conflict resolution skills. Your children learn how to handle conflict partly by watching their parents. All couples have conflicts; better parents model good conflict resolution skills for their children. These skill include compromise, calm discussion, and focus on problem-solving. If there is much sibling conflict in your home, encourage your children to find a way to resolve their own conflicts rather than jumping in and punishing one or another child whom you think (maybe wrongly) is the troublemaker.
  • Tip #4 – Practice stress inoculation basics. This includes proper nutrition for family members, exercise, and adequate sleep each night. The family may also want to look at time management—and how better time management might reduce both personal and family stress.
  • Tip #5 – Minimize criticism and take time each day to be supportive to each other. Excessive criticism is extremely harmful to both children and marital partners, while emotional support by family members is an extremely important buffer to family stress.

Control family anger with assertive communication

“Dr. Fiore,” my 42 year old married patient (Mary) began, “my family expects me again this year to host Christmas dinner and I am just too exhausted; what should I do?”
“Why not tell them how you feel,” I suggested.
“Because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and I feel guilty if I don’t do what is expected of me.”

Lack of communication such as this among family members is the root of much conflict, hurt, and misunderstandings any time of the year – but especially during the holiday season which, unfortunately, if often a time of great stress.

Mary’s dilemma is all too common – she wants to be a nice person and avoid conflict with family members, but then feels resentment and other negative emotions when she is overwhelmed or feels taken advantage of.

Unfortunately, not being direct and emotionally honest with people we love or care about can have long-reaching consequences because it gives other people the wrong message about you, what you need, and how they should respond to you.

The elephant in the room

When you have unexpressed feelings toward another person, it is like you are both sitting on a couch with an elephant between you. Neither wants to acknowledge the elephant, but its existence is there between you. The elephant acts as a barrier to real communication. It also prevents positive feelings from flowing between you and the other person.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is the art of speaking in a reasonable tone with good eye contact using “I” messages (as opposed to “you” or blaming messages) while clearly stating your needs, feelings, and requests. If you are an effective assertive communicator, you will also invite the listener to work toward a mutually satisfactory resolution of the problem or conflict, without offending them.

Speaking of offending, an important point to remember is that you won’t offend people if you stick to communicating your feelings, as opposed to telling others what they should or should not do!

The assertive communication formula:

There are four parts to effective assertive communication: Here is the formula:

I feel____________
When you____________
Because______________
I need___________

  • Part 1: “I feel”— start be expressing how you feel about the behavior. Stick to one of the five or six basic emotions: “I feel overwhelmed;” : I feel angry,” “I feel hurt.”
  • Part 2: “When”—What specifically bothers you about the behavior or situation? Examples: “when the family expects me to do this every year;” when it is assumed I will do it,” when no one else volunteers.”
  • Part 3:“Because”— How does the behavior affect you? Examples: “I feel pressured to do something I really can’t do this year,” and “it makes me feel taken advantage of.”
  • Part 4: “I need.” This is the tough part for people like Mary who feel guilty simply letting others (especially family members) know what their needs are. What this really means is giving the other persona clear signal of what you would like them to do differently so they have an opportunity to change.
  • Examples: “I need for the dinner to be rotated among the family; I need for everyone to bring a dish and I’ll cook the ham; I need for my sisters to come early and help with the setup”

Does the formula work all the time?

Of course not, but it works a high percentage of the time and it gives you a much better tool to deal with the situation than using anger – which rarely gets you the results you want.

If it doesn’t work at first, try different variations by using your own words – keep at it because sometimes people don’t immediately respond differently to what you are saying because of your previous established communication patterns with each other.

Also make sure that your tone clearly conveys sincerity, clarity, genuineness, and respect toward the other and his or her opinions.

Is it OK for wives to verbally abuse husbands for not helping more around the house?

In situations like that, women often feel justified in being angry, frustrated and fatigued—and verbally expressing their discontent. But, wives are not justified in verbally abusing their husbands to get them to do more.

Assertive communication

The right way to get your husband to help around the house involves teaching wives a better way to communicate and motivate their husbands. This is one of the most important ways marriage counselors can reduce relationship anger.

Assertive communication involves learning to express what you need or request without anger or rage. Anger and rage usually makes things worse and invites retaliation. In addition, parental anger is very harmful for children to witness.

Husbands need to be reminded…

But, assertive communication and better communication skills are only half the equation. The therapist must also explain to an irresponsible husband that his behavior is severely jeopardizing the marital relationship.

A skilled therapist must change the husband’s attitude by making him more receptive to the idea that in today’s society marriage is a partnership. For their relationship to survive, husband and wife must agree on how they are going to deal with routine home chores and parental responsibilities.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a 50-50 split; it is the ?agreement and the perception that makes the difference.

The therapist must convince the husband that it is to his advantage (peace at home, better sex, more closeness, etc.) that he and his wife see things as equitable in terms of home chores, even if one still does more of the home chores than the other.

A skilled marital therapist can help balance things out, reducing hard feelings and conflict; improving toxic communication patterns that have become disrupted.

New book for new parents

The challenges that accompany the arrival of a couple’s first child are chronicled in Jaycee Dunn’s recently published How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jaycee Dunn.

Jaycee is a professional writer who sought therapy for this issue, chronicling her experiences in a humorous book backed by much research. They met with Terry Real, a famous Boston therapist. Terry conducted a weekend intervention that saved their marriage (along with follow up sessions in their local community.) Now, Terry Real is not your typical therapist. Half of the intervention that got her husband to be more responsible was Real’s confronting Jaycee’s husband with the rather blunt statement, “Get off your ass and help her out!

