…Instead, I want her to pay heed to its message and let it pass without acting under its influence.
As early as I can remember, children in my family, especially girls were always snubbed for being angry or rather, expressing their anger openly. I was always told, “Girls shouldn’t be angry, girls should learn to stay cheerful.” But somehow, I could never get around to doing so. I tried hard but my anger always revisited me like a loyal friend. This was partly because my parents never shied away from expressing their anger and partly because my angry outbursts were met with anger in return to calm me down.
All through my growing years, I writhed in guilt for failing to be a ‘good girl’ who couldn’t control her anger. I could feel it burn my insides, corrode my soul hoping to seek validation and shatter my fragile dreams of living a life on my terms. The guilt always stood in my way, every time I’d decide to voice my opinion. It was only later in life that I realized how wrong I had been all along in interpreting my anger and also in trying to run from it.
Anger is simply an emotion just like happiness or sadness. It is an alarm bell, a defense mechanism designed to draw our attention towards something that might harm our integrity. However, children are often so discouraged from the awareness and forthright expression of anger that they fail to learn to interpret its message.
Things changed considerably when I became a parent. When my daughter turned 2, her terrible tantrums put my patience to test like never before. Being angry with her or indulging in a power struggle with her was like trying to extinguish the fire with fire. This was when I was introduced to mindfulness by a dear friend. Mindfulness implies being fully aware of being gripped by an emotion but refusing to act under its influence.
Practising it wasn’t easy but the effort I put in helped me heal the scars caused by the unexpressed anger of my growing years. Two of the most helpful practices have been meditation and journal writing. In times like these, I chose to revisit my childhood, reflect on my experiences, understand them from an adult vantage point and pour my hurt onto paper. There were chapters that brought back painful memories, evoked rage and were then torn to tiny bits. It has been a very liberating experience that I hope to share with my child once she is old enough to understand its healing powers.
This inner work helped me see that my child’s anger was rather an expression of her hurt, dislike or reluctance to act otherwise and meant nothing about me as a parent nor was it a reflection of my parenting abilities. This realization changed everything. My healed heart no longer felt threatened by my child’s tantrums or misadventures. Her child-like behavior met a calmer me and reflected back understanding like never before.
I no longer discouraged or scolded her for being herself, a mischievous child that is. But all these changes were about me and my relation with anger. I still had a long road ahead of guiding my child to learn to handle her rage. That’s when I chose to sit with her and talk her through the mechanism of why we feel angry, how it is a normal emotion, why we shouldn’t feel guilty about it and whta we could do to calm ourselves down till we were ready to talk things through.
As a child, my daughter wasn’t yet ready to handle anger on her own but guided by the thought that she could trust her mother to help her tackle it, she would come rushing to me every time she had a fight with a friend and felt angry. Instead of asking for details, I would only ask “What’s the matter?” to which she’d plainly say “Mamma I’m feeling very angry.” That’s when I’d hug her close for a long minute before giving her a drawing book and color pencils. She’d silently draw her emotions on paper and color things that had hurt or annoyed her in black or red. Usually by the time she’d be done with her drawing she was already feeling calmer and was ready to talk about what had disturbed her.
With time, my child got so used to this practice that the drawings she made while waiting to cool down have been some of her best. Inspired by her dedication and in awe with the results of her emotions powering her creativity, I too started coloring in adult coloring books. These books have since helped me focus and have provided a creative outletfor my anger and anxiety.
However, my work as a parent teaching my daughter how to be angry has just begun. We are still exploring ways to decipher the message(s) our anger conveys. Every day we try to reach a little bit closer to garnering the courage and confidence we need to not just accept our anger but to work with it and be the best version of ourselves.