The Four stages of anger: the aftermath

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.

The Four stages of anger: the explosion

The explosion we are all too familiar with.  We have felt it, we have seen it and sometimes it is us who has exploded.  This is the time when the voices are raised, the insults and name calling begin.  It can escalate or even begin with physical violence too.  Hitting, pushing, kicking, breaking things that belong or do not belong to the person exploding.  It might be done in private or it may be publicly, sometimes on purpose, just to embarrass another person or parent.  I might add here too that somtimes anger can be played out in ways that the perpertrator believes will hurt the other person.  A student doesn’t do his homework to get back at a teacher, ignoring a parent, hiding the keys to make a parent late.  In general at this stage the angry party may just want to be a pain and cause pain to another person.

As a parent we may have tried to see it coming during the build up and we may have tried to defuse the spark, but still the explosion happened and our job either as a parent or as the person the anger is directed at is to stay as calm as we can and contain the damage, keeping both our child and ourselves controlled so that no one gets hurt.  If our temper rises and we lose control that may be exactly what the child is looking to get done, as they know then that they are in control of the situation.  So what can we do?

I had planned to give solutions to the stages at a later writing, but I feel like we need to address this now to some degree.  It is the same advice that we gave our students earlier.

Breathe slowly and deeply.  Avoid shouting and stay focused.  Do not engage in the debate.  Remember who and what you represent.
Do not negotiate with threats. The child may just be looking for a way to manipulate you and control the family.  Do not give in.  We can be willing to discuss the matter, but do so only when both parties are calm enough to do so.  There can be no real teaching when emotions are high.

Allow natural consequences play out.  Lets say the shouting matches and the anger is arguments over homework.  It may be best at some point just to allow the consequences of not doing homework play out with the teacher.  Let them get the bad grade, and the teachers words with them, instead of trying to protect them from bad results.  I remember my own kids who would wait till the last moment to tell me they had a project to do and that they needed materials for it, till the night before.  After talking about this several times and the behavior not changing we simply told them that they had to tell us about their projects earlier so we could get materials when it was good for all of us.   Of course it happened again and we stuck to our word and the project did not get done.  The result was a bad grade.  The bigger results were that never again did we get a late notice about projects. 

There are additional ways of dealing with this stage and things to be careful of that we will discuss at another time.  But I do feel it is important to mention at this time though that we must be careful not to allow the child or anyone to play us against another person of authority.  So we want to be sure that both parents are on the same page and the child is not playing mom against dad.  This is called an argument trap and we will discuss the other type of argument traps later.

The Four stages of anger: the spark

In our last post we talked about Stage one: The buildup.  Now on to Stage two: The spark

The spark is the ‘thing’ that sets off an angry outburst.  There are two varieties of sparks, one is external and one is internal.  Both are difficult to see coming and both are influenced by the buildup.  We have all seen two young children who normally play together just fine and then for some unknown reason one begins to give the other the cold shoulder and then just as quickly they will play together again as if nothing happened.  At the other extreme we may see a child and parent who have a long history of mutual antagonism, have a complete blow up over something as simple as the phone ringing or the type of clothing they are wearing. 

Other external sparks may be as common as a parent asking “go clean your room”, “go to bed”, “turn off the TV”, “I am not buying this today”, or if the child was ignored, teased had a physical accident, or got caught breaking a rule.

On the other hand the spark may not be visible at all and be instead an internal thought, that sparks an angry reaction.  They seem to come out of nowhere when there is an angry action.  Somehow the child has had a thought that they linked to some event in the past, that once they started thinking about it they could not control the angry impulse, and some sort of action was taken.  It could be a sudden outburst or a physical action of hitting someone.  Unfortunately these angry thoughts can be set off when a child has a memory of a bad event, or it can be simply from their imaginations, or some combination of real and distorted memory. 

Let’s look at an example that illustrates how it may happen.  Lets say we have a child that erupts into a fit of anger at being told that it is time to go to bed.  Now this seems hard to explain or understand because it just seems out of proportion to the request.  We want to be sure that we don’t mistake the spark for the problem itself.  Now is the time to look at the buildup and what preceded the spark.  Do they think they are being babied?  Did they homework not completed that they are worried about?  Do they know that if they throw a tantrum that they get to stay up an extra half hour?  Or are they tired from having stayed up the night before?  If we can get beyond what has just happened we may find the way to douse the spark.