Most therapists would not even dream of being so direct. Yet, strong therapists must educate their patientsand—when necessary–act as catalysts for positive changeby frankly telling couples what needs to be done to turn things around.

Just asking couples “how they feel” as many therapists do during counseling sessions, is not enough. As the famous German poet Goethe said:

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. ?Willing is not enough; we must do.

Having children drastically changes things

Terry’s outburst shocked her husband and jolted him into seeing things from a completely different perspective. Why was this needed?Because things drastically changed in their marriage after they had a child.

As she writes: “When it was just the two of us, my husband and I, both peaceable writers, rarely fought. Then we had a baby.”

She continues: “And even though fathers have stepped up considerably in sharing childcare duties – since the 1960s, nearly tripling the time they spend with their children – mothers still devote about twice as much time to their kids as fathers do.”

She cited the United States Government American Time Use Survey, women reported feeling significantly more fatigued than fathers in all four major life categories: work, household, leisure, and childcare. Furthermore, even when husbands didn’t have jobs, they still did half the amount of housework and childcare that women did.

A survey of US mothers by NBC’s Today program revealed that for nearly half of them, their husbands were a bigger source of stress than their children!

What happens when men help out?

Study after study have shown that when men take on their fair share of household responsibilities, their partners are happier, less prone to depression, disputes are fewer, and divorce rates are lower.

As Janice Dunn puts it: “The day-to-day labor of keeping a household running is a remarkably significant issue for couples.”This was supported by a Pew Research Center survey that revealed that sharing household chores ranked third in importance on a list of nine items associated with successful marriages.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests the frequency and quality of a couple’s sex life goes up when male partners think they do their fair share of the housework. My clinical experience through the years confirms that sex lives also improve when men help out more.

Verbal abuse won’t motivate your husband

Getting back to our very pissed off young mother, Janice Dunn–like many young mothers–was constantly angry and resentful, often calling her husband names that I shouldn’t repeat in a family-oriented blog.

During the other half of the intervention, therapist Terry Real told her: “…the idea that you can haul off and be abusive to your partner and somehow get a pass, that you can’t control it, or whatever you tell yourself to rationalize it, is nuts. Also, your whole “angry victim” role is going to get worse. You are extremely comfortable with your self-righteous indignation.”

He bluntly told her that she needed to take verbal abuse off the table:

You can say, ‘I’m angry.’ But don’t say ‘you’re an asshole.’

Likewise, you don’t yell and scream. You don’t humiliate or demean. They’re off the table. He concluded: “You are verbally abusive.”

He goes on to explain, as I often do to couples dealing with anger in their relationships, verbally abusing your partner to get them to do what you want is a very poor strategy.

Replace verbal abuse with respect

Even if you are furious with them, you need to show respect for each other. Successful couples avoid intimidating, demeaning, lecturing, and criticizing. The negative behaviors build resentment in your partner, then resistance, and—ultimately–push-back.

There is a world of difference between assertively standing up for yourself and aggressively putting your partner down. Here’s a suggestion, starting today, simply use the phrase, “What I’d like you to do now is…..”  Simply tell your partner what it is that you want them to do instead of disrespecting them.

Curb the urge to rocket straight from demand to anger and frustration. Most men do better if they know exactly what to do, if it makes sense to them, (always give them a reason), and if you request help rather than demanding it.

Successful Marriage: Love ain’t enough says Dr Tony Fiore

What are these “thirds” that are destructive to a relationship?
A destructive third can be anything that prevents a couple from having a close bond, having each other’s back and prioritizing their relationship. Thirds can create havoc in a marriage, yet the problem is not strictly a marriage problem per se. The real problem is inability of a couple to successfully deal with an outside stress threatening the marriage.

Common thirds that I see in Couples Counseling in Orange County are:

  • Anger or poor impulse control
  • Parenting or Children Stress
  • Substance Abuse (including excessive drinking) by one partner

Anger or Poor Impulse Control

Contrary to popular opinion, marriage is NOT a place where you should always feel that you should be able to “be yourself.” Unbridled Self-expression is about getting things off your chest, without considering how your partner will react. This is not a good thing to do if you want a secure, loving relationship with your partner.

In fact, in one study in the United Kingdom, one in five of people (20%) say that they have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of how they behaved when they were angry.

The main problem with too much anger is that hostility begets more hostility, once a couple starts to fight. According to famed researcher Dr John Gottman, 65% of men increase negativity during an argument. You push many people and they will fight back which does no one any good.

You poke the bear too many times or with enough intensity, you get consequences.

You do NOT need to say everything that’s on your mind when you are mad–at least not now. If you must get it out, wait for a better time after you both calm down.

Even If you apologize later, the damage is done. It erodes trust between you. It invites retaliation. It encourages withdrawal on the part of your partner sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally. It says you care more about your own selfish needs of self-expression instead of preservation of your relationship.

Parenting or Children Stress

Believe it or not, studies of marital happiness show that the time of least happiness for many couples is right after the birth of that little bundle of joy.

Successful couples find a way to still prioritize the relationship itself while unsuccessful couples often kind of forget about the relationship as they devote all their time, energy and resources to raising the kids.

Forward 20 years and they look across the kitchen table one morning at a stranger they used to be madly in love with and wonder what happened.

Things get even more complicated in today’s modern world of co-parenting and blended marriages. It takes much maturity, sound judgement, and balancing ability to be a good and responsible parent, yet make your partner feel that they are number one on your list!

