Children get angry for various reasons. They may have a problem with authoritative parents and teachers. They may not be able to handle rejection from peers. Whatever the case, we need to prepare children to deal with the incidents or things that provoke anger. As we have learned from various school shootings-in our neighborhood and abroad-children who are unequipped to manage frustration tend to lash out, hurting themselves and others around them. It is our job to teach children how to handle anger in a more constructive way:
Has your child ever become angry with you? Perhaps you punished him, and he “eyeballed” you or hollered out loud. As adults, we become so enraged by children’s aggressive reactions that we give them irrational demands like, “Get that look off your face!” or “Stop that crying!” Such comments only cause children to suppress their anger, holding it in while plotting ways to make you cry. Suppressed anger can be just as bad as aggressive anger, causing children to harbor animosity toward the persons or situations that made them upset.
Instead, tell your child that you are displeased with his shouting and eye-rolling. Have him take a time-out in another room. Then, several minutes later, inform him of the things you will not tolerate and follow the steps below.
If you’ve ever played sports, jogged, or danced vigorously, then you know how it feels to exude lots of energy-your body may feel worn-out, but you also feel relaxed, calm, a little less stressed. Anger arouses energy, putting you in “fight or flight” mode. By expending some of that energy through physical exercise, you trick your body into thinking it has handled the anger-causing situation when really all it does is make you less likely to fight or fly off the handle.
Have your child do things like jump rope, throw pillows, or take a run. Give them these anger-managing strategies ahead of time. Post them on their bedroom wall or discuss the strategies with them at dinner. Talk with your child’s teacher if you know your child often gets angry at school. Some teachers might even allow your child to step out of the classroom for one of these anger-expending activities. It may prevent a bad situation from becoming worse.
After defusing the anger, prevent it from resurfacing by dealing with the root of the anger. Have your child create an anger web. Draw a circle in the center of a sheet of paper and write in it the thing that made him or her upset. Then have your child step away for a few minutes, come back to the paper, and write possible solutions surrounding the problem. If your child is angry because they can’t solve a math problem, have him or her brainstorm ways to get help, such as ask the teacher, get a study buddy, or check the textbook.
Also, teach your children how to make a difference with their anger. If they are angry because a sales clerk was rude, have them speak with the clerk’s manager or write a letter to the store’s corporate office. If a police officer upsets your child by abusing his or her authority, have your child file an officer complaint or write a letter to the editor of a newspaper detailing the issue. Warn your child that not all problems are solved overnight, but let them know that no problem is catastrophic.
Remember that your children learn how to handle anger by watching you. So be aware of how you handle anger. Do you yell at telemarketers when they call you during dinner? Do you become distant after having a disagreement with your spouse? If we want children to grow up and be productive citizens, we need to show them appropriate ways of handling their emotions. So think before you give in to your own anger next time. Reflect on what you would want your child to do in a similar situation.
Keep in mind that parenting is a big responsibility and your children depend on you to not only tell, but show them what’s right.