Monthly Archives: March 2011

Teaching Children About Anger – What Would You Do?

Here are a few scenarios for you to think about regarding children how they generate your anger.  Consider how you might handle these situations.  Let me know your ideas.  Next Thursday, I will give you my take on the following four scenarios:

Scenario #1

Your son pestered you for months to get him a dog. When you finally did get him a dog it was with the understanding that he, not you, would be taking care of it. Lately, your son has come up with all kinds of excuses for not being able to walk the dog in the evening.  This week, he forgot to feed the dog three times.  You have a demanding full time job and cannot take on the added responsibility of a dog. Your best strategy for dealing with this is:

●Take the dog to the pound

●Have the vet put the dog down.

●Inform your son that you will not feed him, do his laundry or clean his room until he assumes full responsibility for his dog.

●Tell your son that if he chooses to avoid taking responsibility for the dog, he must also choose to give up the dog.

●Advise your son that you do not intend to look after his dog.

Scenario #2

While cleaning up your daughter’s room, you discover a stash of drugs. You are horrified.  Your daughter is an honor student.  She is also a member of the girls’ basketball team. You are fairly certain you know most of her close friends. As a parent, you have tried to be vigilant without being intrusive.  You wonder what could have happened.  What would you do?

Scenario #3

You are in the fifth year of your second marriage. Your spouse has an older boy from a previous marriage living with you. The boy is a high school drop-out who is currently unemployed. You just learned that his girlfriend is pregnant. You would like to avoid upsetting your spouse but you want that boy out of your house before he decides to bring his girlfriend and their baby home for you to support. What would you do?

Scenario #4

Suppose the problem is not your children but rather someone else’s children who are causing you immense rage and anger.

Your brother lives in Chicago while you and your spouse live in a tiny cottage on the shores of Cape Cod.  Five years ago your brother expressed an interest in visiting you during the summer so his three boys could enjoy the water. You were delighted to have them come.  Now they expect to come every summer for three (terrible) weeks. Your brother’s kids are combative, undisciplined and wild.  Last summer, they left their room with one broken floor lamp, one shattered chest of drawers, one busted table lamp and the cabinet in the bathroom had been pulled out of the wall because the youngest, Paul, had been swinging on it.  All the blankets, sheets and pillows were on the floor along with wet Kleenex balls from a snowball fight.   It took you four hours to get the room straightened out so that someone could make the repairs.

It is now March and there is a message on your answering machine from your sister-in-law.  She wants to discuss the dates for her family’s “annual visit to your quaint little summer cottage”.  Your best strategy for dealing with this is:

  • Send your brother a bill for repairing all the destruction his boys caused; tell him that the bill must be paid before he can visit again.
  • Since this is family, suck it up; make the visiting arrangements for the coming summer.
  • Inform your sister-in-law that you and your spouse are going to tour Central Asia this summer and will not be home.
  • Wipe the call off the answering machine; pretend you never got the call.
  • Return the call. Tell your sister-in-law that you are unable to have them visit this summer because of the condition in which the boys left their room last summer.
  • Tell your sister-in-law she must keep the boys under control if they visit this summer.

Teaching Children About Anger, Part 2

If every person understood from early on – like age three – that he or she was in control of their anger, many of the random acts of hostility we see today would not occur.  We need to teach our children that anger is not some strange, powerful force outside of them and entirely beyond their control. We need to show them how to own their anger rather than blame it on someone else.  There is a power in owning anger.  It means you can calibrate it and control it in terms of duration and intensity.

Think about your own experience as a youngster. Survival and happiness depended upon those over whom you had no power – Mom and Dad.  They simply did not understand your world.

●Were you in the in-crowd or were you an outsider?

●Were you teased because you wore glasses?

●Were you ridiculed because you were overweight?

●Were you always the last person chosen for the kick-ball or baseball team?

●Did you skip the prom because you could not get a date?

●Were you ostracized because you were a lot smarter than your classmates?

●Were your parents financially unable to dress you in the accepted mode-du-jour?

●If you were bullied, did you have the skills to respond appropriately?

●Were you ever compared to others in your group who were smarter or better

looking than you and asked why you could not be more like them?

●Did you suffer from embarrassing acne?

●Were you heckled because you refused to smoke pot and/or drink?

●Were you goaded into doing things you knew were wrong just to be an

accepted member of some clique?

