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5-Step Guide For Parenting While Angry

People love to share stories about sleep deprivation, explosive diapers and projectile vomit when talking to expecting parents. They talk about the long nights, the days of never-ending tears and every little thing that can go wrong.

As the baby becomes a toddler, seasoned parents share temper tantrum horror stories and talk teething, playground spats and preschool planning.

RELATED: Why Tantrums Are Good for Kids (and Parents)

Then the stories stop. It's as if surviving infancy and toddlerhood are the biggest challenges of parenting. But any parent of big kids can tell you that tantrums become meltdowns and, although irrational toddler behavior disappears, big kids know how to argue.

And push buttons.

The truth is that parenting is both amazing and difficult at every stage. Each age brings new wonders and new mysteries. There is a certain freedom that comes with having big kids, but there are also different challenges.

Yes, parenting can be frustrating at times. All people have anger buttons. And all kids know how to push buttons. While it might seem like they do this to manipulate or cause a problem, often they do this because they are overwhelmed, upset or just plain frustrated, and they don't know how to cope.

No matter how frustrated parents might feel, yelling and projecting anger isn't the answer. In fact, research shows that yelling might be just as harmful as hitting. And yelling doesn't teach kids how to cope with their feelings.

What's a tired and frustrated parent to do?

Try a few of these strategies for coping with parental frustration:

1. Investigate the problem

Instead of allowing the frustrating situation to fuel your anger by assuming that your child is trying to upset you, step back and ask the right questions. What are the potential hidden causes beneath the behavior? Are there any new stressors in your child's life right now? What happened just before the meltdown?

When we allow anger to trigger our own irrational responses (e.g. "Why does he always do this to me? Why does my child hate me so much?"), we miss important clues that can uncover the behavior. It's important to remain calm and ask the right questions in the heat of the moment.

RELATED: Is Free Play a Natural Treatment for ADHD?

2. Create a calming mantra

Therapists love self-talk for one very good reason: Talking your way through an upsetting situation can help you remain calm and centered, even when a child is kicking and screaming right in front of you.

Choose a few calming phrases to use when you feel your anger increasing in response to your child's behavior. Talk your way through the event in a calm voice and repeat your calming mantra as often as needed to cope with your own feelings. In doing this, you model the art of self-talk to your children and teach them how to keep calm during frustrating situations.

3. Keep a trigger list

Knowing your anger buttons is a great way to keep your anger in check. Keep a journal to log the moments that caused you the most frustration during the week. Make a note of the time of day that the anger occurred, what was happening, what was said and how you reacted. Chances are that a pattern will emerge, and that pattern can help you troubleshoot.

If you find that you are quick to anger when you're hungry or tired, for example, you can keep healthy snacks on hand or play low-key activities for the kids during those times. I know that my family struggles with a packed schedule. My kids do one after-school activity at a time, and we even skip those when we feel tired or overwhelmed. Knowing and adhering to your limits helps you remain calm.

4. Tap into your empathy

If you can shift your thinking from frustration about the event to empathizing with your child, you will feel less anger as a result. We all have bad days, even little kids. When your kids start pushing your buttons, try to think back a time when you made a similar choice. What were you feeling? What did you need in that moment?

When we rely on empathy to cope with difficult situations, we are more likely to respond with kindness and understanding.

5. Make healthy choices

Parents hear a lot about the importance of consistent sleep, healthy foods and regular exercise for kids. These things are just as important for parents as they are for children. If you are overtired, hungry or sick, you are more likely to respond in anger to minor triggers.

RELATED: 8 Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

Take time for self-care so that you can care for those you love the most.

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Image via Twenty20/darby

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