In fact, dousing or defusing the spark is our main goal at this time.  Learn to recognize what sparks your child’s anger, or your own for that matter, and act decisively to address the matter before it becomes full blown rage.  Later in our blog we will be talking about “Anger Guards”, that for the moment I will describe as knowing what it is that sets us off, pushes our buttons or gets under our skin.  At this stage we must take the time to recognize this in our children and ourselves. 

At a later date there will be strategies to address the Spark Stage discussed in this blog.

The four stages of anger: the buildup

I have been looking at this subject of anger, looking for ways to help our students to find ways of dealing with the anger that they feel in a manner that gives them good results.  As we discussed this in our classes last month I could feel the pain and frustration of parents too, as they tried to deal with their children who expressed their anger at surprising moments or with such intensity that it set us back a bit. 

That brought me to discover a book that described the four stages of anger for a child and really for any of us.  The four stages are (1) the buildup, (2) the spark, (3) the explosion, (4) the aftermath.  Today I am going to describe the first one and on subsequent days we will describe the others with a follow up on how to deal with them.

When we observe the explosion of anger (stage 3), we sometimes mistaken that for where the feeling began.  In fact the display of anger can be something that is building for a period of time before the explosion.  The buildup is stage one and this sets the foundation upon which the anger is built.  It is the child’s history of experiences, stresses and stage of development. It could be due to teasing, losing a game, exclusion, fatigue, hunger, illness, defeatist attitudes, specific worries low self esteem.  These things could have occurred 2 hours ago or over the past 2 years or more.

Every child is going to react differently in those situations.  So one child who loses a game may just accept it and move on, finding ways to improve and hoping to do better next time, while another child may feel totally different about losing and that combined with some other factor may begin to feel the feelings of anger building up inside of them.  Now they may not express it or even recognize it for being anger but there it is boiling inside.  Just like adults this can also be brought on by other outside forces including being tired or hungry.  I know for myself, if I am hungry then my fuse is a great deal shorter.  I may not break out into an angry outburst, but I know that I am a great deal shorter with people and have a significantly reduced amount of patience.

Our goal as parents at that time is to prevent an outburst.  So how do we do this?  Parents can influence their childs anger in the buildup stage by avoiding a source of pain, solving the problem, or directing the child down the path toward a workable solution before they grow out of control. So to break that down, if you know your child gets irritable when they are tired then we need to be sure that they get the rest that they need, naps at the right time.  Sometimes that is inconvenieint for us as parents – but that is part of parenting.  Same thing goes for hunger, but if the child has defeatist attitude then we need to slowly help them to see how they are getting better at a skill by giving them opportunities to practice the skill they are lacking in.  I must say too that our personally comparing our child with another, whether it is a friend or a sibling will not help them to appreciate their own value.  Our goal is to help them to see the things they are good at and to help them persevere in skills so they can celebrate the improvements.

Finally when we talk about a parent “solving the problem”, this can be a slippery slope.  If we are always there solving the challenges or problems that our children face we will end up with a child unable to get creative about solving their own problems.  They will always want to run back to a parent to get things fixed.  What does this have to do with anger?  Our self esteem cannot be raised by others stepping in and fixing things for us.  Even if the child does not solve it perfectly if they are able to work through challenges with our encouragement, they will come out of the situation with a better feeling about themselves.  For instance, lets say two siblings are have a mild disagreement and it starts to get louder.  As a parent we would like to get our peace and quiet back, but if we step in and put an end to it we have not really helped them develop skills for solving problems.  We may want to remind them of skills we have talked about previously and then let them work it out.  This is a building process that over time will help our children. 

To sum this up being aware of the buildup will equip us as parents in helping our child not explode.  It can be used on ourselves too.  I often ask myself when I feel the anger building, “What am I feeling?, What is bringing this on?, Is there other factors that is making this bigger than it really is becoming?”  When I do this many times I can calm myself down or fix the issue before it gets me in trouble.