Just Lost Your Temper With Your Kid? Here’s What To Do Next, According To Therapists

Experts share the 4 things you can do to repair the situation.
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No matter how much you try to hold it together, you’re bound to occasionally lose your temper with your child. You’re exhausted, stressed or don’t feel well, and your kid does something that pushes you over the edge.

While these may not be your proudest moments as a parent, they are human ones. You don’t need to beat yourself up or tell yourself you’re a shitty mom or dad. Instead, focus on repair by telling your kid you’re sorry, taking ownership of what you did and how it hurt them, and promising to do better next time.

“Repair isn’t about fixing mistakes that never should have happened, instead it is the space in which we grow,” psychologist and Raising Good Humans podcast host Aliza Pressman wrote in her forthcoming book, The 5 Principles of Parenting: Your Essential Guide to Raising Good Humans.

“Mis-attunement is a necessary part of a healthy relationship. Making repairs as soon as we become aware of them is important — and doing so is much easier than we think.”

“Repair isn’t about fixing mistakes that never should have happened, instead it is the space in which we grow.”

- Aliza Pressman, psychologist and author

Repairs are made by being “warm, empathetic, loving, curious, and even playful,” Pressman wrote. And they’re not just limited to words.

“They can even be made through sharing a connection, like a laugh and a knowing sense of ‘We are good,’” she told HuffPost. “Sometimes it is helpful to explicitly say something that validates your child’s emotions, includes an authentic apology and offers what you might do in the future.”

Below, therapists offer advice on what to do after losing your temper with your child.

1. Say you’re sorry.

First, apologise for your mistake. Maybe it’s how you blew up in the heat of the moment (“I’m sorry for raising my voice like that”) or for saying that thing you regret (“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have used those words with you”).

“It’s very important to set an example for your child of saying ‘I’m sorry’ when you do something wrong,” Northern California therapist Kurt Smith, who specialises in counselling men, told HuffPost. “By modelling this response it will make it easier for them to show compassion toward others as well as own their mistakes, too.”

Remember you’re apologising for your behaviour, not the emotions themselves, psychotherapist Mercedes Samudio, author of Shame-Proof Parenting, told HuffPost. That means saying sorry for yelling or using a harsh tone — not for getting angry, upset or frustrated in the first place.

2. Take responsibility for your reactions and acknowledge the hurt they caused

Don’t fall into the trap of the half-hearted apology. Avoid statements like: “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings” or “I’m sorry, but I only raised my voice because you made a huge mess in the kitchen.” Conditional words like “if” or “but” negate the apology because they show a lack of accountability for your wrongdoing and pass the blame onto your child

“Or we place responsibility on the other person altogether: I’m sorry you got upset,” clinical psychologist Ashurina Ream, who goes by @psychedmommy on Instagram, told HuffPost. “Effective apologies take full ownership of the wrongdoing and express understanding of how it impacted the other person.”

You can do this by owning up to where you went wrong — in this case, that you lost your temper — and also acknowledging how that affected your child.

Ream offered another suggestion: “I’m sorry I yelled when I got mad. I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to think about you and your feelings. You must have been scared or worried when I was yelling,” Ream said.

You can also ask your kid about how they experienced the situation. Samudio suggested something like: “What did you notice/feel/think when I lost my temper?”

“Allowing your child to explore what they experienced without naming it for them gives them space to let you know what they felt or thought about the incident,” she said.

3. Offer reassurance

Smith emphasised the importance of reassuring your child that they are not to blame for how you reacted to the situation.

“Children are trying to make sense of the world. When something happens, they want to know why. If you don’t give them an explanation for you losing your temper and own it, they’ll blame themselves,” he said. “This can cause them to develop the response of wrongly taking on responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviours, which is the source of a number of mental health problems.”

He suggested saying something like: “You didn’t deserve that. My yelling was about me, not about you” or “What you did was wrong, but how I responded to you was wrong, too.”

“Effective apologies take full ownership of the wrongdoing and express understanding of how it impacted the other person.”

- Ashurina Ream, psychologist

You might also do this by saying, “I love you very much. I can be mad and love you at the same time,” Ream suggested.

“Without proper repair, our kids ultimately start to believe there’s something wrong with them in the relationship. That they — as a person — are the reason for the conflict,” she said. “It’s important to reassure your child that this isn’t the case and that you love them regardless of what’s happening in the relationship.”

4. Commit to doing better in the future

Your apology should always include a plan for how you’ll do better going forward — “a way to mitigate what caused the argument in the first place,” Ream said.

“In the future, when I get mad, I’ll remember to take deep breaths or go to my calm-down space,” she suggested.

If you say you’re going to work on managing your temper, you need to actually make an effort to do so.

“When we apologise and sincerely mean it, then we need to take steps to change our behaviour,” Smith said. “This is something we want from our child, so, again, we need to model it for them.”

How to put it all together

Below are some short therapist-backed scripts to keep in your pocket for the next time you lose your cool. You can adjust the wording as you see fit, as long as you’re hitting on the major points discussed above:

  • “My reaction was really big, and I am sorry. That must have felt scary. I love you even when I get angry. I will work on responding better next time.” This validates how your behaviour made them feel and takes responsibility for your actions, “which shows them how to be accountable, and reiterate that you are a safe, loving parent,” Pressman said.
  • “Whoa, I really blew that moment; that was not your fault. Can we have a do-over? If I could say that again, I would not yell.” Here you’re again demonstrating your accountability while also acknowledging that parents are fallible, too, and sharing how you’d handle things differently next time, Pressman said.
  • “Hey, I just want to say I’m sorry for how I reacted. I want you to know that you can come to me for anything and I will work on hearing you rather than jumping in with anger. I care much more about the fact that you came to me than anything I could be upset about. I love you so much.” In this example, “you are reinforcing that your child can trust you and come to you for anything,” Pressman said. “Remember, you can’t help a child that hides from you, but you can help one that feels safe talking to you.”

This kind of repair work is powerful in that it not only teaches our kids how to be accountable for when they mess up, but it also shows that we can be compassionate toward ourselves when mistakes happen.

“We want our children to see that we forgive our own mistakes so that they, too, can forgive themselves when they inevitably make their own,” Pressman said.