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Chapter 9: Keep Your Cool Toolset                                                          231





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Most houses have windows that provide fresh air and sunlight. A house without windows is a dark and dreary place. It is hard to see where we are, where we’re going, and what we’re doing. Windows also let out extra heat and toxic fumes that can build up inside. Without ventilation, these poisons can cause discomfort, illness, or even death.

People need a different kind of light‚ÄĒa clear vision of what‚Äôs going on inside us. We need to see clearly what we are feeling, what we are doing, and where we are going. Without this sense of direction, we bump into obstacles and become lost. We also need a way to rid our bodies of toxic emotions. When there are no healthy outlets for angry emotions, the chemicals and energy they produce can bring emotional or physical discomfort, illness, or even death. We need to learn how to control our bodies and minds so we can release chronic anger and stress in healthy ways.



When dealing with a problem, we control our anger first, so we can keep our logic online and respond helpfully. This chapter encourages us to consider seven important ideas:

    1. Anger is a natural human emotion‚ÄĒbut there are healthy and unhealthy ways to express it.
    2. Events and other people do not cause our anger and stress. Our beliefs about the people and events affect our feelings and responses.
    3. We can stop or control the anger cycle by choosing to control our reactions.
    4. We can have different styles of ‚Äúrecharging‚ÄĚ our energy and learn techniques, consistent with our style, that prevent and relieve stress buildups.
    5. There are healthy, assertive ways to relieve the energy anger causes‚ÄĒverbally and physically.
    6. Once we can identify someone’s individual anger and stress style, we can design an individualized anger and stress management plan for ourselves and our children.
    7. We can use these skills to defuse others’ anger and teach children healthy stress and anger management skills.



It is important to use the Keep Your Cool Toolset before any of the other tools in the Parent Problem Toolbox, because anger can turn our tools into weapons‚ÄĒto blame or get revenge. These tactics only cause more defensiveness and rebellious behavior. As with all the tools, we can use the Keep Your Cool Toolset in any relationship, because we can feel angry and stressed in situations that have nothing to do with parenting.



Anger is a physical and emotional reaction to a perceived threat.

In prehistoric times, humans faced many dangerous situations (like large animals), so the body developed the ability to generate extra strength and energy to stay and fight or quickly escape the danger.


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When this fight-or-flight response kicks in, adrenaline dramatically increases, the heart pumps faster, blood pressure rises, and blood flows faster. The body releases chemicals that make muscles tense, stronger, quicker, and prepared for action (either fighting or fleeing). These chemicals also cause people to lose some of their self-control, which could cause them to wait before acting. (A dangerous thing to do when a large animal is attacking!)

As the human brain developed, people learned how to better control their environment. They had less need for fighting or fleeing and learned to use their brains to analyze and solve problems. Nevertheless, our bodies still have this automatic fight-or-flight response, which we still need in emergencies.

Busy lifestyles can frequently trigger the fight-or-flight response. Traffic jams, hectic schedules, annoying interruptions, and conflicts with others are just a few of the events that can trigger chemical reactions in the body. If the body triggers these reactions daily, the extra tension and stress chemicals can seem normal, but their damaging effects can go unnoticed‚ÄĒuntil it‚Äôs too late.

If people don‚Äôt use these extra chemicals for action, the buildup hurts the body. Fat, which is sent to the blood for energy to fight or run, turns into cholesterol, which causes heart disease and eventual death. Chronic anger and stress can also cause high blood pressure, headaches, stomachaches, skin irritations, digestive problems, and eating disorders. Nonphysical problems can develop, too. People can become accident-prone and their hostility, sarcasm, and critical attitudes can destroy their relationships with others. Without healthy outlets for these extra emotions and chemicals, the body acts like a car going 9000 r.p.m. in neutral‚ÄĒeventually, it burns out.


Healthy  Anger

Conflicts are unavoidable when two or more people with individual opinions and personalities live together. How people handle these conflicts depends on their skills and choices.

Destructive anger destroys relationships and hurts the body.
Constructive anger uses the extra energy from conflicts to resolve them peacefully and respectfully.

When parents try to control their children, they often forget to control their own behavior. Self-control is more difficult when we are angry. Emotions are high, which lowers our ability to think straight. To respond effectively to problems, we need to ease our physical reaction to stress and increase our ability to think clearly. Instead of losing our temper, we can use it in positive ways to solve the problem.