Substance Abuse by One Or Both Partners

In most cases, I will not even attempt marriage therapy or counseling if there is a real issue of substance abuse including alcohol abuse (I do tolerate some instances of medical marijuana use, If done in moderation, the partner is accepting of it, they have a medical card, and they do not use where children can be exposed).

What to do about the situation depends on how much you can tolerate and the degree that his or her substance use affects your relationship.
Worse case scenario–it can completely destroy it. Most spouses do not want to live with someone who abuses alcohol regularly, to the embarrassment or detriment of either. In many relationships, excessive alcohol and refusal to get help is a deal breaker–and it should be. ?

Best case scenario–adjust your expectations and put it in perspective. For example, maybe most of the time your partner is fine and only occasionally abuses alcohol–and then is a sloppy drunk, but not a mean one. Put in perspective, maybe you can learn to live with it if appropriate boundaries are established and followed (e.g., two drink limit)

If you are on the fence as to discerning what you should do about a substance-abusing partner in your particular case, consult a professional who can help you sort things out.

Angry because your partner just won’t change? Try a fresh approach.

Aaron and Mary
Aaron and Mary have been married 23 years. She is often angry. He is a very gentle soul who has a lifestyle admired by many. He has a lot of money, he “works” by playing golf 2-3 times a week while courting new clients, he has a gorgeous loyal wife and two beautiful children who are doing well in life.He is rarely angry. So, what’s the problem? Aaron drinks a little too much some times at his watering hole with his buddies but tells his wife he is somewhere else if she calls. He does this because he want to avoid being yelled at and criticized. He feels he is a grown man and shouldn’t have to “report” to his wife every time he has “a few beers- even if she had made family plans around his being home as promised. His attitude triggers Mary’s underlying anxiety and anger.

How does Mary React to this behavior? To put it in simple term, she becomes angry, ballistic, yelling, screaming and criticizing. She angrily threatens to leave the marriage. He quietly sits there and takes her criticism, promises to do better, but then several weeks later does the same thing, with another excuse as to why he didn’t notify her of his change of plans.

Mary sees the problem as quite simple: Aaron needs to control his drinking and become more transparent as to where he is when she asks him. She truly believes that he is much more to blame for the problem than she could possibly be. She blames him and sees him as needing to change his behavior in order to fix the problem.She even goes to a therapist who tells her that his drinking isn’t really a marital problem…. it is a personal problem. Neither think that Aaron is an actual alcoholic. Alcohol is not the problem as much as her not trusting where he is because he has a history of lying about it.

So why doesn’t he just change to please her and keep peace? Because, as noted above, he does not see himself as an alcoholic; rather, he sees himself as just someone who drinks too much sometimes and then lies about it to his wife,in order to avoid trouble. He argues that he only does this once every two months. She says it is biweekly. Besides, in his mind he has “earned” the right to have the life style he wants….including the merriment, as long as he is not hurting anybody, he is responsible, he is not unfaithful, and he also spends sufficient time with wife and kids. He reasons that she should be more flexible considering the great lifestyle that he gives her.

So, they are gridlocked. The issue they are struggling with is called a perpetual issue because it appears to be unsolvable. Her reaction to it isn’t getting the result that either one of them wants. He wants more leeway. She wants more reliability and trust.

So, how exactly should Mary react differently that might deal with this perpetual problem so that both an get more loving behavior from each other?

Here are some steps I would suggest to Mary:

Step 1– Stop criticizing /blaming if he drinks too much or he is going to miss family dinner to be with his friends/business associates. Accept that he is passive-aggressive and/or locked into a lifestyle and figure out a new reaction to it.Try to broaden your scope and diminish the importance of this specific behavior in your mind, in the context of many other good things he might do for you or your family.

Step 2– Sit down and have a “heart to heart” talk with him pointing out how you FEEL when he does what he does..mainly disrespected and not prioritized by him.Let him know that it causes resentment and anger in you which makes you want to pull away from him. The marriage may be at stake if his behavior continues. Point out that it is the NOT LETTING HER KNOW THAT CAUSES MORE OF THE PROBLEM THAN HIS NOT BEING THERE.

Step 3- Stand up for yourself regarding how you are going to handle it in the future….BUT do not threaten. Simply tell him how things are going to change if he continues….such as

-stop planning family activities around him…do not count on him being home at certain times. Do not schedule your events around his having to be home. Accept that this is the way he is sometimes and focus on his positive characteristics. Reward him when he is on time or when he does call.

-distance yourself emotionally from him and tell him that you cannot have a secure love for a man who treats you this way,because it is not fair, it is disrespectful, and it is very upsetting to you.

-start building your own life around things you like to do as a person. Be with your friends more, try not to make your husband the center of the world so much and stop feeling guilty about “me time” you need.

The idea here is that chances are very good he will change if you changes how you deal with the situation. By standing up for yourself, it now puts the ball in your husband”s court….it is now his decision what he is going to do.

Remember, you cannot control another person. But you can control how you react to the other person which often greatly influences what they do decide to do in the future.

10-hour local anger management classes

Anger, Elephants, and My Late Father

My 94 year old father with whom I have always had a rocky, angry relationship recently died. At his memorial service in a small Midwestern town, I had an eye-opening experience. The room was filled with people who talked about how loving and giving my father was. About how humorous he was and how much of a joy he was to have around. “He was always giving,” they said, and doing nice things for others, like volunteering at the local hospital up until 2 days before his death. No one mentioned anything about his anger.

