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Anger is a normal, human emotion that can be intense especially between divorced parents. The trick is to manage anger in such a way that is positive, not negative, for both yourself, the other parent and your children. Typically, anger is a response to one of many specific things. However, most responses to anger can be placed in two basic categories:

  • Not getting what we want or need.
  • Feeling that others do not respect them or care how they feel.

What makes you feel angry: Busy schedules? Financial worries? Work? Unruly children? Difficult relationships with your former spouse? It is important to recognize what triggers anger and remember that we usually take out our anger on those we love the most.

Although anger may seem like an automatic response to people or situations, strategies can be used to help control and manage it.

Reason with Yourself

Though at first anger may not feel like an emotion that responds well to logic, you can use your reasoning powers to keep from reacting automatically and from flying into a rage. When you feel yourself getting annoyed, stop and ask yourself three questions before you react:

  • Is this issue important to me?
  • Is my anger justified?
  • Is there anything that anger can do to fix the situation?

If you answer "yes" to all three questions, your anger is probably worth acting on. Instead of losing your temper, being assertive might be a strategy to try. Describe the specific behavior that's bothering you and tell yourself what you want. Be specific about the behavior you want changed and make the request calmly. If necessary, take a few deep breaths before speaking.

If you answer "no" to at least one of the three questions, consider these suggestions. Instead of trying to change the situation that made you angry, it may be more appropriate to change your internal response. The key is to try to talk yourself out of it. Recognize that you cannot change another person's behavior or the situation that has irritated you. You can only change yourself. Remember the damage that anger is doing to your body. Remind yourself that if you remain angry, it's your own health and well-being that will suffer most.

Walk Away.

This strategy is one of the best techniques. When you become extremely angry, it sometimes becomes necessary to leave the situation. An example would be if you are having a verbal battle (shouting match) with your child's other parent. The best solution at that moment would be to turn and walk away. It may seem like you are surrendering, but in the long run it is an opportunity to cool down and avoid saying or doing something you would later regret. It is important to briefly explain to your child's other parent why you are walking away. "I will not continue this shouting match with you. When we can talk in a calm voice to each other, we can continue this conversation."

Use the Thought-Stopping Technique.

It may sound so simple that it couldn’t possibly work, but it has been used for years by cognitive therapists with great success. If you've determined that a particular angry thought is unjustified or ineffective, the moment you become aware of it, say the word Stop! to yourself and, if necessary, walk away. In a sense, thought-stopping is an extension of reasoning with yourself but with an emotional punch that can make the difference when logic isn’t convincing.

Practice Talking Yourself out of Anger.

Most angry people are highly cynical, so it will take time before they accept the power of anti-anger messages. With practice, these anti-anger messages will start to make more sense.

Empathize.

When people do something annoying, try to find a reasonable explanation for their behavior. Seeing a situation through another person's eyes often can short-circuit impatience or irritation before it erupts into rage. Ask yourself: If you were this person how would you feel or like to be treated?

Distract Yourself.

Your mind can't focus on two things at once. When you feel angry, scan your environment for something else to occupy your mind. For example: If you're annoyed by a slow supermarket check-out line, pick up a magazine and bury yourself in an interesting article. If your environment fails to offer a suitable distraction, make up one. Vividly imagine yourself in a favorite setting, plan the menu for an upcoming meal, or daydream.

Practice Relaxation Techniques.

Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. There are books and courses that can teach you relaxation techniques, and once you learn the techniques, you can call upon them in any situation.

Reduce Artificial Stimulants.

Cut back on or eliminate nicotine, caffeine, sweets, and other substances that stimulate the nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Be Physically Active.

Physical activity can help to reduce anger. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

Become a Better Listener.

Instead of interrupting while the other parent is speaking, look that person straight in the and reflect on what you're hearing. Avoid jumping in with your advice.

Confide in a friend or family member.

Just talking it out helps.

Managing anger with the other parent can be challenging and takes mental discipline, but the rewards are worth the effort.

Gail Brand

The UNL Learning Child Team

Gail Brand has been Extension Educator for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension for 20 years. She holds a B.S. Degree in Family and Consumer Science Education and a M.A. Degree in Housing and Human Development. Gail provides educational opportunities for individuals and families in the areas of early childhood, parenting and building relationships. She works with courses on-line that includes a Co-Parenting for Successful Kids course for 2000 parents yearly. Gail and Doug, her hu ...

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