A New Way for Parents to Think About Anger, Anxiety, and Fear

In my previous article, we talked about a part of me that sometimes feels angry with my son.  When this happens, I don’t feel very loving or connected with him.  This angry part makes me want to yell and to quickly stop his problem behavior.  This is a normal part of parenting (and of being a human), but if this part is taking over, I probably won’t be very helpful for or for our relationship.  This way of thinking about our minds as made up of parts is called IFS, and it’s profoundly changed my relationships, especially with my kids. 

So let’s contrast the times when my angry part takes over with the times when I can lead from my heart.  In these times, I feel calm, curious, and connected with my kid.  There are times when he yells at his sister, and I can gently take him aside and be genuinely curious about what made him so upset.  I can listen and connect and guide him in ways that feel impactful. 

Maybe the most important concept in IFS is the idea that when parts take over, then we can’t lead from our authentic Self—We can’t lead from the heart.  And when we lead from an angry, scared, or upset part of us, we are missing an opportunity to connect with our kids, especially during times when they mess up.

But often I am able to help that angry part of me calm down before I talk with him.  I am able to slow down, take some deep breaths, and ask that part if it would be willing to give me some space, so I can lead from my heart.  That's right, I talk with the angry part of me.  It's weird, but it works.  Try it!

When I do this, my angry part often calms down, and what’s left is a feeling of compassion toward my son. 

I see there is pain or fear under his behavior, and I am able to open my heart to genuine curiosity about what this is like for him.  My anger and my desire to change him go to the background, and I just want to connect with my son.  This is what I call leading from my heart.  I can’t do it every time, but I try as often as possible. 

To help myself make this shift to leading from my heart, I’ve found it very helpful to move to a different room and change how our bodies are positioned.  So, after I’ve taken a few deep breaths and asked the part for some space, I say in a calm, soft voice, “Let’s go talk in your room, okay bud?” We sit on his bed, and I plop him on my lap, and just say, “It seems like you’re pretty upset.  Can you tell me about it?”  And in this moment, I feel genuinely curious.  I have no agenda other than to learn about his experience.  He feels that I’m leading from the heart, so he feels safe enough to be honest with me. And I just listen. 

The amazing thing is, more often than not, this gets him out of his negative funk.  When I stop trying to change him, it opens space for him to get out what’s been bothering him, and he goes back to his normal, happy self. 

That’s it for today.  If you have a teenager, stay tuned, because we’ll look at a story of a teen and his mom and ask her, “How do you feel toward your son right now?”  It’s amazing what can happen when we ask that question. 

If you want help with parts of you that get in the way of leading from your heart, you might invest in some simple, straight-forward parenting help.  Contact me directly for a free 30-minute consultation.