If we consider the lack of coping skills most children have for dealing with their anger and frustrations, we begin to understand why some youngsters literally go berserk.  Here are some strategies you can use to assist your children to manage their anger.

Strategy #1

When siblings are fighting, instead of the usual parental shouting that the kids “Stop that nonsense immediately!” many parents encourage their children to have a pillow fight. The pillow fight usually ends in laughter and a conflict-resolving discussion.

Strategy #2

Hang a few punching bags in their garage. One has a female wig on it, the other a moustache and man’s wig. When the children are angry, they are encouraged to go to the garage and have it out with the punching bag as the offending party.

This is a great strategy when the kids’ anger is directed at their parents.  After this unloading of anger process, they are ready to talk to their parents about their problem.

Strategy #3

Have the children make an appointment for a fight – date, time, topic.  The idea is to give the other person time to prepare (In other words, no sneak attacks.)  Both scream their frustration at one another simultaneously; neither one listening to the other.  After this unloading of anger and frustration, insist the children attempt to calmly discuss and resolve their anger-causing problem.

Teaching Children About Anger, Part 1

A child’s expression of rage and anger is so pure and unadulterated by layers of so called civilized acceptable behavior that it is easy to read. Take for example the following story.

Six year old Miles is on the left side of the front porch building a construction site with Lego’s. His 18 month old sister Angela is ensconced in her play-pen happily whacking away at an aluminum pot with a wooden cooking spoon. The mother, Virginia, although busy with house work, checks up on her children every few minutes.

Earlier that morning, Virginia had placed a number of unwanted items of furniture and boxes of clothing at the curb to be picked up by Goodwill Industries later that day. This time when she looks out to see what her children are doing, she sees that Miles has taken Angela out of her play-pen and put her along with the pot and wooden spoon right on top of the items slated for Goodwill.

Childhood is a nightmare for most kids because:

●They do not have adequate skills for dealing with their own hostility; and

●What they have learned about anger is totally wrong.

Consider the following scenario.  Your six year old son Jonathon has returned from school furious about some incident that occurred on the playground during recess involving one of his classmates, Brian Brainless.  Jonathon tells you, “I’m gonna go back tomorrow and punch Brian right in the chops.”  You, being a typical parent, respond, “Now listen here. You will not punch anyone. In the first place, that’s not right. Nice people don’t do things like that; it is not civilized. And, in the second place, violence solves nothing. It only makes the other person angry.”

Your advice to Jonathon is not helpful.  He is still angry.  You are telling him to eat his anger – to hold his hostility inside.  Moreover, you are suggesting that only bad people (uncivilized?) get angry.

You need to teach your child how to manage his anger.  Jonathon needs to learn that:

●His anger is within his control

●His anger is legitimate

●His angry reaction is normal – he is not bizarre for feeling this way

●He has choices concerning what to do with his anger.

You accomplish this by legitimizing the child’s anger and allowing Jonathon the freedom to express and experience his feelings.  First, ask, “What happened?”

Then listen, without interruption, to Jon’s tale of woe. When you have a pretty good picture of what happened, say: “No wonder you’re so angry. If that happened to me, I’d be angry too. So, since you’ll be seeing Brian tomorrow, let’s talk about how you want to handle that situation. What do you think you want to say to him about what happened today?”

You want Jonathon to learn early on that being angry is permissible and normal. He also needs to understand that he has choices about what he can do (other than paste Brian in the mouth) when he is angry.  Moreover, you want to prove to Jonathon that he is very much in control of his anger.  Here is an example of how you do that.


Parent:           How long do you want to be angry?

Jon:                Ten minutes.

Parent:           How angry do you want to be?

Jon:                Red Angry.

Parent:           Red angry?

Jon:                Well, maybe real dark pink angry.

Parent:           OK.  When you are ready to put your anger away, let me know so
we can talk about it together and figure out what you might want to
do when you see Brian tomorrow.

Jon:                I’ll still want to paste him in the mouth.

Parent:           I understand.  However, if you do punch Brian, what do you think he will do?

Jon:                Probably hit me back.

Parent:           And what will that accomplish?

(pregnant pause)

Jon:                I see what you mean.