Destructive anger hurts others by trying to control them, win arguments, or get revenge. It gets results because angry reactions get attention. The strength and tension in someone’s face can cause fear and obedience. However, anger may lose its effectiveness over time. People build walls to protect themselves from the angry person and their own feelings and reactions. What once only took a raised voice can later take yelling, threats, or even punishment to get the same results. This cycle has serious long-term consequences on the relationship and the self-esteem of the people in it.

Constructive anger separates feeling angry from acting angry. It releases the energy created by anger and stress in healthy ways, using it to help resolve the conflict. It is possible to be angry and  respond assertively and respectfully. Healthy conflict can provide opportunities to practice anger management, negotiation, and problem solving.


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The  abc’s  of  Constructive Anger/Stress  Management

Step  C1:

a.  Become  aware  of  your  anger/stress  cycle.  (Keep Your Cool  Toolset)
b.  Relieve  the  pressure  of  the  anger/stress.  (Keep Your  Cool  Toolset)
c.  Plan  an  assertive  response  to  the  problem.  (Clear Communication  Toolset)

In this chapter, we learn how to do steps a and b, using the Keep Your Cool Toolset. These two steps get our emotions under control and our logic online. Once we have calmed down enough to think clearly about how we want to handle the situation, we can move to Step c and use the Clear Communication Toolset to formulate our response. This a-b-c process can take a split second, unless we are extremely angry. In that case, we control our anger long enough to respond to the problem helpfully. Then we take time to deal with our remaining feelings in a healthy way.


a.¬† Become¬† Aware¬† of¬† Your¬† Stress/Anger¬† Cycle¬†‚ėÜ‚ėÜ‚ėÜ‚ėÜ

If we understand how anger eruptions happen, we can recognize unhealthy anger, unhelpful beliefs and responses, break unhealthy reaction habits, and replace them with healthier alternatives for relieving stress and expressing anger.



Think about a situation that sometimes makes you angry, such as a traffic jam. Most of us can remember a time when we got frustrated and angry and a time when we handled the same situation calmly. Most people mistakenly believe that other people and events cause their anger and stress. If this was true, our reaction would always be the same‚ÄĒwe would always get angry. Since this doesn‚Äôt happen, there must be another factor.

The process of getting angry can take a split-second, but if we slow down and look at what’s really happening, we see there are actually four steps involved1 :

First, an event happens. Then, in our minds, we tell ourselves something‚ÄĒit could be accurate or inaccurate, rational or irrational, helpful or unhelpful. The feelings we experience are a direct result of what we tell ourselves‚ÄĒwhat we believe the event means. We actually talk ourselves into believing we should feel a certain emotion. Finally, based on our feelings and beliefs, we respond. We actually choose our feelings, but are rarely aware of this amazingly quick process.

Remember in the Child Problem Toolbox, when we learned that anger is a secondary emotion? It is important to remember this now. Anger can result from a build up of other emotions‚ÄĒfrustration, hurt, annoyance, or harassment. If we get in touch with these primary emotions, we can tap into the real cause of our anger.

Our belief about the event causes our feelings‚ÄĒand our feelings influence our response. If our beliefs are inaccurate, our feelings will be irrational and so will our response. If we view the event in rational, helpful ways, we see our primary feelings more easily. This helps us respond more effectively.


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Here’s an example of how positive and negative beliefs can influence a parent’s response to the same situation:

Negative  Outcome

  Event:      Joey complains about the food his father serves for dinner.

The father thinks, ‚ÄúHe is so¬†ungrateful!¬†After all the time I spent cooking dinner,¬†the least he could do¬†is show some appreciation. If¬†I¬†had ever complained about¬†food¬†when I was a kid, I would have gotten¬†no¬†dinner!‚ÄĚ


Put out, taken advantage of, resentful, and angry.


The father calls Joey ‚Äúungrateful,‚ÄĚ lectures him about starving kids in Africa, and¬†tells him ‚Äúwhen I was a kid . . .‚ÄĚ stories. The father sends Joey to bed without¬†dinner, then stews about it through the rest of the meal. He has indigestion all evening¬†and blames Joey for making him sick.

Positive  Outcome

  Event:     Joey complains about the food his father serves for dinner.

