Losing control

Losing control
As a parent, it’s not always so easy to keep a level head. Tips on how to do it.

Getting angry in front of your child can happen to any parent. However, this response can cause increased stress in the child as well as various emotions such as fear, helplessness, sadness, and shame. Additionally, anger often causes the parent to feel guilt and shame later on.

How to keep your cool

When you feel anger building, rather than exploding in front of your child, you may want to get away for a moment and do something to release stress. In addition to calming yourself down, you are showing your child that there are healthy ways to manage anger. Here are some tips to help you master your emotions and calm down:

When you are angry, it is important to put your child’s safety first. If you have to distance yourself to calm down, be sure to leave the child with someone you trust.
  • Change your mindset. For example, instead of thinking: “I can’t do this anymore!” Think: “I’ll calm down before I react.”
  • Count to 10, take deep breaths, or drink a glass of water.
  • Recall a moment of happiness or tenderness that you experienced with your child. Such a memory releases dopamine and oxytocin in your brain, which are hormones that increase your sense of well-being and calm you down. Giving your toddler a hug produces the same effect.
  • Change your focus, e.g., listen to some music.
  • Go to another room or outside for a few minutes, but make sure your toddler is safe.
  • Call your partner, a friend, LigneParents (1-800-361-5085), etc.
  • Write out what made you angry.

You can also explain to your child that you are angry and what you intend to do to calm down. For example: “I’m feeling a ball of anger growing, I am getting hotheaded and my heart is starting to beat faster, I will count to 10 to calm down.” When you tell your child what you are feeling, they learn how to recognize and identify their own emotions.

Above all, avoid violent actions (e.g., throwing an object against the wall or hitting something), as this can scare your child and fuel your anger rather than calm you down.

Having a glass of alcohol to calm down will not help either, as it may make it more difficult to control your emotions.

Try this too
When you start getting angry, your body produces cortisol and tenses up. Moving is an effective method to release tension. For example, you can run on the spot, jump around, or dance.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, you can put your palms together in front of your chest, take deep breaths, and press your hands against each other on each exhale. You can also press your hands against a wall and, each time you exhale, push firmly against it.
After 1 or 2 minutes, you should feel less tense and ready to interact in a calmer manner with your child.

Why would a parent get angry?

Firstly, it is important to ask yourself whether your child’s behaviour is really the cause of your anger.

To find out, ask yourself if you always react the same way when your toddler is behaving like this (e.g., every time they cry). Generally, the answer is no. Your mood, energy level, work day, and any build-up of small stress factors greatly influence your reactions to your child.

For such reasons, take the time to understand your reactions. This moment of reflection allows you to determine methods to work on the real problem and thus reduce the risk of the situation happening again.

For example, if your patience often runs thin at the end of the day, it may be because your mind is still at work or busy planning dinner, while your child is living in the present moment (e.g., “I’m hungry!”, “Let’s play!”, etc.). As you are already experiencing high stress, the slightest opposition from your toddler could make you angry.

If so, be honest with your toddler. For example, you can tell them: “I lost my patience when you refused to take your bath, but it is not your fault. I had a hard day at the office. I am sorry I acted like that.”

To avoid this situation, you could take 5 minutes when you get home for a big family hug. This will bring you back into the present moment and relax you in addition to giving you the energy you need to continue for the rest of the evening.

When to ask for help
If you feel that you cannot control your anger, or if you think you may be hurting your child physically or emotionally, promptly contact your CLSC, physician, or local child welfare agency. You can also call the LigneParents (www.ligneparents.com): 1-800-361-5085.

Should you apologize to your child?

Due to their immature brain, your child believes everything revolves around them. So when you get angry, they believe they are responsible for your reaction and you no longer love them. If you have overreacted in front of your toddler, it is better to apologize and admit that you should not have done so.

When apologizing to your child, position yourself at their level and look them in the eyes. They will then be able to perceive the sincerity in your apologies.

For example, you can tell them: “I was very angry earlier. That’s why I went to the bathroom to breathe, calm down, and then be able to think clearer.” Your child will then understand that you can make mistakes too and that you are able to recognize them.

Moreover, when you apologize, you become a role model for your child. They see that you are practising what you are teaching them, such as identifying their emotions and finding ways to calm down.

Apologizing to your child will not hinder your authority. On the contrary, it can calm your child and strengthen your relationship.

If your child has really behaved badly or in a way that you find unacceptable, take the time while apologizing to calmly explain what made you angry.

After apologizing, take time to cuddle or play with your child to re-establish the bond between you.

To help cope with disciplinary issues without getting angry:

Things to keep in mind

  • When you are angry, it is not possible to adopt thoughtful educational behaviour. Calm down before taking action.
  • After you have been angry, it is important to re-establish the “connection” with your child through displays of affection or some play time.
  • Think about what really triggered your anger and take measures to address it.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Marie-Hélène Chalifour, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: May 2017


Photo: GettyImages/VioletaStoimenova


Useful links and resources

Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.

  • FILLIOZAT, Isabelle. Il me cherche! Comprendre ce qui se passe dans le cerveau de votre enfant entre 6 et 11 ans. Paris, Marabout, 2014, 215 pp.
  • GUEGUEN, Catherine. Pour une enfance heureuse : repenser l’éducation à la lumière des dernières découvertes sur le cerveau. Paris, Réponses Robert Laffont, 2014, 304 pp.
  • JULIEN, Gilles. Aide-moi à te parler. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2004, 140 pp.
  • RACINE, Brigitte. L’autorité au quotidien. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2013, 200 pp.