You know how the flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child put on his? Dealing with emotion is like that--take care of yourself first. Being angry isn't the problem, says Dr. Wolf. It's how you handle your anger: "Vowing not to get mad sets up an impossible standard, and you'll just end up feeling bad. And kids know when you're annoyed even if you try to hide it. What you really need to do is limit your anger." If you grew up in a boisterous family where everybody yelled, curbing how you express your emotions can be difficult, says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles. "You have to learn to vent in a different way: Instead of saying, 'You bad boy,' you can say, 'Ahhhhhhhhhhh!' loudly. That way, you let off some steam and your child doesn't feel belittled."
Calming down will not only help you handle the situation but enable your child to hear you. "If you shout, you'll undermine what you're trying to teach because your child will pay attention to your intense emotion, not to the wrongdoing," says Denis Donovan, M.D., director of the Children's Center for Developmental Psychiatry, in St. Petersburg, Florida.