The father thinks, ‚ÄúI wish¬†he wouldn‚Äôt complain after I‚Äôve taken the time to cook a¬†meal.¬†I‚Äôd like¬†him to appreciate my efforts, even if he doesn‚Äôt like it.¬†I can¬†use this¬†to¬†teach¬†Joey about good manners.‚ÄĚ


 Unappreciated, offended by impolite comment, motivated to prevent similar behavior in the future. 


The father says, ‚ÄúPeople don‚Äôt like it when others criticize their cooking. It hurts¬†their feelings, especially since they made the time and effort to cook something. We¬†don‚Äôt have to like what people fix, but we can still be polite to the cook. We can take¬†small servings and say ‚Äėno, thank you‚Äô to more.‚Ä̬†

As you can see, the key step in anger control is how we choose to interpret events. That is where the chain reaction really starts.



If we can identify and change our self-talk, we can better manage our anger. When we choose our beliefs, we put things in perspective. We get in touch with our primary, rational feelings, instead of getting hooked into the anger trap. 

Unhelpful  beliefs:

  • Use absolute words,¬†such as¬†should, must, have to, need, always,¬†and¬†never. These¬†words lock us into all-or-nothing thinking which keeps us from thinking about other perspectives, feelings, and responses.
  • Make assumptions¬†about the other person‚Äôs motives or how people are¬†¬†supposed¬†¬†to¬†feel and act in similar situations.
  • Judge others‚Äô feelings/beliefs¬†as wrong or take their comments and actions personally.

Helpful,  assertive  beliefs:

  • Use flexible, positive words¬†such as,¬†I can, I choose, I wish, I hope, I don‚Äôt like,¬†and¬†I would prefer.
  • Consider other points of view.
  • Are objective¬†and nonjudgmental.
  • Focus on solutions,¬†rather than blame.


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Since our choice of beliefs directly affects our feelings and response, let’s look at the four styles of anger and the beliefs behind each style. People usually develop these beliefs in childhood when they see and hear others expressing anger. 


Passive anger is unexpressed. People stuff their anger or only hint at it.
Aggressive anger explodes and hurts people (physically or emotionally).
Passive-Aggressive anger hurts others (aggressive) in passive ways.
Assertive anger is healthy and honest without hurting others.

Passive  Anger

Passive anger, or stuffing feelings, is usually the result of believing that anger is bad. It can have one or more of the following beliefs:
  • If I express my anger, I might upset the other person and then that person won‚Äôt like me anymore.
  • Expressing anger is childish and bad. I must always be in control of myself.
  • I must be a perfect parent‚ÄĒwho is always calm, cool, and collected.
  • I must avoid conflict at all cost. To do this, I must avoid expressing my feelings, or ignore what is happening, even if others violate my rights.

People who stuff their anger were often taught as children that anger is an unacceptable emotion. If they expressed anger, they got sent to bed or to a corner. This taught them to not show their anger. The anger, however, didn’t just disappear. They learned ways to deny and avoid their feelings or cover them up with other thoughts, feelings, and actions. Some people turn their anger inward, which can lead to harmful habits such as drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression, sleep disorders, and physical illnesses. Instead of trying to stuff the anger altogether, these people can learn to express it in nondestructive ways.


Aggressive  Anger

Aggressive anger explodes at targets. It is the result of believing that other people make us angry so they should be punished for upsetting us. Aggressive people control their anger by trying to control the person they blame for causing the anger. Aggressive anger can have one or more of the following beliefs:

  • People who hurt me should be punished and controlled. It‚Äôs their fault I‚Äôm angry. If they are wrong or treat me unfairly, I must do something to make them stop or change.
  • I am the boss and my children must not forget that.
  • If my children do not act properly at all times, they‚Äôre bad and should be punished for making me look bad.

People who act out their anger aggressively often feel relief after the outburst, but those on the receiving end usually feel hurt or scared. People who express their anger aggressively usually pass on blame to others. This eases their load and helps them avoid responsibility. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not my fault!‚ÄĚ Sometimes they hold their anger until they can find a target. Children, who naturally misbehave at times, are often targets for a parent‚Äôs blame. Parents who save their anger, waiting for a target, often erupt when their children misbehave and overreact to the child‚Äôs misbehavior. They let out not only their valid concerns, but also their stored up anger and blame from previous events.


