Helping Children Deal With Their Anger
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Anger is like the mercury in a
thermometer. When left unchecked the intensity of the emotion increases
from frustration to anger and then to other things like rage and
bitterness. As the intensity builds, people shut themselves off from
others and relationships close down. Having a plan to deal with anger can
limit the intensity and prevent much of the destruction anger tends to
Most families dont have a
plan for anger. They somehow just continue on, hoping things will get
better. Many families dont resolve their anger, but just keep trying to
start over. Starting over may be helpful at times, but it tends to ignore
the problem rather than address it. Here are some ideas for dealing with
anger in your family.
1. Anger is good for
identifying problems but not good for solving them.
One of the problems people
face is the guilt they feel after theyve gotten angry. This further
complicates the situation. God created us as emotional beings and emotions
are helpful for giving us cues about our environment. Anger, in
particular, points out problems. It reveals things that are wrong. Some of
those things are inside of us and require adjustments to expectations or
demands. Other problems are outside of us and need to be addressed in a
constructive way. Helping children understand that anger is good for
identifying problems but not good for solving them is the first step
toward a healthy anger management plan.
2. Identify the early warning
signs of anger.
Children often dont
recognize anger. In fact, many times they act out before they realize what
happened. Identifying early warning signs helps children become more aware of their feelings,
which in turn gives them more opportunity to control their responses to
these feelings. How can you
tell when youre getting frustrated? How can your children identify
frustration before it gets out of control?
Here are some common cues in
children which indicate that they are becoming angry and may be about
to lose control:
increased intensity of
speech or behavior
unkind words or the tone of
voice changes to whining or yelling
unresponsiveness, or being easily provoked
noises with the mouth like
growls or deep breathing
squinting, rolling the eyes,
or other facial expressions
recognize the cues that your child is beginning to get frustrated. Look
for signs that come before the eruption. Once you know the cues, begin to
point them out to your child. Make observations and teach your child to
recognize those signs. Eventually children will be able to see their own
frustration and anger and choose appropriate responses before its too
late. Theyll be able to move from the emotion to the right actions, but
first they must be able to recognize the cues that anger is intensifying.
3. Step Back.
Teach your child to take a
break from the difficult situation and to get alone for a few minutes. One
of the healthiest responses to anger at any of its stages is to step back.
During that time the child can rethink the situation, calm down and
determine what to do next. Frustrations can easily build, rage can be
destructive, and bitterness is always damaging to the one who is angry.
Stepping back can help the child stop the progression and determine to
The size of the break is
determined by the intensity of the emotion. A child who is simply
frustrated may just take a deep breath. The child who is enraged probably
needs to leave the room and settle down.
4. Choose a better response.
After the child has stepped
back and settled down, then its time to decide on a more appropriate
response to the situation. But what should they do? Parents who address
anger in their children often respond negatively, pointing out the wrong
without suggesting alternatives.
There are three positive
choices: talk about it, get help, or slow down and persevere. Simplifying
the choices makes the decision process easier. Even young children can
learn to respond constructively to frustration when they know there are three choices.
These choices are actually skills to be learned. Children often
misuse them or overly rely on just one. Take time to teach your children
these skills and practice them as responses to angry feelings.
5. Never try to reason with a
child who is enraged.
Sometimes children become
enraged. The primary way to tell when children are enraged is that they
can no longer think rationally and their anger is now controlling them.
Unfortunately, many parents try to talk their children out of anger, often
leading to more intensity. The child who is enraged has lost control. You
may see clenched fists, squinting eyes or a host of venting behaviors.
Anger is one of those emotions that can grab you before you know whats
happening. The intensity can build from frustration to anger to rage
before anyone realizes it.
Whether its the
two-year-old temper tantrum or the 14 year-old ranting and raving, dont
get sucked into dialog. It only escalates the problem. Talking about it
is important but wait until after the child has settled down.
6. When emotions get out of
control, take a break from the dialog.
Sometimes parents and children
are having a discussion about something and tempers flare. Mean words
often push buttons which motivate more mean words and anger escalates.
Stop the process, take a break and resume the dialog after people have
7. Be proactive in teaching children
management, anger control, rage reduction and releasing bitterness.
Model, discuss, read and teach
your children about anger. There are several good books on this subject
available, which are written for children at various age levels. Talk
about examples of frustration and anger seen in children's videos. Talk
about appropriate responses. Work together as a family to identify anger
and choose constructive solutions.
8. When anger problems seem
out of control or you just dont know what to do, get help.
Sometimes a third party can
provide the helpful suggestions and guidelines to motivate your family to
deal with anger in a more helpful way. Children can begin to develop
bitterness and resentment in their lives and may need help to deal with
it. Unresolved anger can create problems in relationships later on.
Children do not grow out of bitterness, they grow into it. Professional
help may be needed.
This material is taken from chapter 5 of the
Improvement, The Parenting Book You Can Read to Your Kids .
The book also contains other ideas which will help your children
learn to control their anger and practical ways that you as
a parent can teach them. A CD entitled, Helping
Children Deal with Anger is also available. You can
play this CD with children to develop an anger management plan
together as a family.