Anger Management and Children

Anger Management and Children

By Mona Moussa PhD - LifeWorks Trainer

anger management and children

What Lies Beneath the Anger:
Teaching your Child to Manage their Emotions

Handling a child's anger can be overwhelming and draining. It is also likely to elicit and stir up anger within the parent as well. As parents fail to manage a power struggle with their child, they may feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • overpowered
  • overrun
  • incompetent
  • guilty
  • angry

  • (Godfrey, 2013)

    Anger management and Children

    What Lies Beneath the Anger

    While parenting strategies from previous generations may have categorised anger as a "bad" feeling that needs to be repressed, recent parenting strategies emphasise the need to embrace anger, and accept it, as well as learn positive and productive ways to channel it.

    Anger is in effect just a facade, a means to avoid having to deal with underlying painful feelings such as:

  • feeling of isolation
  • sadness
  • anxiety over a situation that cannot be controlled
  • failure
  • shame or embarrassment
  • sadness
  • depression
  • It can be quite empowering for parents to realise that when their child is angry, this is actually a manifestation of a deeper feeling that needs their attention and care. This realization can also help them counteract the automatic parental anger button that tends to be activated when the child throws a tantrum. As the parents are able to remain calm and soothing, they would in turn be able to hold their child's anger as they teach them to regulate their strong emotions.

    Moving on from Anger: Listening to your Child's Feelings

    One of the most useful skills parents can teach their children is to learn to regulate their emotions, to express their negative feelings in constructive ways, to learn to respond rather than react.

    Barish (2012) recommends that parents first and foremost listen to their children's feelings without trying to "fix" or repress these. Parents can also offer a hug or cuddle to soothe their child's anger. When a child feels heard, their emotions will feel less overwhelming. They will be more open and flexible in seeking ways to deal with their difficulties which in turn will decrease the likelihood of getting stuck in a vicious cycle of blaming, arguments, and denial.

    When the child feels heard, they come to realise that negative feelings are just that, and that they will not last forever. They realise that moments of anger are just fleeting moments that can be repaired (Barish, 2012).

    The power of listening to your child can be quite significant as the child realises that their feelings are valid and significant, which in turns models to them ways to be empathetic with others' feelings. In fact, children come to look forward to those moments with their parents as much as they look forward to their play time. Studies have also shown how setting time aside to listen and talk has been linked to immediate improvement in mood and behavior in the child (Barish, 2012).

    Helping Children Learn to Regulate their Emotions

    When parents listen to their child, they can provide them with a safe space to learn to regulate their emotions and to think constructively about how to cope with their feelings. According to Webster-Statton (2013), in order to provide a positive environment to help their child regulate their emotions, parents are encouraged to:

  • Try to ensure consistency and predictability at home
    This can be done by having consistent household rules and predictable routines. This can help the child feel calmer and more secure, and can in turn act as a platform from which children can develop the skills needed to deal with the less predictable world outside (Webster-Statton, 2013).

  • Help your child label their emotions and thoughts
    When the child is able to communicate their feelings, they will be better able to communicate their needs and to figure out what will help them calm down. For example, instead of hitting a younger sibling, the child can learn to express their anger in words (Webster-Statton, 2013).

  • Try to normalise your child's emotional responses
    While it can overwhelming to deal with your angry child, try to recognize that this is a normal reaction and that it is not an intentional attempt to make your life miserable.

  • Anger Management and Children

    A common challenge faced with two year olds can illustrate this clearly.

    As the child reaches their second birthday and begins to realise that they are a separate being from their parent they slowly discover that they can actually cause a certain emotion or reaction in their parent, and with this realization comes an intense sense of power. Through observation, the child might discover for example that every time they bang on the glass door, their parents reacts in a specific way. This can become quite exciting for the child as they realise that they have the power to cause this reaction in their parent, and the more exasperated their parent is, the likelier they are to repeat this behavior.

    Once parents realise that their reaction is only encouraging the child to keep engaging in their behavior, they can change the cycle by adopting instead a calm and firm tone (Godfrey, 2013).

    Talk about your own feelings

    Another way to help children learn to express their feelings and learn to regulate their emotional response is to use the "language of feelings" at home. By using words to name their feelings and to interpret others' emotional responses, parents will be teaching their kids to identify their emotions accurately and to get used to talking about their feelings. This will in turn decrease the likelihood of the child resorting to a behavior such as punching, hitting, or crying to express their emotions (Webster-Statton, 2013).

    Accept the child's feelings as they are

    As stated earlier, it is important for parents to model acceptance of the child's feelings as they are rather than try to repress them. Rather than telling your child "not to be sad" or "not to get angry", encourage your child instead to stay in touch with their true feelings. Encourage your child to label their feeling, and to talk about it as you listen without judgment or giving advice.

    As children are given this space, they can learn to understand that different people may have different feelings to the same event, and that a person can have different contradictory feelings at the same time.

    Children will also come to learn that all feelings are important even though some hurt or cause discomfort and that the aim is not to control feelings but to control what you do about them (Webster-Statton, 2013).

    Anger Management and Children

    Model emotional regulation

    Parents are also encouraged to handle their own emotions as they face the daily hassles of life. Parents can verbalise their emotions and coping strategies. For example, a parent who was not able to take the day off to attend their child's play may say: "I am disappointed that my employer didn't give me the day off. I feel frustrated because I really want to come and see you but I can not change my employer's decision. But maybe you and I can do something special this evening when I'm back, just the two of us".

    Teach your child problem solving skills

    Parents can teach their child to generate several possible solution to a problem. When the child is relaxed and calm, the parent can role play a situation that causes frequent stress such as a sibling taking away their toy without asking first. The parent can encourage the child to visualise the situation and ask them questions such as "what could you tell yourself to calm down?", "once you have calmed down, what do you think you could do to solve the problem?", "what other solution can you think of?", "what else?", "what do you think could be the consequences for each of these solutions?". In this situation the parent would be helping the child formulate problem solving skills to use as a template when they are caught up in a challenging situation in the future (Webster-Statton, 2013). This would in turn help them respond rather than react the next they face a situation such as being teased by a sibling, or not being able to play before they finish their homework.

    Teach your child the "Turtle Technique"

    A technique that parents can teach their child is to be able to calm down as they get swept by the intensity of the physiological aspects that come with anger such as racing heartbeat, rapid breathing, and feeling flushed. The child can be asked to imagine that they have a shell like a turtle's that they can retreat into. As they do so, they take slow and deep breaths while pushing their arms and legs in, as they say to themselves "I can calm down, I can do this" (Webster-Statton, 2013).

    By teaching your child to regulate their own emotions you would be empowering them to realise that they can be in control, that they are strong, and that they can find the answers within themselves.

    References

    Barish,K. (2012), Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child's Emotions and Solving Family Problems. Oxford University Press

    Godfrey, D. (2013) "Understanding Power Struggles",

    Webster-Statton, C. (2013) "Helping Children Learn to Regulate their Emotions" .pdf



    About the Author

    Mona Moussa, PhD   Personal Development Trainer at LifeWorks

    Mona has a PhD, and a Masters in Counselling Psychology. Mona speaks Arabic and has counselled in Lebanon, Australia, and Qatar. Her cross-cultural experience and deep knowledge of the Middle-Eastern culture allows her to provide a comprehensive approach to dealing with difficulties and challenges. Mona is passionate about reaching out to others to help them grow and reach their fullest potential, and learn to moderate their own emotions as they achieve a state of inner calm and come to appreciate the present moments in life in the hectic pace of Dubai.

    This can be done through group training workshops, or individually tailored workshops on a one-on-one basis.


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