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Passive-Aggressive  Anger

Passive-aggressive anger is a less obvious form of aggression. The most common form is to outwardly deny anger, but do hurtful things that only angry people would do. A few examples are the silent treatment, conveniently forgetting, or ignoring. Defiant compliance is obeying a command in a hurtful way to get revenge. (For example, cutting the grass and all the flower beds.) Passive-aggressive anger can also be outwardly passive and inwardly aggressive, as in putting ourselves down to others. Passive-aggressive anger can have any of the beliefs listed so far and any of the following beliefs:

    • If my children really loved me, they would want to please me. I shouldn‚Äôt have to ask them.
    • I am sacrificing the best years of my life for my children. They should show more gratitude.
    • I can‚Äôt help how I feel and act. It‚Äôs all because of my past. It‚Äôs their (the event‚Äôs) fault.
    • I don‚Äôt want anyone to know I‚Äôm angry, but I‚Äôve got to say or do something to get revenge on this person for hurting me.¬†

Assertive  Anger

Assertive anger expresses emotions honestly without hurting our self or others in the process. It appropriately expresses feelings after deciding how to best express the anger. Assertive anger tries to fix the problem, not fix the blame. It can have one or more of the following beliefs:

    • While things might happen or people might do things I don‚Äôt like, they don‚Äôt¬†make¬†me angry. I have a¬†choice¬†about my feelings and whether to be angry.¬†
    • I can choose my beliefs and find healthy ways to express my feelings and needs.
    • I can focus on win/win solutions, instead of blaming or trying to change others.


Change                                                                                                                    To

I need …………………………………………………………………………………………………… I want¬†
I have to …………………………………………………………………………………………….. I’d like to
I should or I must ……………………………………………………………………………….. I choose
They should …………………………………………………………………………… I wish they would
I must or I want …………………………………………………………………………… I would prefer
I can’t ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. I can
This must happen ……………………………………………….. I wish or I’d like this to happen
I expect ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. I hope


When we stop to examine our beliefs, we become aware of our primary feelings. But we can still get hooked into looking at the conflict from our personal, biased view. To grasp and maintain an objective perspective, try asking the following questions:

1.   Is this a situation I can change? Even if we are only two percent of the problem, we can change that two percent. If the situation is out of our control, we may need to adjust to the situation and accept it. To do this we can step over it or find some humor in it (which is usually best in these situations). We may need to shift our focus from resisting what is happening to planning how we can live with it.

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A Personal Story. When I worked at a runaway shelter, there were frequently parents who were unwilling to change in order to resolve the problems with their teens. There wasn’t any blatant abuse or neglect (so removal from the home was not an option), but it was clearly difficult for these teens to get along with their parents. In these situations, our case plans often focused on helping the teens accept that their parents might not change and find a way to love their parents in spite of their behavior. We’d help the teens plan ways to live in their home environment, until they turned 18. Beyond independent living skills, we taught them how to choose helpful attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that might help them do their part to improve the family, whether their parents ever met them halfway.

  2.   How important is this? Is this issue really important in the scheme of life? Is it worth getting upset over? Is a higher principle involved? Is serious danger present? If we can’t answer yes to one of these questions, we’ve probably lost our perspective and our anger is causing us to blow things out of proportion.

If we weigh the importance of the problem against the consequences of our anger to the person and our relationship, we can pick our battles carefully. Major issues usually involve physical, emotional, or moral danger: serious SHARP RV issues. Minor issues are usually a matter of preference: food, clothing, hair styles, and housecleaning habits. We can still address these problems, but not make the issue more important than our relationship or inner peace.

For example, if children refuse to use safety gear (such as a bicycle helmet or car seat), we need to stand our ground more firmly than if children refuse to bathe, but are not filthy. The cost of arguing about safety gear is worth the benefit; it could save their lives. The cost of forcing a bath, which could increase power struggles, damage the relationship, or create a hatred for baths, is not worth the benefit; children are more clean than they already were. 

If we experience more than two or three unhealthy anger episodes per day, our anger could be greatly affecting our body or relationships. And if more than a fourth of our angry events are not worth the cost, we are probably having too many of them.

  3.   Is there another way to solve this problem besides getting angry? What are our goals? Are we trying to win or make someone lose? Are we really interested in solving the problem with a win/win solution? If we aren’t ready to let go of our anger, we go to Step b, Relieving the Pressure of Anger/Stress, before we respond. Once we get the anger out of our system, we can do something constructive to solve the problem. If we are ready to respond, we skip the next step and go to Step c, Plan an Assertive Response (Clear Communication Toolset).