This was not the father I remember growing up with. I saw him as quite self-centered, self-absorbed, distant, moody, and grim. He was not much fun to be around most of the time in my memory. He was often angry and raging to the extent that my mother went around the house to close the windows so the neighbor’s wouldn’t hear his rants and embarrass her. As I remembered him as a child, he had almost zero empathy and very little flexibility in his opinions about things or people. He was often defensive and would not take responsibility for his mistakes.

Back at the memorial service, a local pastor stepped up the podium and make remarks about my father. This pastor had been counseling him for several years. He said that in later years, my dad had had many regrets and misgivings in his life and that he wished he could make up for his shortcomings, especially regarding how he treated his children. He decided to transform his life in later years and be a better person. I recall that he tried to connect with his children (including me) in later years but I could not get past the memory of who he had been and I could not trust that he had truly changed. So, out of anger and hurt I kept my emotional distance. Even in later years, I did not see my father as so many other people did. And, I didn’t realize that so many other people saw him differently than I did. When I was with him, I lived in my perception of him, as he did me.

So, why did I begin this blog with a picture of an elephant with men touching it? Because this picture is connected with an old parable that explains much. Here it is:

The Blind Men Touching The Elephant Parable:
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you all said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree with. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.” This way we don’t get into arguments.

I was very happy that Dad ended his life surrounded by people who who loved him and could see him for what he had become and also accept him for what flaws remained. We should all remember that when we are angry or resentful toward someone for misdeeds or injustices, often our negative feelings are based on our Perceptions of the situation, not necessarily the full reality of the situation. You may have just been feeling the trunk, in our elephant metaphor, but not perceiving the ears or the legs. People are complex; we should try not to rush to judgment and assume that they are only as we see them. They may be much more or much less- or they may have changed over time and we didn’t see it.

So, the lesson here is that we should try never to forget the following:
Perception is your reality. But not necessarily the whole truth.

The result of this kind of thinking will be to lose a lot of that anger. Trust me.

AngerCoach Online

New Discernment Counseling for Couples On the Brink

family fighting

Up to 40% of people who divorce wish they hadn’t done so. Yet, many of these people say they tried “everything”,including couples therapy, but to no avail. Why doesn’t couples therapy,even done by experienced and competent therapists prevent breakup more of the time?

One reason is that both partners and the therapist often don’t have the same agenda. Recent research in Minnesota by Dr. William Doherty shows that up to 30% of couples coming to therapy are “mixed-agenda” couples where one is leaning out of the relationship and is reluctant to work on it, and the other wants to save the relationship

That means that only two people in the therapy room really are willing to work hard to save the marriage or relationship: the therapist and the “leaning in” partner. This is known as a “mixed-agenda”; in other words, everybody is not on the same page as it may appear on the surface. So, therapy starts with one of the therapist’s hands tied behind his/her back. If the therapist tries to persuade the “leaning out” partner to to stay in the marriage, they are immediately at odds with each other.

As an alternative, Dr. Doherty has developed a protocol called “Discernment Counseling” (http://www,discernmentcounseling.com)as a precursor to either divorce or couples therapy. You can get a family mediation lawyer, to have it court order to go through family counceling. Its goal is NOT to fix the marriage but to discern if the marriage can be fixed. Its like receiving a medical diagnosis that requires extensive treatment. Before taking the treatment you have to decide if you want to or not, considering effort involved, side-effects of the treatment, cost, etc.

Discernment Counseling provides different services to the mixed-agenda partners who have different needs. For the “leaning out” partner, discernment counseling helps them make a decision based on deeper understanding of the relationship and their role in its problems and potential future. Even if they leave the marriage, this understanding will help them in future relationships.
For the “leaning in” partner, discernment counseling helps them bring their best self to the relationship and to learn to relate differently so as not to continue to make things worse by well meaning but futile attempts to save the marriage.

Discernment counseling is time limited from a minimum of one two-hour session to a maximum of five sessions. At the end of the process, the couple will decide on one of three paths they are going to take:
Path 1- Continue as things are now
Path 2- Pursue divorce or separation
Path 3- Fully participate in couples therapy and other interventions for a period of six months with divorce or separation off the table.

Having a clear decision as to what path you are both on will give both partners much more clarity and confidence in a decision about the future of your relationship,based on a deeper understanding of what’s happened to your relationship and each of your contributions.

For more information, first review Dr. Doherty’s website at http://www.discernmentcounseling.com), then call Dr Fiore (714-745-1393) for local services in either Long Beach or Newport Beach, CA.

Promotional Video for Marriage and Couples Therapy in Newport Beach

I just posted a new promotional video that I had created announcing my new location in Newport Beach California. In addition to providing marriage and couples therapy at this new location, I can also provide my services to people all over the world with Skypeâ„¢. It is my hope that I can help improve the lives of people all over by teaching them valuable techniques for anger and stress management.

If you would like to contact me, please feel free to call me at 714-745-1393.

I hope you enjoy the video below!

Six Parental Tips For Your Angry Children

It was labor day when 8 year old Brandon’s mother heard a commotion from her child’s room. Seems that his 14 year old visiting cousin said something that upset Brandon which caused Brandon to strike the other boy. His mother Michelle hysterically called her therapist wondering what to do and how to handle the anger in her young son which seemed to be escalating as he became older.

Her therapist wisely explained that children become angry in a variety of situations. Common causes of childhood anger include: frustration, needing attention, feeling powerless, being misunderstood, not feeling good about themselves, feeling helpless, being belittled or made fun of, not having physical needs taken care of, having a parent take over instead of asking if the child wants help, being disappointed, having difficulty saying what they need, or being punished.

