What is anger?
Angry feelings are normal emotional reactions to daily stresses in our lives that range from irritated to enraged. It’s natural for children to experience emotions of anger but it’s critical to teach them proper coping mechanisms so that they do not express these feelings in an uncontrollable manner.
The goal as a parent is not to completely stop the angry emotion since they are hardwired into our brain. The goal is to teach the children to develop self-control and make appropriate choices regarding how to handle these feelings.
Strategies for teach children to handling anger appropriately
1. Lead by example – Research shows that children model their parents so if the parent blows up in fits of rage in front of a child. The child will learn to use anger as a coping mechanism for their situations in their lives.
2. Teach empathy and tolerance – Empathy is the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Children that understand the feelings of others deal better with disagreements with other children.
3. Remain calm – Yelling at angry children to control themselves will only increase the intensity of the outburst. Remaining calm yourself will assist the child caught by the anger bee.
4. Use positive self-talk – Teach children to stay in control by saying affirmations. Affirmations are simple positive messages that the child can say to themselves in stressful situations. For example, here’s a few that a child could learn: “Stop and calm down”, “Take a deep breath”, “Stay in control”, or “I can handle this”. Suggest a few to your child and practice it with them. The more you practice it with them the more likely they will use it during an anger driven situation.
5. Teach them deep breathing – During an angry episode, our breathing changes to quick short breathes. This breathing causes a cascade of physiological changes in our body that creates anger. By learning to controlled, deep breathing, children can short circuit the angry response. Teach your child to inhale to a 5 counts, then hold for a 2 counts, and exhale for a 5 counts. For young kids, I call this breathing exercise “Dragon’s breath”. Have them pretend that they are breathing out fire with the exhale and that the fire is the anger leaving the body.
6. Identify anger triggers – Most children respond to specific triggers that cause anger. Ask your child “What situations make you angry?” The answer will vary from frustrations over homework to bullying at school. Then, talk about solutions that are more appropriate to the problem situation. You can even rehearse the scenario by role-playing.
7. Watch for the warning signs – When anger starts to arise, they will show signs. Tell your child that it’s important to listen to the warning signs. Ask your child what the specific warning signs that show that they are getting upset. Some examples of signs could be talking louder, heart pounding, face getting red, clenching fists, or breathing faster. Once you identify the signs, start pointing them out when they show signs of getting upset. For example, “I see your breathing fast” “Looks like you are getting anger” “You’re clenching your fist. Are you getting upset.” This self-awareness will snap the child back into reality and help them manage the anger early – before it’s out of control.
The secret to successful anger management is to intervene early. Most children use anger because it is their only coping mechanism for daily stress. By identifying problem situations and providing them new techniques for coping, you will keep the anger bee from grabbing hold of your child.