Anger is not something that we are comfortable with. It is a normal feeling and it is a reaction to something that has been experienced. Maybe your child saw something, heard something, felt something or thought about something. Then (and here is an important piece) your child decided to react to that” something” with anger. Being angry is a decision that we all make, nothing or no one can “make” us angry.
Another thing about anger is that the ways that anger is shown is learned. That means that it can be unlearned and relearned. Anger is not a “reflex” reaction, it is not uncontrollable nor does it control us.
There are two parts to anger: 1) It begins in the brain and we decide to be angry. 2) We then decide what to do with the anger (how to express it).
I think it is important to teach this to our kids early on. We can model it everyday. “It makes me so mad when I stub my foot!” implies that the anger is out of our control but changing it to “I get so mad when I stub my toe!” says that you have made a choice to be angry and you are owning the anger. But let’s look at this statement closer. Why am I MAD when I stub my toe? Am I not hurt? Yes, I am hurt but anger is an emotion that we often use to mask other emotions like hurt or even sadness, disappointment or frustration.
So…. we need to also teach our children the vocabulary of the whole range of emotions: happy, excited, ecstatic, delighted, mad, furious, enraged, irritated, sad, disappointed, frustrated, etc. Go to http://www.psychpage.com/learning/library/assess/feelings.html for a complete list of feeling words.
Okay, so now our kids have the words, they need to express the emotion, in this case anger, in an acceptable way. It is NOT acceptable to use anger as an excuse to hurt themselves or others: body, or feelings, nor is it okay to treat people, animals or property without respect.
Kids need to know that it is okay to share their anger with whomever they’re angry with in a respectful way. If they cannot do it respectfully then they need time to cool down. They could do something physical, like ride a bike, go for a walk or run or punch a pillow. They could also count to 10 or 100! in order to give themselves a chance to cool down. They could go watch a movie, listen to their iPod or write the person an angry letter that they throw away.
When channeled effectively anger provides energy to make things right that are wrong. It also gives one courage to speak up with respect and it can give one courage to get a difficult job done. Anger holds a lot of energy and this energy can be powerful and useful.Anger sends messages. It may be saying, “Pay attention to me!”, “I don’t like …..!”, “Treat me fairly!” or “I am frustrated (or a number of other emotions)!” It is up to us to try an decipher these messages for our kids so that we can give them the appropriate language for expressing these messages. Who ever said that parenting was easy??!!!! Now we are detectives that need to decipher messages!
*So to sum everything up, here is a list of things to do to help children deal with anger.
1. Be a positive role model.
2. Identify and acknowledge the child’s feelings. (You’re really frustrated with that Math problem!)
3. Help the child become aware of signs of trouble.
4. Teach the child to become aware of the signs of anger in his/her body (clenched fists or jaw, feeling hot, sensations in stomach, tension in the body).
5. Stop, calm down, get the facts, think it through and talk it out.
6. Set limits.
7. Use positive time outs for dangerous or destructive behaviours (positive time outs are cooling off periods).
8. Use “I” messages. “I feel _______ when ________ because ______.
9. Problem solve.
10. Role play acceptable expressions of anger.
* Adapted from Terry Lowe (1998)
See A is for Anger or Anxiety for more information on the cycle of anger/anxiety