The problem of excessive childhood anger is growing. Yet many parents—like Michelle—feel they don’t have the tools to teach their children how to deal with normal angry feelings in an appropriate manner, without hitting or yelling at others, or losing control. Therefore, some parents ineffectively deal with their child’s anger by demanding that he or she stop being angry. Worse, some parents actually yell at or hit their child in attempts to “teach” their child not to be angry. That is like putting them alone in the woods unarmed with a raging black bear to teach them not to be fearful!

Alternatively, good parenting requires teaching children the practical skills needed for anger control. Although feeling angry is a part of life that no one can avoid because it is “hardwired” in our brains as a protective and survival mechanism, we can teach our children positive ways to cope with these normal angry feelings. Learning the tools of anger management empowers children, makes them more effective and pleasant human beings, and improves the world by decreasing hatred, violence and conflict.

Following are six tips for parents to help their children manage anger with the help of aberdovey lifeboat, based on our model of anger management called the eight tools of anger control”: Continue reading “Six Parental Tips For Your Angry Children”

Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?

Silenced

“How did your week go, Samuel?” I asked my married patient who  consulted me for anger management and anger management skills to deal with his wife.

“Much better,” he replied, “because I kept my mouth shut this time when I desperately wanted to argue with her because I knew I was right. I decided to apply one of the anger management tools you taught me.”

“What did you do instead?” I asked him.

Sam replied: ” I took your advice and simply left the house, went into the back yard for 10 minutes to cool off, then came back in and everything was OK. I didn’t argue with her over the issue because it wasn’t that important. I didn’t have to win this time; I just let it go.”

We continued our therapy session pet hair vacuum guide by agreeing that “talking” about an issue doesn’t always solve it. In fact, sometimes it makes it worse. In intimate relationships, sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say.  Believe it or not, over-asking about the issue sometimes becomes the issue.

Have you ever had this conversation with your partner?

“What are you upset about?”

“I’m not upset.”

“Yes, you are. tell me why you are upset. Was it something I said?”

“OK. if you insist. I am upset because you keep asking me if I’m upset.” Continue reading “Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?”

Anger Management In Action: Need More Respect From Your Family?

Case #1- Elizabeth, a 40 year old homemaker was always feeling angry and “used” by her family, constantly saying that everybody took advantage of her.

She felt that she worked like a slave but her family showed no appreciation or acknowledgment of her many efforts. She needed anger management to help deal with her feelings.

Case #2- Bill, a 34 year old husband complained that his critical wife was always angry at him. He sought anger management to learn how to deal with his angry wife. 
He spent his life trying to cope with her outrages which often escalated him into defensive anger which didn’t happen anywhere but in this relationship.

Case#3- Betty, a 42 year separated mother struggled with her soon to be ex-husband’s contempt and disrespect every time she angrily called him to discuss details of their divorce.She needed anger management to learn how to better deal with her ex.
These three cases bring up the question often asked by participants in our anger management classes: Is it possible to control how family members treat us? The short answer is “no” — but often we can teach them to treat us better!

Believe it or not, we are constantly teaching our family how to treat us— both by our responses to their behavior, and by the behavior we display to them to which they react.. In our case examples:

  • By automatically doing whatever her husband and children requested, Elizabeth was “teaching” them that there are almost no limits to what she would do for them.
  • With his behavior, Bill was actually teaching his wife that the way to get attention from him (even if it was negative attention) was for her to create drama.
  • Betty was so intimidated by her husband, that her defensive “attitude” was “teaching” him that to deal with her, he had to push back with the contempt and disrespect that he constantly showed her.

The dance of anger
Our interchange with family members is often like a carefully choreographed dance. They make a move. You make a move in response to their move. They then respond to what you said or did and ….well, you get the idea!

How do you change the dance? Start by seeing yourself as a teacher—of how you would like your family to treat you.

Four ways to change what you teach others
1. Try a softer-start-up. Marital research shows that the first few seconds of an interaction can predict the final outcome of the encounter. Try being softer, more polite, more respectful, less hostile, or more empathetic—and see how this change in your approach actually teaches others to respond better to you.

2. Take a time-out before dealing with the conflict or situation. Conflicting or arguing family members often work themselves up to a point at which problem solving is impossible. The solution is to retreat and give yourself time to calm down and think things over. This takes at least 20 minutes, often much longer. Before taking your time out, it is important to tell the other person that you will commit to returning soon to deal with the conflict, after you are calmer—then be sure to do it!

3. Acknowledge that you see how they must be seeing the situation. Called “empathy,” this response on your part teaches others that you care about their feelings and viewpoints, and opinions. Acknowledgment doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with their viewpoint—only that you see it. Sometimes, your family needs to know that you care about them and respect their opinions before they listen to what you say.

4. Set limits and boundaries for your family members. Limits and boundaries are basically rules regarding acceptable behaviors toward you as well as what you are willing or not willing to do.

If you feel others are taking advantage of you, ask yourself what you may be doing ( or not doing )to give the message it is “ok” for them to do whatever they are doing. Often you can change their behavior toward you by teaching them different rules of being with you. The easiest way to do this is simply to respond differently yourself.

For instance, they make you the core of a nasty joke. Being a nice person, you pretend it doesn’t bother you( even though it does), so you laugh with everybody else. As an alternative, try not laughing with them, which is a way of teaching them that they have crossed a boundary with you.

