Every parent's security blanket & instruction manual
"I hate Patrick! He'll never be my friend again!"
"No! No! No! I want M&M's now, Stupidhead!"
Children's angry feelings, children's angry words, and children's angry actions can be a frequent and upsetting occurrence in families with young children. Although it's not easy, you can deal effectively with intense confrontations by accepting your child's angry feelings, limiting your child's inappropriate angry behavior, and practicing appropriate angry behavior during rehearsals.
Accept Angry Feelings
Differentiating between angry feelings and angry actions is important. The ultimate goal in anger management is to have your child express their angry feelings in words.
Angry feelings can be part of any relationship. An important message for your child to hear is:"It's okay to be angry. It's not bad to be mad. People sometimes get angry at their friends and family. Anger happens."
Sometimes children's angry feelings can make parents uncomfortable. Although hearing your child say, "Grandma makes me mad!" is difficult, it is important to listen to your child's angry feelings rather than shut them off. Responding, perhaps, with a simple concerned,"Oh" or "I can understand that feeling" can give your child room to explore and pass through their anger on the way to other feelings.
Limit Inappropriate Angry Behavior
Once again, differentiating between angry feelings and angry actions is important.
Angry feelings are acceptable; inappropriate angry actions need limits. "I can understand that you're angry at your little brother, but chairs are not for kicking. We need to find another way for you to express your angry feelings" is a statement accepting of your child's feelings, but limiting your child's inappropriate behavior.
Practice Appropriate Angry Behavior During Rehearsals
Often, temper tantrums and angry encounters with your child are so intense and disturbing that you may try to move on quickly to recover from the conflict. However, at a later, quieter time, you need to revisit these conflicts and deal with inappropriate angry actions by helping your child practice more socially appropriate behavior.
A rehearsal is a one minute practice in which you and your child role play and practice a specific appropriate outlet for anger. Suppose you want your child to say "No!" rather than hit when angry. During a rehearsal you say, "I'm concerned about what happens when you get angry. Let's practice saying 'No' when I take this toy away from you…Let's hear a loud 'No!'…that's great…a little louder 'No!'…terrific…that's a great way to let someone know what you want…what a great 'No!' I like the way you are putting your feelings into words." Practicing in this manner several times a day helps to establish and solidify a more appropriate way for your child to express anger and frustration. These rehearsals lay the groundwork for behavioral alternatives when a high-adrenaline moment comes to your child.
A less verbal child may need to rehearse nonverbal outlets for angry feelings. During this type of rehearsal your child might practice stomping like an angry dinosaur, curling up like an angry hedgehog, as in the book When Emily Woke Up Angry by Riana Duncan, or stirring up a bowl of Mean Soup, as in the book by that title by Betsy Everitt. Rehearsals provide important practice opportunities for your child to establish new more appropriate responses for their angry feelings.
Angry situations can be difficult and frustrating for both you and your child. By accepting angry feelings, by encouraging putting angry feelings into words, by limiting inappropriate angry behavior, and by using rehearsals to practice acceptable outlets for anger, you can help your young child deal more productively with their angry feelings. Your goal is to be partnered with your child in helping them express their angry feelings and partnered with them in finding appropriate expressions for this anger.
Be sure to find more detailed information in the two-part article Anger Management.
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