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
Brian.

 

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.

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