Parent:           Good.  So, when you are finished with your ten minutes of dark pink
anger, let’s talk about what you might do tomorrow when you see


As a result of the sample dialogue above, Jonathon has realized that not only is he in charge of his anger, he can control both the length (ten minutes) and the intensity (dark pink) of that emotion.

The Fifth Method: Direct Your Anger

Direct your anger directly at the person or situation that generated your hostility in the first place.  For example, you might say to your co‑worker, right at the moment of the criticism, “Ben, if you have something negative to say about me or my work, I would prefer that you say it to me in private.”

With the parking spot incident, you might put your car in park, walk over to the offending person and say, “Excuse me. Perhaps you didn’t notice but I had been waiting for that parking space. My directional signals were flashing my intention. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you would vacate the space so that I might have it.”  Directing your anger at the person or situation that generated your anger in the first place is the only way to prevent that internal pressure cooker build-up of hostility.

You might be interested to learn just how effective these five strategies are in terms of unloading hostility.  Turning your anger inward against yourself will leave your anger at 90 percent.  Gritting your teeth and looking for an opportunity to get even will leave your hostility at 75 percent.  Making cynical, cruel jokes and nasty comments will leave your hostility at 50 percent.  Using project and deflect, especially sports or physical effort of some kind will bring your hostility down to 25 percent.  However in order to completely reduce your hostility to zero, you need to speak directly to the person whose action generated your hostility in the first place.

When you direct your anger, you do not have to do so in a screaming, hostile, out of control manner. You can speak calmly and in a straightforward manner. This allows the other person to really hear your words, not just the hostility.

In the parking lot situation, the other driver may not relinquish the space.  In fact, they might give you the finger.  Nevertheless, you will feel good because you stood up for yourself.  Moreover, you will not be left feeling as if you are deficient in some way, telling the next twenty people you meet about what happened to you in the parking lot.

Ever think about why you do that?  There isn’t a person on the planet to whom this has not happened. Why should you feel compelled to tell and retell the story? It is because you are trying to rationalize your non-response to the situation. Deep down you believe you should have done something to take back control of the situation. Somehow you should have made it work out so that you did not come off feeling like such a deficient human being. You have, however, no idea of what that might be.

From personal experience, I must tell you that speaking directly to the person who stole my parking space actually got good results about 50 percent of the time – they relinquished the space with a verbal apology.  The other 50 percent of the time, I got nasty responses.

There was a woman with two teenaged daughters. Everyday there would be a screaming argument between Mother and daughters about the girls cleaning up their rooms.

Mother:    I want you to clean up your rooms right now!

Girls:     Just close the door and you won’t have to look at it.

Mother:    That’s not the point. Your room is in my house. Get up there and take your clothes off the bed and the floor, hang them up, throw away those paper plates from pizza and those empty soda cans and get it done before dinner.

Girls:     If our mess doesn’t bother us why should it bother you?

Mother:     Because my hard work paid for those expensive clothes which are now on the floor.

And so it continued day after day after day. Then one day, probably because the Mother was simply too tired to fight, instead of screaming at them to clean their rooms, she made her request in a normal voice. Both girls looked at one another and said, “OK Mom”. They immediately went back upstairs and cleaned up their rooms. The Mother was astounded. After dinner she asked her daughters what had made today so different from the months and months of arguments which had produced no cleaning-up results.  One of the girls explained, “Well, Mom, I guess we never really heard you before. We got that you were angry.  Your anger made us want to leave the house as quickly as possible. Today you didn’t sound so upset.”

Anger and hostility are commonplace. Everyone, however, needs some way to discharge or unload their hostility.  There is nothing positive or negative about this process.  As human beings, we each have only a limited amount of psychological space for holding our anger and hostility inside.  When we reach our own critical mass, we simply explode into rage. The essential question is, what method will you choose to unload your hostility?

When you think about  those nice, quiet people who abruptly go ballistic, killing others.  You can understand how, after literally eating their anger for some period of time, the person had reached a breaking point and like a pressure cooker, the lid blew off. These nice, quiet people were living lives of quiet desperation feeling trapped in their situation.

Take the famous story of the wife who was continually being beaten up by her husband.  This meek and mild woman lit a fire to the mattress on which her abusive, drunken husband was sleeping and burned him to death. She felt she had no other way out.