To learn more about this tool of anger control as well as seven others, attend our local anger management classes. More information below.  

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Angry Over Power Struggles in Your Relationship?

A young angry misguided soul sat in one of our anger management classes dejected. The instructor asked why he was there. He said that his wife was angry over his not putting the toilet seat down after his use. Other class members looked at him incredulously and remarked: “you spent all this money on an anger management program for that? Why don’t you just put the toilet seat down? His answer: “because last week I asked for sex and she didn’t come through. So, this week why should I do what SHE wants?

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Perfect example of a ridiculous angry power struggle that some couples seem to get into constantly.

What is a power struggle?
A power struggle occurs in a relationship when partners battle or conflict over who is going to win an argument, prove a point, accomplish a certain goal, or have things done in a certain way. Often in a power struggle one partner is attempting to force their will upon the other, or is trying to make the partner do something they don’t want to do. In retaliation, one partner will try and “even the score” or have a “win” even if it makes no logical sense. It is about winning, not about being rational or solving the problem at hand. In fact, partners gridlocked into this pattern often become angry if the other does not comply, tries to compromise or wants to discuss alternative solutions to the problem.

Why is this concept important to you and your relationship?
This concept is important because it underlies many angry arguments and conflicts you and your partner may be having. Think about it. Do you have angry arguments that often are more about the power one has over the other rather than about the issue itself? Some people just have to dominate others. It is their way or the highway. They are rigid and unbending. They know what is best, in their minds, and refuse to bend, ‘give in to the other” or admit they are wrong, mistaken or misguided.

Often angry power-struggle people are lost in a “get-even’ mentality or “everything has to be equal” mentally with their partner. It is tit-for-tat with them so a volcano vaporizer should relax your partner and you. It’s about the balance sheet and all behavior is ultimately motivated by that “score” on the sheet.

What are some other examples of it?
*one partner insists that the other is not allowed to smoke pot (for severe pain) or it will end the relationship. The pot-smoker refuses to give it up, although he agrees to not do it in the home, in front of the children, or in public and will also get a legal marijuana medical card.

*One partner insists that their 5 year old child will only be fed “healthy” food and has a fit when her partner feeds their child “normal” (like a McDonald’s hamburger)food, yet often does it herself when alone with the child.

*Partner argues for hours over a political point to convince partner that he/she is right about it and they are wrong. The righteous one keeps both of them up until 3:00 AM arguing over the point until the other concedes.

*Partner insists that other take a certain route to a friend’s house even though other wants to go another way that is equally distant. This leads to a fight they have had for years.

How do people get “power” in a relationship?
Some partners just bring this trait into the relationship with them and are often like that in other areas of their lives too. They just have to right, to be first, to have done it better, to know things you don’t know. Everything is a competition with these folks – it is part of their core personality.It makes them feel good to always be in the driver’ s seat, so to speak. Often they are very insecure underneath and being right feeds their ego and their sense of being adequate. Being wrong validates their feeling of inadequacy.

But in other relationships, the partners seem to trigger it in each other, even if they are not like that in other areas of their lives or even in other relationships. There are many other bases for power in relationships and it is quite a complex subject, when you really stop and think about it. Where does “power” come from? How can you get it? It is often thought among professionals that the person who loves the most (or is most needy) in an intimate relationship has the least power while the person who loves the least(is less needy) has more of the power (they have less to lose if it doesn’t work out).

Money and PowerBut, people gain (or lose power) power in relationships for many other reasons too. How about money? Does earning level bring power?

Example: Dave was recently divorced,and pretty much lost his business and most of his assets. Soon thereafter he met Martha who was quite well off through rental real estate properties. He started managing her properties but was also her lover. Soon, she controlled his whole life, ordering him around like he was an $8 per hour employee. She said “jump” and he asked, “how high”?

She literally would lie in bed while he popped grapes in her mouth as requested, while seething inside and then coming to his therapist exploding in anger. When asked why he put up with it, turns out that it was about the money. A “Yes, dear” response to her requests ensured that she would be willing to finance a new business venture he needed to get back on his feet.

Sex and Power. Many partners control their partners through sex (or lack of sex) which tends to generate anger and resentment in the sex-starved partner. This can go both ways, but more often than not, it is the man who feels sex-starved or experiences resentment because he has to “beg” for it.

Example: Dan was a 41 year old plumber and father of two children. Married for thirteen years, he said that he and his wife used to be like rabbits sexually before they had children. Now, “she has no interest, devoting almost 100% of her time to the kids and their needs. He is constantly angry due to sexual frustration but can do nothing about it. Yes, he has talked to her on many occasions. Her reply: “live with it.” He does not want to have an affair, but asks: “why should I have to give up something so important to me?” “It is like I am dying of thirst, she has the only well in town which is dry and she forbids me to visit other towns.”

Competency and Power:Sometimes partners sort of inherit power in certain areas of the relationship because they are clearly more competent in that area. For instance, if one partner is a better money handler, he or she should probably handle the budget and be in charge of financial management. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the financial handler will have more power in other aspects of the relationship such as parenting, vacation planning, or setting the emotional mood of the household.

Mood Setting and Power: 40 year old Peter told me that his wife of 12 years is extremely moody due to numerous medical problems as well as a core personality of many mood fluctuations. “The minute I walk in the door,” he says, I sense her mood.” “If it is bad or negative, I pour myself a glass of scotch, go to my room and hibernate for several hours, just to be alone.” If, on the other hand, his wife’s mood is positive, the family has a joyous evening with each other that night. In this case, his wife has all the power as a mood setter in the family.

