Foster Parent Homework 1: Anger Management
We live in a society that tells us that anger is bad. One of the myths about anger management is that anger should be eliminated. However, it is a natural emotion and it is not possible to eliminate it. As adults we know that conflicts arise in our everyday lives; schedule conflicts, relationship conflicts, work conflicts, etc. As a foster parent you face additional issues; children with behavior and medical problems, additional time commitments, birth family issues and agency issues. The additional stress can result in anger: anger at children and family members, at the agency, at circumstances at which no one can control and at yourself. What can you do with this anger? And how do you know when anger has become a problem?
The dictionary describes anger as a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility. It is a completely normal, unavoidable human emotion. Anger can be described by words such as irritation, annoyance, rage and fury. There are varying degrees of anger and numerous ways of expressing anger. Some are healthy; some are not so healthy. Due to the fact that you are in a care giving position it is essential that you learn to recognize the signals that you are angry and then learn to constructively deal with that anger. In addition to it being beneficial to your emotional and physical health you are also role modeling positive ways of dealing with difficult situations to the children in your care, many of whom have learned that anger is something to be feared, and many of whom have anger that they don’t know what to do with. Dealing with anger constructively will benefit you as well as your whole family.
Perhaps as you are reading this you are saying to yourself,” I don’t have an anger problem”. In fact, people view you as even- tempered, quiet, or “nice”. Keep in mind it is not just the hot head that has no problems letting people know he is angry who may have anger management issues. It’s the people who suppress their anger as well. By not dealing with issues that anger you and pretending that you are not bothered, you can set yourself up for problems too. Feelings that are not dealt with will eventually come out, sometimes in an explosive way over something insignificant, or it may be masked as sarcasm, cynicism, depression, passive aggressive behavior, overeating or other health problems. None of these responses are healthy for you or for your relationships.
Some emotional symptoms of anger issues may be: Feelings of anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, resentful, frustrated, sarcasm, numbness, having revengeful fantasies. Some physical symptoms can include: headaches, stomachaches, trouble sleeping, fatigue and muscle tension. If you are having any of these symptoms ask yourself what is the underlying cause. Are you holding on to resentments or past anger?
Once you have identified that you are angry, whether it be frequent outbursts or suppressed anger, what do you do next? Next you need to find healthy ways to deal with your anger. Remind yourself the goal is not to rid your life of anger, because that is not realistic. Often times anger can be a great motivator to change things. It can be a signal to us that we need to make a change in our lives. Try to use anger as constructively as possible.
The next time you feel yourself becoming angry (i.e. your speech starts getting louder and quicker, you can feel your body temperature begin to rise, you are clenching your jaw or your fists) take a time out. We spend a great deal of time learning how to use time out as a technique for children, but it can be useful for us as adults as well. Go to another room, take some deep breaths, listen to soothing music, read a favorite passage, find an activity that will help you to relax and calm down. Keep in mind if you are caring for children, you need to make sure that they are in a safe environment before you do this. This may mean that they need to go to their room or be put in a playpen for a few moments while you get your emotions under control. Safety always needs to be the first issue.
Once you have gotten your emotions under control you need to identify the source of your anger. Are the children’s behaviors wearing you down? Is your worker running late and that makes for a tight schedule for the rest of your day? Perhaps you are just having a rough day or week. If you have a list of things that are making you angry try to categorize them so that you can make them more manageable to address i.e. behavior issues, schedule issues, relationship issues, etc.
After identifying the source of your anger you need to begin to make a plan to address the issue. If the children’s behavior is an issue, you need to assess: Do you need to request therapeutic intervention? Do you need to set up a behavior management plan for them? Do they just need some activities to help them get rid of the extra energy that they have? If you are having issues with a relationship, be it agency, colleague or spouse, you need to communicate the issue to that person. Many people are reluctant to do this, as they fear that addressing the issue will make for more tension in the relationship. Actually, the opposite is true. By expressing your concern you will be less resentful and the issue can be addressed. Expressing your issue can be done in a non threatening, constructive manner. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to use an “ I feel statement”. “ I feel rushed when our appointment gets pushed back this late. I have a lot that I need to speak to you about and our home schedule is pretty hectic. I recognize that your schedule is pretty crazy, too. In the future if you are going to be more than 30 minutes late I will need to reschedule.” You have stated your issue without blaming, as well made a reasonable plan for how you will handle the situation should it come up again in the future. While you can’t control anyone else’s behavior you have stated how you will behave next time.
The whole point of making a plan is that you avoid acting on impulse. It is when we act on impulse that we say and do things that may further damage relationships. Or, we do things that had we been more rational we would not have done. Our emotions can make us behave irrationally. Therefore, time out and a plan for the future are essential.
While you can’t eliminate anger it would be wise to consider ways to prevent anger. We tend to become angry when we are overtired, over extended and overwhelmed. As caregivers you are in a position in which you have endless responsibilities. One of the first reactions to having so much to do is to begin to neglect yourself. You cut back on your amount of sleep so you can get more done. You don’t eat right because there isn’t time. Your days consist mostly of putting other’s needs first. After all, you are committed to helping the children that you come into contact with heal and move on to reach their fullest potential. Unfortunately, by not taking care of your needs you are undermining your potential to be the best caregiver you can be. While you’ve all heard it before,” you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.” How many of you are taking care of yourselves?
Try this quick activity. Fill a pitcher of water. Put out a glass for each person that you provide care for. Pour the water into the glasses. For some of you there will not be enough in the pitcher to fill all the glasses, for others there may be enough to fill the glasses one time, but what about when they need replenished? As a caregiver you pour part of your self into each of those you care for. If you do not take the time to refill, renourish, refresh yourself, you will become empty just like the pitcher of water.
By taking the time to use respite, participate in a hobby, spend time with friends and family who nourish you and make you laugh, you will find that you feel better. You may find that some of the things that you find irritating in your everyday life are easier to deal with. Look at your calendar and clear some time to take care of you, just as you always find time to take care of the other’s needs in your life.
While you are looking at your calendar, reassess your schedule. Are their commitments you may need to pull back on? Learn to say no and not feel guilty about it. Look at your daily routine. Are there times of day that you find your self more irritable than others? You would not ask your toddler to do certain activities at lunchtime or nap time because you know the results would be disaster. You are no different. If you are tired at the end of the day, let the children know that. If they need help with homework they need to ask you before dinner because after you don’t have the patience. Make the rule and stick to it. After you refuse to help them after dinner on several occasions they will learn that you mean it.
In using the time out and making a plan method as well as building in some prevention, you should find that you are more equipped to deal with the annoyances that will come up in your life. If you find that you still harbor a great deal of anger you should consider talking to a professional. Some people harbor great resentments and deep hurts from past events in their lives. Those who have had difficult childhoods, or been through traumatic events may need more support in letting go of their anger. While it may not be something you want to face you need to know that you are expending a great deal of energy in your daily life in trying to keep it buried. You will feel better after having dealt with it. And you will be in a position to better assist those whom you are caring for in dealing with the hurts that they need to confront as well.