Remember the young man who killed so many at Virginia Tech?  He was a child of war and had been brought up in fear and scarcity.  Now he was surrounded by young people who had been brought up in freedom and plenty. He became envious of all those around him who had so much while he was living on a shoe string.  He believed he too should be living an affluent life and that that life was not available to him. The more he believed such a life was unattainable for him, the angrier he became.  (Recall:  The other person’s perception of the issue is their reality.)

After so long at grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it, this boy’s sanity ruptured and all people could say was:

“He was such a nice, quiet boy.  So polite. I simply can’t believe…”

“He kept to himself most of the time.  A bit of a loner, you know….”

“He was withdrawn, distant and non-communicative ….”

“He seemed depressed most of the time….”

“He didn’t have any friends…” or “He only had this one friend….”

“He didn’t belong to any particular group; he was an outcast…..”

We need to watch our children and monitor ourselves remembering that it is not healthy to hold anger inside.  Make it legitimate to express, discuss and communicate anger before it becomes rage.  Then, make it possible for people to unload their anger in appropriate ways.

In my next blog entry, I will discuss how to help really young children deal with their hostility.

The Fourth Method: Projecting Your Anger

Method four is project‑your‑anger‑onto‑someone‑or‑something‑else might look like this. When you get back to your office after the meeting where your co‑worker criticized you, you scream at your administrative person over some minor oversight. In the parking lot situation, you might go over to the Mall Information Desk and give that poor clerk a piece of your mind regarding nervy people who go around stealing other people’s parking spaces.

Let’s look in on what happens when Joe Husband uses his wife for project-and-deflect after really bad day at work.  Joe has had a series of really unpleasant occurrences happen to him today. The company canceled the project on which he’s been working for the past several months. His boss gave him an unsatisfactory performance appraisal. On his way home from work, he got a traffic ticket. He walks into the house bellowing, “You know what happened to me today?”

Wife:   Why are you yelling at me?  What did I do?

Joe:     Don’t start with me. I’ve had a really miserable day.

Wife:   So why take it out on me?  If you’re going to come home in a lousy mood, maybe you shouldn’t come home at all.

Many people use sports for deflecting and projecting their anger. Think of the guy on vacation playing golf. As he’s teeing off, he has a major heart attack. Obviously he was thinking of the golf ball as his adversary and kaboom, he blew out his aorta.  If you have runners in your office, recall what they are like during a stretch of bad weather when they cannot get out for their daily run. They’re wild; the least little thing sets them off.

“So”, you ask, “if I ‘m not supposed to…”

turn my anger inward against myself;

grit my teeth and bear it now but look for an opportunity to get even later;

be cynical and sarcastic; or

project my anger onto someone or something else

“What should I do?”

The answer to this, and more in tomorrow’s post…

The Third Method: Being Cynical and Sarcastic

Being cynical and sarcastic is beautifully illustrated by the humor of Don Rickles. Watching him, we sense what an angry person he is because there is always such a cruel edge to his jokes. Contrast that with someone like Jay Leno. His jokes are all in good fun.

Remember the TV program M*A*S*H where the actors spent lots of time and energy playing tricks on one another?  As observers, we recognized how very angry they were that the US Army had them patching up solders only to have those solders go right back into harm’s way. So, to unload their anger, they played cruel jokes on one another.

If you wanted to take the cynical‑and‑sarcastic approach with the criticizing co‑worker, you might tell him or her, “That’s a nice dress/suit you’re wearing. Too bad they didn’t have it in your size.”  A relative who is jealous of you, at a family gathering and in a loud voice, he or she might say,  “Did you say you were looking forward to your thirtieth birthday?  Well, sister, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”  These people are always quick to say, “Oh, I was just joking.”  But their so called joke hurts nevertheless.

Cruel jokes and sharp-edged nasty comments mask a lot of hostility.

The Second Method: Grit Your Teeth and Bear It

This method requires one to do nothing at the moment but look for an opportunity to even the score later on.  In the work setting, this is the most popular method of conflict management.  My first blog explained this method which is known as passive aggressive behavior

For example, an employee may be very angry at his boss because the boss did not recommend him for promotion. The employee, then, limits his work output, dedication and productivity as a way of getting even. The employee may feel it is too risky to confront the boss about his dissatisfaction. In reality, however, talking to the boss is the only way to deal effectively with the situation.

