Children display a wide spectrum of anger from a 2 year old having a temper tantrum because she doesn’t want to sit in the car to an upset child who talks back to the teacher and picks on his schoolmates. Children get angry for all the reasons that adults get angry fear loneliness disappointment stress and hurt. Like adults both boys and girls have trouble identifying anger when they feel it and difficulty releasing it appropriately once its felt. Here are seven steps for healthy anger management.
1. Recognize Differences.
Girls and boys learn to express their dissatisfaction and frustrations differently. Girls are told that nice girls dont get mad so instead of expressing anger they say You hurt my feelings or they might cry. Girls in general are more indirect. Boys learn that its not OK to cry so instead of shedding tears when they are hurt they might punch the wall or start a fight. Boys confront each other directly and use verbal assaults.
2. Recognize Signs.
Three year old Carrie is tired from a full day at day care and when she comes home she throws herself on the floor and demands a cookie. Eight year old Shari is disappointed that her best friend got sick and cant spend the night. Shes cranky and slams the door: she lies on her bed and wont eat dinner. Ten year old Adam lost his favorite baseball mitt: when his seven year old brother walks by he throws a book at him. When his mom comes to see what all the commotion is about he yells at her to Get out my room After her parents separated 15 year old Alyson began missing classes because she couldnt get up in the morning. Her grades plummeted and she complained I dont have any friends.
3. Recognize Degrees.
When I talk with children and parents about anger I divide anger into three categories Little anger is momentary and specific: Big anger is intense and covers up feelings of depression and low self esteem: Huge anger is rage and covers up deep emotional wounds. By understanding the different degrees of anger parents have clearer ideas of what interventions might be needed.
4. Teach Healthy Management.
There is a difference between angry feelings and angry acts and they need to be handled differently. Angry feelings need to be identified and expressed. Angry acts need to be restricted and redirected. Teaching healthy anger management involves both part sallowing the expression of angry feelings while limiting angry behavior.
5. Teach Expression.
Sometimes its sufficient simply to identify a childs feeling by saying for example I know your are frustrated about that assignment.
6. Set Appropriate Limits
When a child is acting in destructive ways appropriate limits need to be set. For example It is not OK to hit your brother. No hitting allowed.
7. Redirect Energy.
When 7 year old Rosie slammed the door her mother said Come tell me what you are mad about. But when Rosie kicked the cat her mother stepped in and said I know you are upset because you cant play outside but you cant take it out on the cat. Go get a book to read. By acknowledging the feeling limiting the behavior and redirecting the energy Rosie is learning healthy anger management.