Helping children learn to deal with anger effectively



I’m so mad!

Helping children learn to deal with anger effectively

Childhood Anger    If you have early school age children, you will have made it through the Terrible Twos. Yet most likely you are still dealing with anger outbursts and tantrums on a regular basis. 
    “Anger is a huge problem, not just in young children but our society in general,” says Brian Belden, PhD, a licensed developmental and child psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. “Helping our kids deal with it is one of the most important parts of raising children.” But how do we help?

What parents can do 
    The first thing we should do, according to Belden, is “look in the mirror,” so we can be good role models. To this end, Jerald and MaryAnn Long of Overland Park introduced the concept of self-control to their five children at a young age. “We allow them to be angry; we have just always tried our best to model good self-control.” Most parents will attest that this is about as big a challenge as there is to parenting. 
    When you get angry, make it a habit to verbalize your own emotions. “We first realized that our kids didn't have the vocabulary to express what they were truly feeling,” says Tricia Joyner Seaberg, another local mom with three sons ages three to seven. “Anger and acting out was always the answer, but in reality they were frustrated, disappointed, just feeling hurt, even anxious.” If we do a good job labeling our feelings, our kids will learn to do the same. 
    Parents often make the mistake of looking for a quick fix. When our child has a tantrum, we want her to stop, and when she doesn’t, we get angry in return. But we are much more helpful when we simply listen.

Ways to calm down 
    Ultimately, says Belden, we want to teach our children how to problem-solve, to learn what they can do when they feel themselves getting angry. Gaining distance and calming down are the first steps. For the Seabergs, that means sending the boys to their rooms where they can draw, yell, jump up and down, or throw paper balls – stashes of paper are at the ready solely for that purpose. They also encourage counting to 100 forward and backward, taking deep breaths, physical exercise--anything that helps a child relax will work. For some, a high energy activity like shooting hoops in the driveway works best.

A learning opportunity 
    “In each case, we wait until he’s calmed down, then we talk about it,” says Seaberg. The Longs also take time to talk through what has made their kids angry, before they “forgive and forget.” Helping your kids recognize that they’ve calmed themselves down, and praising them for it, is an important step, according to Belden. “When they learn from a young age that they can do it, they will use the same method again in the future.” 
    If your child’s way of calming down at first seems less than desirable, resist the urge to intervene, as long as he is not hurtful or destructive to people or property. His coping behaviour will likely go through stages. In our case, angry verbal outbursts from our now 13-year-old son still occur, but he no longer tries to dismantle his room like he did when he was 5. Actually, the room of a teenager is material for another story.

What you can do

  • be a good role model 
  • make a habit of verbalizing your emotions 
  • listen to your kids 
  • attend a parenting class (the “Love and Logic” series comes highly recommended by local parents: LoveAndLogic.com)

What your child can do

  • go to his room 
  • count to 100 
  • say the ABCs 
  • say every other letter of the ABCs 
  • take deep breaths 
  • sit in time-out 
  • read a book 
  • draw a picture 
  • listen to music 
  • shoot hoops 
  • punt the soccer ball 
  • go outside and yell at the top of her lungs 
  • run around the house

What NOT to do

  • punish your child for expressing his anger non-violently 
  • take ownership of your child’s problem 
  •  get drawn into an argument

Eva Melusine Thieme lives in Kansas City with her husband and four children.

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