Anger is a normal human emotion. We all feel it, from time to time and in varying degrees. Our kids are no different. The issue with anger is learning to recognise it, how to use it in a productive way, and manage it effectively.
Learning to recognise anger
The first step to managing anger in children is getting your child to recognise they feel anger. Some ways to help teach your child about anger include:
- Playing games: Something like “Guessing Faces” is a useful way to help your child recognise feelings. For example, you can pull a face and you ask your child to tell you how you might be feeling. You can also ask your child to pull faces, for example by asking them, “show me a happy face” or “show me an angry face”. Then ask them to tell a story about why someone might have that feeling. This works by drawing faces too.
- Reading stories about emotions: There are many children’s books around that tell stories about feelings. These stories can be a great way to open up a dialogue about challenging emotions and offer an opportunity to discuss what you can do when you feel these emotions.
- Encouraging discussion about feelings: Letting children know that feelings are normal and it is important and encouraging them to talk about the pleasant and not-so-pleasant feelings they might have can help them deal with difficult emotions.
- Being open about your own feelings: Talking about your feelings and why you’re feeling a particular emotion is a great way to model healthy behaviour, in particular showing how to manage difficult emotions. For example, “I am feeling angry because the kitchen is a mess.”
Learning to use emotion in a healthy way
We all feel angry from time to time, even our kids. Sometimes an emotion like anger can be a powerful tool for change. For example, you might be feeling angry that the kitchen is a mess. Instead of using that anger in a way that might be destructive, you can use that anger to create change. Maybe you start a dishwasher clearing roster. Or maybe there’s a rule that everyone needs to tidy up after themselves. This can be an excellent opportunity for your child to see how you use an emotion like anger to initiate a healthy discussion.
Learning to manage anger
However, while it’s great to think of using emotion, like anger, in a healthy way, what this means is that we need to first manage those (sometimes) intense feelings. Imagine, you walk into the kitchen and you see a mess, what do you do? Do you begin ranting? Or do you breathe deeply and start asking some clarifying questions, calmly, like “who ate chocolate biscuits today?” or “who was making a sandwich today?”
For kids, this can be especially challenging, as they often don’t always have the language required to express themselves. Some ways we can help, as parents and carers, is to teach them to manage their emotions. For example:
- Lead by example: Showing how you manage and express your emotions will help to teach your child how they can do the same. For example, if you’re stuck in traffic, you might say, “let’s put on some music to help me calm down and feel better.”
- Remain calm: When your child is angry, it will be more difficult to diffuse the situation if you meet his or her anger with more anger. If anything, this teaches them that it is ok to yell and raise your voice when you feel angry. Instead, try and stay calm, ask clarifying questions and offer solutions.
- Breathing exercises: Ask your child to put one hand on their chest and one on their belly. Ask them to take a deep breathe, all the way into their belly and to let the air out, slowly. This can quickly take the charge out of a situation and helps to get them into their body.
- Physical activity: Sometimes a muscle relaxation exercise can be the perfect antidote to a stressful situation. But other times, getting your child to spend some of that excess energy in a non-destructive way can be extremely useful. For example, suggest you both go for a walk around the block. Or encourage them to jump on the trampoline. These kinds of physical activities can help to calm them down.
- Other things that might help:
- Listening to music
- Reading a story
- Drawing or colouring in
The benefit of accepting emotions
If you can show you accept your child’s emotions and even empathise with them, for example, “I can understand why you might be angry that it’s time to stop playing video games and start your homework,” it can help teach them that emotions are ok and it’s safe to feel them, without necessarily acting on them. Accepting their emotions, while remaining calm, can open up a dialogue and presents an opportunity for expressing that emotion without being destructive.
Delving under the anger
When we stay calm and open up a dialogue with our children, we begin to make it safe for them to be vulnerable. This usually helps us to get under the anger, which is often something like sadness or disappointment. This also helps children grow more awareness around their feelings and develop emotional intelligence.
Be patient, but stick with it.
Teaching children new ways to deal with anger isn’t easy and usually takes time, a lot of repetition and a lot of healthy modelling. So stick with it, maybe pick one thing to work on during the month. Be patient and if things still aren’t improving get in touch with the Growing Early Minds team to see how we can help.
Over to you
Does your child struggle with anger of difficult emotions? What strategies have you tried to help your child cope? What has worked for you?
Are you interested in more kid-friendly advice or after some parenting programs?
The experienced team at Growing Early Minds are here for you and your family, call our friendly team on 02 9622 8500 to discuss any concerns you may have regarding behaviour. Our Familylinks team also deliver a number of parenting courses that might provide you with further skills and strategies to help you manage behaviour at home. For all parenting courses check back to our website, follow Familylinks on Facebook or call 02 9625 0422.