Is it wrong to get angry with my children/my students?

September 10, 2022

Short answer: getting angry with children or students may have the desired immediate effect of getting them to listen to you or stop a behavior. But the undesired effects of anger are so counterproductive that you will want to completely avoid anger as a parenting tool.

My story with anger

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As the youngest of four boys, and a son of parents who didn’t know much about emotions, I learned that it was wrong to be angry. I was almost never angry and when I was, I quickly suffered the consequences of being smaller and less powerful.

As a young adult learning to be a human being, I learned that I had suppressed a lot of anger and I learned how to express anger in acceptable ways.

As a young parent and teacher at the Ecole d’Humanité[1], I thought it was a good idea to let my children and students see my anger from time to time, if it was genuine. And that seemed to be quite effective. Kids didn’t mess with me when I got angry. I thought of anger as a clean sword, cutting through to the Truth.

The question of right or wrong

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Anger is a tricky topic for us parents and teachers. First, there’s the anger of our children and students: how do we deal with their anger in ways that don’t make things worse? But that’s for that other blog. This time I want to talk about our anger. What role does our anger play in our teaching or parenting? Is it useful? Is it right or wrong?

      Anger is a basic human emotion, so we shouldn’t suppress it, right?

       Anger is a frightening emotion for many children, so we shouldn’t express it, right?

Which is it?!

“Right or wrong?” is not a question of morality for me. What’s important for me is what are the effects of our anger? Here’s what I’ve found.

What the experts write

In her book Hunter, Gather, Parent, Michaeleen Doucleff writes that traditional Inuits never get angry with their children. Martha Tikivik explained: “Getting angry at a child has no purpose. [It] isn’t going to solve your problem. It only stops communication between the child and the mom.”[2]

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Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids says, “When we yell at children, we are training them not to listen.” Doucleff goes on to write that when we express our anger, we are modeling that behavior for our children – we are teaching them to be angry! Markham agrees, saying, “Kids learn emotional regulation from us.”[3]

Danish parenting expert Jesper Juul also argues against expressing anger, which he says is often experienced as a form of violence. “The more successfully parents look after a child’s integrity, the greater the possibility that the child will develop healthy self-esteem. Violence is an infringement of children’s integrity and therefore detrimental to their self-esteem.” Juul adds that adult anger is often traumatizing for children.[4]

So, our anger

  1. does not solve our problem but damages the communication with the child/student.
  2. trains kids not to listen.
  3. teaches anger instead of teaching emotional regulation.
  4. infringes on their integrity and damages their self-esteem.
  5. can be traumatizing.

The experts are quite clear: the effects of getting angry are negative, both for the children’s healthy development and for the relationship with the child. In Positive Discipline we learn that children need a sense of belonging and of significance in order to thrive and develop well. Juul says it this way: “Our need to feel valued by the people we love and care about is a deeply rooted human need.”[5] When we adults

get angry, children/students get the unconscious message that they are not valued, that they do not belong and have significance for us.

What can we do with our anger?

So, if anger can be so destructive, how do we parents deal with that basic human emotion when it arises?! I’m sure you already have some of your own favorite ways to cool your anger when you feel it rising. Simply knowing that it is, in fact, a bad idea to act out of anger with your students or children may be helpful in getting you to choose “cool over hot” in future. Here are some ideas to add to your repertoire:

  • Keep your mouth closed.
  • Take 10 deep breaths.
  • Turn away and find something calming to look at. Breathe.
  • Remind yourself, “I’m the adult here. I will choose to act like one.”
  • Leave the room.
  • Don’t take it personally. They are young and haven’t learned socially helpful behavior. It’s your job to teach it to them. Start now by modeling self-regulation.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Call or talk to someone you trust with your feelings.
  • Say, “I’m feeling angry, so I need to leave the room right now. We can talk about this when we’re both feeling calm.” This is said in a neutral tone and as calmly as possible.
count to 10

Coming to a close

There is so much more to write about this topic! I hope that this “incompleteness” provokes your questions and comments. Please to write them to me. I will respond to each one personally.

To finish, I want to add: be kind to yourself! It takes practice to control ones anger when we feel that a situation in the classroom or with the family has gotten out of control. If you lose your temper, discuss it – later. Apologize and talk with the class or family about how to avoid such situations in the future. Being able to apologize and learn from your mistakes is a wonderful skill to model for your kids! I often hear the feedback that I am always so calm, and that people feel safe with me. That’s a great compliment, especially because it hasn’t always been like that.

[1] The Ecole d’Humanité is the international boarding school where I taught, lived with 10 teenagers, and co-directed for 18 years. See https://connections-rtm.com/about-me-about-us

[2] Hunter, Gather, Parent, by Michaeleen Doucleff, p. 144.  ISBN 978-1-9821-7240-4

[3] Hunter, Gather, Parent, by Michaeleen Doucleff, p. 146.  ISBN 978-1-9821-7240-4

[4] From The Natural Child Project website, https://www.naturalchild.org/articles/guest/jesper_juul.html Article: Violence is Violence

[5] From Family Lab Magazine 1st Issue. https://issuu.com/hansso/docs/fla_magazine-01-preview/s/10912611

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