Anger management: #4 One word answers

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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.

Empathy: predicting feelings

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While it is important to figure out by looking at someone or a situation what someone is feeling, it is just as important to predict how someone may feel if you speak or if you act in a certain way.  When we are able to predict how someone may feel given a set of circumstances, we can gauge how and what we may say or do.  

This is an important social skill that we can teach our children by playing a game with them or by just simple conversation.  We may ask them, “Lauren just moved and will be going to a new school tomorrow. How do you think she will feel?”   We can make up other scenarios that may be applicable to our own children that would be good for them to consider the feelings of others.

When we take children out of the scenario, their own emotions about the situation do not get involved and they can express clearly what may happen.  When the time is appropriate you can compare it to a situation that they are in and it will be easier for them to understand how they may respond with more empathy.

When we are in the middle of a situation, especially if there are emotions involved, it can be very difficult to be empathetic.  Practicing predicting the feelings of others can be helpful for all of us, child or adult.