So I got a call the other day from a friend who is concerned about her little girl's angry outbursts and she wondered what on earth to do about it....So I gave her a few pointers but wish I could give her a quick solution. Unfortunately, there's not exactly a one word answer here. The whole topic of ANGER in children is a huge one from mild feelings of anger to Conduct Disordered juvenile delinquent problems, so I will just go into the basics here.
First off, I always tell kids (and parents) that ALL feelings are good feelings. There is no such thing as a bad feeling. We don't want kids to feel ashamed for 'feeling' certain things.
Do you really want your kids to learn that it's okay to feel the happy feelings of joy, glad, happy and excited, but not okay to feel mad, shame, sad or angry? If they feel that only part of them is accepted, then they will feel the other half of them is not. We definitely want our kids to know that all of them is accepted, even the feelings that don't feel as good. After all, we ALL have different feelings all the time. If we never felt feelings like anger, then we wouldn't be human.
So what is it about anger that makes parents cringe and want them to stuff it deep down and never show up again?
The 1950's taught kids to never show anger, that it was bad to feel mad, and that we must get rid of it and never speak of it again. The horror and shame of it all. 1950's moms taught their children to always smile, and be happy, never mad or sad. How realistic is that? Maybe there is something to the old saying my professors always said "a smile is a mask for anger". Hmm, passive aggressive maybe?
So what do we do when our kids show anger??
A good start is to first pass along the message (in your own words of course) that it's: "okay to feel mad, but not okay to hurt people or things when we feel that way." Teach them that the feeling is okay, it's the ACTIONS that are not okay. Or basically that it's okay to feel anger, but it's not okay to punch the wall, throw their toys, break toys, use bad words or use words to hurt people, scream and yell at others, etc.
What are our kids supposed to do instead?
Redirect it. Have them throw or kick a ball outside, scream into a pillow, take a red marker or crayon and have them scribble as fast as they can on a piece of paper. For older kids, they can journal how mad they are in a notebook. For young ones with temper tantrums, remember to encourage them to use their words and either ignore them if appropriate, or encourage them to release their frustrations safely (kick a pillow, etc.)
Continue to make sure they hear the message that it's okay to feel angry. Such as when your child hits their brother: "I can see you are mad that your brother is playing the video game, and I can understand that you are mad and don't want to wait and really want to play too, but remember that people are not for hitting..... It's okay to feel mad, but it's not okay to hurt people. If you are mad, use your words to tell him you want a turn, or go and throw your ball outside to feel better."
Also, you can try role playing with your child for situations at home or at school. I know how hard it is for us adults to stop and think before we speak when we are upset, so imagine how hard it must be for a young child with little impulse control! Role playing situations can help them come up with alternatives when you aren't there to help, such as at school.
For example, "I know you probably felt really mad that your friend didn't sit by you at lunch today. I'm sure you also felt hurt too. And it's okay to feel that way, but it's not okay to stick your tongue out at her and tell her she is stupid. Remember that when we feel mad at someone, we can't say mean things to people. What do you think you could do next time someone hurts your feelings?" And role play it out.
Another thing to also keep in mind is when your child is acting out on purpose. I won't go into detail here because that can be a whole other post, but ignore if possible the negative actions so you don't reward them with attention.
There are also lots of good children's books to read to them that can help them deal with anger. Here are a few to get started:
Order it here:
I would love to hear your opinions and what has worked for you parents out there?