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Help children learn healthy ways to deal with anger.

Byline: Mona Ivey-Soto For The Register-Guard

Anger management has become a common catch phrase on TV, in self-help books and within schools and community programs. Anger is an emotion that children and adults feel strongly in dealing with many circumstances or situations.

We see many images around us that show different ways to handle anger. Some images display individuals who bottle up their emotions, keeping everything inside until one day they can't take it anymore and their anger overwhelms them, causing them to lash out at others. Others display anger in a more outright way through bullying, hurting others' feelings, yelling and becoming violent when things don't go their way.

It is important to remember that anger is an emotion, not a behavior, and how we choose to handle and express anger is through actions and behaviors. Rethinking and relearning unhealthy patterns of anger expression are critical to the development of our children and our society at large.

There are healthier ways of expressing this emotion and safe ways to express anger to help bring about resolve, peace and a sense of release.

Anger is defined as a strong emotion and a feeling of displeasure. Within the lives of children, anger is often a response to frustration. Anger can be triggered by loneliness, isolation, anxiety or hurt that is occurring in their lives. Young children, especially, may not understand the strong feelings of anger within them caused by life circumstances or challenges at school, and they may react in ways that are unhealthy for themselves and those around them.

Helping children understand their anger and learn healthy ways to express it will allow them to see that an emotion doesn't have to get the best of them or overtake them. Instead, they can be in control and grow from each emotional experience. The following ideas can be used with teachers, parents and other caregivers whose presence in the lives of children is so important.

Create a safe space for children to express their anger. Set aside a space in the classroom or at home for children to let out their strong emotions. This area may have soft pillows that the child can hit, coloring paper and crayons to draw a picture or write a poem expressing their feelings, dolls or puppets that the child can use to act out who or what is upsetting them. It's important that children have an outlet for their anger and a place where they can fully express and understand it. Helping children use feeling words, for example, "I feel?... when you do this to me" and helping them understand the variety of emotions they may feel (frustration, irritation, sadness, confusion) when they are angry will support their healthy expression of anger.

Model healthy, appropriate responses to anger. Children learn more from watching and observing behaviors in adults than they do from what adults say. If children see the important adults in their lives handling anger in healthy ways, this will help guide them when they are confronted by something that upsets them. According to research (Denham, Zoller & Couchoud, 1994), children have an impaired ability to understand emotion when adults show a lot of anger. Modeling healthy responses to anger includes expressing feelings through talking, writing, taking deep breaths or giving yourself a few minutes to regain control if a situation is difficult. If adults yell, throw things or use physical force to express anger, children will see this as being acceptable and are more likely to replicate these responses.

Use books, stories and other creative materials to help children understand and talk about anger. There are many great books for children of all ages that discuss anger and its expression. Reading opens children's minds and thoughts up to the world of possibility, and if they are able to visualize and see how characters in a story handle anger, this will support them as they continue to learn healthy ways to share their feelings. Children also can write their own stories to help them heal and grow through hard life circumstances. Some books to help children understand and process anger include: "When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry" by Molly Bang (ages 3 to 7); "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse" by Kevin Henkes (ages 4 to 7); "I Was So Mad" by Mercer Mayer (ages birth to preschool); "Touching Spirit Bear" by Ben Mikaelsen (ages 10 and older); "Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry" by Bebe Moore Campbell (ages 5 to 8).

As parents and caregivers of children of all ages, it is important to begin early and continue to teach and model healthy, appropriate responses to anger. Our children are experiencing many things today, and it is our job to help them make sense of the world and travel through life as healthy, emotionally sound individuals.

Some of the material used in this article was found on the Web site www.athealth.com/Consumer/issues/childsanger.html. Mona Ivey-Soto is a social worker, educator and advocate with expertise in early childhood mental health. For more information about Birth to Three, phone 484-5316.
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Title Annotation:Oregon Life
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 27, 2008
Words:846
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