Status and Power; Sometimes couples equate differences in perceived status as a basis for trying to dominate or control the other. Status might mean “social” status, occupational status, or gender status. In many cultures, men are seen as the head of household by default; these men get very angry if they do not receive “respect” from their women or children. They tend to use anger, authority, and bullying to get their way. Sometimes they are married to women who use sadness (tears) and appeals of helplessness to influence their mates. In the United States, most woman do not accept these stereotyped roles any longer as they have have gained much ‘power” through economic and occupational equality.Obviously this change can create mountains of conflict if they couple does not agree on role definition, and who does what around the house and in the relationship.

On the other hand, I have seen many couples wherein it is the woman who has most power and control in the relationship. These women emotionally abuse their mates through contempt,disrespect, guilt, chronic complaining and criticalness of their partner and sometimes even alienation of the children against their father. Upon occasion, these men finally “blow up” out of shear frustration of never being able to please their wife. Then these men are accused of having an “anger problem” and required by their wives to seek help.

How can it be fixed?In healthy relationships, power struggles are resolved naturally through a natural balance. You win today over finances; she wins tomorrow over parenting.

But, diffusing defusing power struggles in a troubled relationship can be tricky indeed. Sometimes it is best to just let it go..and give the power to your partner, especially if the power is based on superior competency or skill (like money handling or culinary expertise). Another case where it might be better to let it go is when it is part of your partner’s personality, as described above. Can’t change it. What else are you going to do? Acceptance of that which is not changeable in a relationship is a major tool of anger control.

A wise person comes to realize that being right isn’t always important – being happy or content or in peace may be much more important.

Why is it so hard sometimes to just let it go? Here are some reasons that I have observed and some solutions that should be of help to you:
1. Most conflicts between partners do not have a “right” and a “wrong” answer at all. In fact, most relationship conflicts are based on opinions, judgments, and attitudes – not facts that provide firm guidelines about what is the correct “answer” to a relationship dispute.Take the case above with the fight over what their child should eat. Will a McDonald’s hamburger once a week truly hurt a child? Will a vegetarian child be healthier in life than other children?

The Solution: Realize that just because you believe it, doesn’t make it absolute fact, or doesn’t make it the ONLY fact. Your partner has a right to their opinion too (even if you think it is wrong or misguided). So try to loosen up and be more reasonable instead of righteous and rigid.

2. Arguments that appear to be logically based often are emotionally based, so they can’t be solved logically. Prime example: the couple described above who fight in the car over which way to travel to a friend’s house. In this case, the point of the argument stops being about finding an objective solution and starts being about who is more entitled to be ‘right’. That is an emotional issue – not a logical one. The emotion is “Autonomy” -or the need to make one’s own decisions, to have free will, and not be dominated or controlled by the other one.

The Solution:
Take a time out to cool down before the argument gets out of hand. Before doing anything, take in a deep breath, talk to yourself and de-escalate that emotion inside of you that wants to be right. Do this before things get out of hand. In our system of anger management, this is one of the first tools we teach our clients, using the metaphor of the bullfighter needing to step out of the way of the charging bull. When calmer, try talking about it and compromising (Maybe go one way this time, and the other way the next time; or, establish a driving ritual or rule: the driver decides the route and othe must be quiet)

3. One partner has lost respect for the other and frankly doesn’t care anymore what the other thinks. Loss of respect is tough to recover from, if it is possible at all. If you are on the other end and he or she has lost respect for you, sometimes what really helps is for you to demand less disrespecting behavior from your partner. Stand up for yourself! Don’ t let yourself be emotionally abused. Even if they don’ t like you anymore, you deserve to be treated like a human being, especially in front of the children.

The Solution:One strategy to gain respect is to start acting and behaving in ways similar to other people who do indeed get respect from their partner. Put another way, be deserving of their respect.

On the other hand, if you want to respect your partner, but can’ t get past an issue that prevents it, you will need to find a way to shift your perspective of him or her and focus on other aspects of their behavior or personality.

This is not easy. Often, professional help professional intervention is needed to help you develop strategies and coping skills.

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Angry Mothers: Learn Mindfulness. Then Teach It To Your Children!

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The Problem
“I can’t deal with my own children,” lamented a young mother in one of our anger management classes.“They won’t listen, they do exactly what they want, they constantly fight with each other, and they won’t do their chores without a major argument.”

This young mother was ashamed that she was constantly angry at her own children. In response to their behavior, she would yell at them, call them names, and make empty threats of horrible consequences for non-compliance.But these responses did not seem to work; in fact, it made things worse as the children developed resentment and increased defiance toward their screaming mother.

The Solution As in an airline emergency, first put the oxygen mask on yourself. Then, put the oxygen mask on your children. You can’t expect your children to show good coping skills. and to handle stress well if you are impaired yourself.

Start by learning and then teaching mindfulness. to your children. It is amazingly simple, yet very effective over time. It helps mothers first deal with their own stress and anger and then gives her tools to teach to their children so that they can generally cope better with life. The positive effects of mindfulness has much science behind it and has many applications for both children and adults.

Mindfulness can be many things, but at its core, it is the skill of learning to focus on our present thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgement. Many people associate this with meditation, but meditation is only one path to achieve mindfulness. It is very useful for relaxation, but it is much more than that. For children, it helps them become more attentive, balanced, and aware. For some, it has the potential to help kids see their lives more clearly, to become more positive and less tired, and to chose appropriate life paths.Learn more about this on CPR Classes Tampa.