Here is another common don’t-get-mad-get-even situation.  Mother comes home from the hospital with a new baby.  Although she makes many speeches to her five year old that she is still number one in the household, the five year old can plainly see that all the parents’ attention is squarely focused on the baby and not on her at all.  So, the older child who had long ago stopped wetting the bed, starts to wet the bed again.

In the parking space situation, the grit-your‑teeth‑and‑get‑even‑later response might look like this. You park your car in such a way as to block the fellow who stole your space and disappear for several hours. Perhaps you let the air out of his tires. With the criticizing co‑worker, maybe you forget to give them some important information or you give them incorrect information.

The First Method: Turning Your Hostility Inward

With the office situation, maybe you begin thinking, “Why am I always the first person everyone dumps on when anything goes wrong around here?  What a loser they must all think I am. Not even my boss came to my rescue and I worked so hard on that project.”

Should you choose this avenue, you’ll become depressed and begin feeling like a victim in your own life. When people become depressed enough, they become very disillusioned and may think of committing suicide. Unfortunately, there are times when people do commit suicide. While some introspection is necessary to determine your role in a problem situation, obviously, this is not a good method to use when dealing with anger.

Depression is the result of holding a lot of angry feelings inside. Not only is this unhealthy, it is also dangerous. Young people who turn out to be serial killers are described by friends and neighbors as such “nice, quiet boys”.  It is only then, after the killing spree, that we realize how much anger those kids must have been holding inside.

Co‑workers who go postal are said to have just snapped. Well, all this hostility and acting out didn’t just happen out of the blue. You can bet that the situation had been building up for a long time. Then, when the person’s internal pressure cooker couldn’t hold any more, he or she acted out their anger (rage) by coming to work with a gun and killing people.

Therefore, the next time you are feeling down about some situation, ask yourself, “What am I so angry about?” because that’s what’s really going on with you.  Then, when you get to the answer, ask yourself another question – an action question such as, “What am I going to do about this situation?”

Strategies People Use for Unloading Their Hostility

Anger (rage) is a commonplace emotion that strikes often and un-expectantly in our daily lives.  A simple event can be the trigger. Maybe it is a person who sneaks into a parking lot space for which you have been waiting.  Perhaps it is a co‑worker criticizes you falsely in front of others.

Immediately you make a mental evaluation of that event based on whether or not you can manage it effectively. This evaluation has to do with your sense control over the situation.  If you believe the situation is within your control – that you can handle the event easily – your anger is not generated. For example, you may feel annoyed but you decide to simply go looking for another parking space.

There are folks, however, who would just go ballistic over someone taking their parking space. Such individuals experience a sensation of total loss of control over their own lives.  So, immediately feelings of fear and irrational anger or rage explode inside them.  We have what’s known as the urge to kill.

In the situation of the criticizing co‑worker, suppose this happens at a meeting where your boss and several co‑workers are present.  In such a situation you are definitely not in control.  You are presented with the problem of what to do in order to maintain the boss’s good opinion of you while looking strong in the eyes of your colleagues.  Should you try to defend yourself and deny the charges?  How about criticizing the person right back?  You feel blind‑sided, trapped and muzzled from saying anything. Your fury is almost overwhelming. Here, again, we have what’s known as the urge to kill.

Perhaps you ask yourself, “Why can’t I say something so very clever that my critic will immediately look like a fool?”  You are not only angry at the critic, you are also extremely angry with yourself for not being able to deliver a sharp retort. What you would really like to do, probably, is punch the critic right in the chops because you have been embarrassed and are seriously pissed off.

We learn early on that an outright display of hostility scares others and gives the impression that we are emotionally unstable. However, our daily lives are chock‑full of incidents that leave us feeling hostile. The truth of the matter is we all need a way to discharge that hostility.  Basically, each of us has only a limited amount of psychological space for holding aggravations inside. Eventually we must unload and vent or risk becoming psychotic.

In our society, there are five socially acceptable and typical methods we use to unload our hostility. They are:

1. Turn hostility and anger inward and blame yourself.

2. Grit your teeth and bear it; do nothing at the moment; look for an opportunity to get even at some later time.

3. Become cynical, sarcastic and humorously insulting.

4. Project your feelings onto someone or something else (like spouse, the kids or the family dog).

5. Direct your anger directly at the person or situation that generated your anger in the first place.

Over the course of the next few days, we’ll take a look at each of the methods.  I welcome your feedback, your stories and anything you would like to share.