Help child talk about, manage anger.
From the first time a toddler shows frustration to the multiple times a teenager voices opposition to parental decisions, a child expresses anger thousands of times.
Parents' reactions to this anger may depend on their own feelings about anger as well as the intensity of the child's anger. Sometimes the child's outburst seems justified and understandable. Sometimes the behavior may be worrisome or even frightening.
What is my child feeling and trying to express? How do I respond? How do I help my child understand and manage anger?
In today's culture, anger is often seen as unwelcome and something to avoid. As human beings, we all feel anger. It is important for children to know that it is normal to feel angry and to learn some basic rules about expressing it:
It is OK to feel angry.
It is not OK to hurt others, hurt myself or hurt property.
It is OK to talk about anger.
These rules are easier to follow when we help our children recognize and manage their anger before they feel out of control.
Anger can be described in three phases: escalation, explosion or expression, and outcome.
Everyday events can trigger anger - when the bus is late, when a child is told he cannot have a toy, when a friend is rude.
Talk with your child about warning signs that anger is escalating. These can be physical (feeling flushed, increased heart rate, tension in the chest) or behavioral (pacing, raised voices, slamming a door). Thoughts can occur when feeling angry that color how the child reacts in the future to a similar experience - "No one cares how I feel," "Teachers or coaches don't like me" or "The world isn't fair."
By recognizing the warning signs of anger, a child is better able to choose another course. Instead of exploding, he can express his anger and underlying feelings. She can take space alone or ask for help from an adult. We can help him identify a happy memory or peaceful place that he can imagine as a way to change his reaction.
Together, we can brainstorm other responses such as yelling into a pillow, pursuing a safe physical activity or taking deep breaths.
Anger is often a secondary emotion triggered by feelings such as fear, rejection, humiliation, frustration or guilt. Helping our children recognize these underlying emotions can help them respond to these feelings instead of becoming angry.
Understanding the primary emotions behind anger can help a child communicate what she really needs as well as slow down or stop the escalation to anger.
Each child will experience anger in a unique way. For example, gifted children may become angry when triggered by increased sensitivities to physical or emotional experiences, by having high expectations for themselves or by an intense commitment to fairness. Awareness and understanding of these and other characteristics of gifted children can help parents of this population provide appropriate support.
Tailoring your response to the unique characteristics of each child will help validate the experience of that child.
When our children understand that they can make the choice between exploding or expressing their anger, they are more likely to think about their response. This response will determine the outcome of the experience. An explosive response toward a friend may damage the friendship or cause a child to feel unhappy about how he treated the friend.
Learning safe ways to express anger may result in successfully addressing what triggered the angry response and help the child feel more effective in his or her world.
Cheryl Hunter is a child and family therapist in Eugene who works with individuals, couples and families, specializing in counseling gifted children and teens and their families. Birth To Three is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. For more information about Birth To Three, call 484-5316.
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|Title Annotation:||Oregon Life|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||May 25, 2008|
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