As a first step toward helping our stressed client deal with her own stress, we taught her various tools of anger control. As a starter, we introduced the concept of mindful meditation consisting of simple breathing exercises. Mindfulness helps both mother and child calm down, to re-focus on what is important, to become more reflective, and to perhaps teach both to respond in different ways to family stress. Research shows that mindful practices over time increase “emotional intelligence” in children as they better understand how their brain works and how to develop more self-control with that knowledge.

Following are some simple breathing meditations that mother and child can practice together, taken from a book called “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland :

Counting 1-1-1-1-1-1. When you breath in, let your body relax. When you breath out, silently count one, one, one, until your lungs feel empty. Repeat by relaxing again as you inhale and silently counting two, two, two, two, two, as you exhale. Repeat once more by relaxing as you inhale again and silently counting three, three,three, three, for the entire out breath. Continue this exercise in sets of three breaths (counting 1 on the first exhale, 2 on the second, and 3 on the third), until your mind quiets and you can rest in the physical sensation of breathing without counting.

When teaching this to your child, be aware that it takes time for them to accept the idea. Don’t force the issue, or another power struggle may develop, making things worse. For younger children, you may have to start with a 1 minute exercise, then gradually expand the time as your child progresses and sees the benefit. Don’t force them to close their eyes; some people prefer to keep eyes open.

The actress Goldie Hawn has written a delightful book on mindfulness called “10 Mindful Minutes.” which I would recommend to all parents. Among the wise nuggets of information is the followng: “Mindful parenting involves recognizing and nurturing our children’s unique personalities and not seeing them as projections of ourselves. There’s simply no cookie-cutter standard for how to treat our children.”

In our anger management classes we teach parents to respond instead of react to the behavior of our children that is troublesome. Hawn, in her book, amplifies this approach by saying that “reactive parenting can be very detrimental for our children. Yelling at them for forgetting something or doing something we don’t like only frightens them – it doesn’t make them stop.” We can gain control over our anger by understanding that our higher thinking has been hijacked by our emotional state; hence, we’re no longer in control.”

Once parents learn to respond differently to their children – not just react in knee-jerk fashion- the next step is to teach their children the same. Children need to understand how their brain works and how to deal with anger and frustration that all people experience. Hawn explains this simply as follows: “The anger and frustration that we feel in such moments is simply our Guard Dog amygdala {section of the brain} responding to the perceived stressful situation and taking over our emotions. Once we understand this, we can learn to recognize when we’ve been hijacked and accept that the path back to clear thinking is mindful awareness. ….”

In summary, a mindful approach to parenting quiets the minds of both parent and child, reduces stress, and puts both of you more in control of your emotions. Doesn’t that sound better than living in a family with constant yelling, screaming, negativism, and fighting?

A Master Passive Aggressive

Some times you have to give the devil his due! Such is the case with my brother Tom, an intelligent but very manipulative young man as we were growing up in Ohio. He and my Italian-American father were constantly conflicting with each other because Tom was..well, very stubborn and my father simply didn’t have the skills to cope with him.

One particular encounter sticks in my mind, even though it occurred many years ago. Tom was a young teenager who decided he was not going to eat all of his dinner one evening. This was a direct violation of our family rules, almost as serious as “sassing back,” having a smirk on your face,”  or out of desperation, starting to eat a steaming plate of wonderful spaghetti before our grandmother finished her never-ending prayer thanking God for the meal.

But, I digress. Back to Tom. He told my dad he was NOT going to eat what was on the rest of his plate because he didn’t like it. Dad retaliated by declaring that he could not leave the table until he finished his meal.

Rather than arguing with him, my brilliant passive-aggressive brother said “OK.” So..he sat there. 7pm. He didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t  fight. 8pm. He was still sitting there while the rest of us went on with our evening. 9pm. We all went to bed. Not Tom. He stoically sat there, “obeying” his father to the letter!

Now it is 8AM. My father comes down to breakfast. Where is Tom? Still sitting there looking at his plate of food. My dad announces: “It is time for you to go to school.” Are you reading closely, because now comes the true art of the passive aggressive! Tom says calmly” I can’t go to school even though there is a test today, because you told me I couldn’t leave the table until I finished my dinner. You can plainly see that I haven’t done that.”

This of course rendered my Dad absolutely helpless and defeated. If he made Tom go to school, he clearly lost the eating issue battle. If he made Tom continue to sit there, Tom got out of taking a test at school he wanted to avoid anyhow.

Brilliant!

My dad ultimately made him go to school, but there was no doubt that Tom had won the power struggle without raising his voice, arguing, or overtly resisting.

Passive Aggression is a way to express hostility toward someone else without appearing to be doing so, often rendering them helpless in dealing with you. Passive Aggressives often deny they are doing it while they are doing it. Instead they deny, excuse, rationalize or otherwise explain-away their obstructive behavior.

Passive-aggression is a destructive way to communicate because its goal is “I gotcha” instead of honest communication. You should protect yourself from such people. If you are the passive-aggressive, you should communicate more directly and honestly.

Watching someone like Tom can be entertaining, but it does not promote trust, closeness, or bonding with people in your life you care about or who care about you.

AngerCoach Show – Episode #15 – Peace at any price?

This month we discuss the whether the concept of “Peace at any price” is really valid when dealing with issues that come up in marriage. When dealing with problems in any relationship, assertive communication will often yield better results because it communicates feelings better than simply “clamming up”.