As I speak to children about different scenarios that they could see themselves in I continually hear the same one word answers, good, bad, mad. These are the labels that many children know and understand. So when asked about different situations they will use these as their answers many times. Yet we know that anger does not exist in a vacuum. There is always another emotion at work when there is an outburst. We recognize that in ourselves too.
With children though they may not have the words to identify the other emotions and so they are only, mad! When the child feels only the anger, they act on the anger and the impulses of the anger. So what can we do as parents? If we can put a label on the feelings for them by saying, “You must be feeling…..” this would be a good start. Some would say that we could say, ” You must be feeling angry.”, but we must be careful not to reinforce the feelings of being mad – and careful to watch to see if recognition of feelings of anger is used to redirect the energy to solving the problem. Our children may protest that they are not frustrated, jealous, or whatever the feeling might be that we name, but what we are trying to do is to build their vocabulary so they can start using the correct feelings words and finding ways of dealing with them.
As we make these attempts we will make mistakes and mis-characterize the emotion. Do not give up and just keep working at building everyone’s awareness of feelings.
This is an activity that has worked for me also. If I am feeling angry I try to stop and think, what am I really feeling? Am I scared, intimidated, frustrated, hungry or a whole list of other emotions and feelings. If those can be identified we many times can draw the attention to an emotion of feeling that we can control. That is very powerful.
Now while the explosion, large or small is the event that gets most of the attention, it is what happens after that really has the larger impact on parents, children and anyone that was affected. It is the time that we can confront the original problem and any new ones that may have come up from the ‘explosion’. We have talked many times in our discussions that trying to have a teaching moment when emotions are high just does not work. We must have a time when emotions on both sides of the equation are lower and everyone is calm.
Recognizing that even small problems can teach big lessons that can be looked back on when larger issues occur. Here is an example of what we are talking about. Lets say we have a 5 year old who is playing with their blocks. As they try to build this large tower it falls over and our year old is getting very frustrated (the buildup). Eventually the blocks topple (the spark). When this happened our 5 year old kicks the blocks and lets out a scream (the explosion). Soon though he back to playing with the blocks (the aftermath).
As a parent I may be looking at this and be willing to let him continue to play since it ended as quickly as it started, no one else was involved, and we were use to seeing this kind of minor outburst on their part. But in fact this sort of acting out may be the perfect teachable moment. Teaching anger management on small scale problems may be easier and serve as a foundation for teaching on larger problems as you have success with the smaller ones.
In this stage of the aftermath our goal is to solve the problem and more importantly give our child the tools they need to solve the problems.
Here are 5 steps to coming to resolution with a problem similar to what we described above. After praising the efforts made to build the tower recognize that he has some strong feeling, but then:
1. Relabel feeling from anger to ‘frustration’ or whatever the feeling may be. In our example the child was feeling frustrated that the blocks would not stay in the position he was hoping for. Frustration is not anger, but a 5 year old may not have that emotion identified yet and certainly may not have the word for it. In lieu of asking why he is feeling angry, make a statement – “That’s frustrating when the blocks fall down .”
2. How to solve the problem; Yes it is difficult but lets try together to build the blocks. Allow them to fall down and then model what you would like to see. “Whoops they fell down. Maybe we should try another way.”
3. About your feelings; If he kicks your blocks you may say that it makes you sad when he kicks the blocks since you do not want to see the blocks broken.
4. The rule; You then tell him the rule “if you kick the blocks they will be put away.”
5. The consequence of course is the blocks would be put away.
Then come back to a positive mood by saying how much fun it is to play with him.
In our teaching moments we would like to stay calm and bracket our correction with praise. We have a simple formula in our school that we try very hard to stick to, PCP. Praise, Correct, Praise. Try this at home and see how it works for you.
The next time I am going to discuss the 5 needs of every human no matter their age and you will see how this will help you in teaching your children anger management.