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Helping Your Child Learn to Manage Anger

All kids -- like all humans -- get angry. Anger is a defense against deeper feelings of fear, hurt, disappointment, and pain. When those feelings are too devastating, we automatically move into anger to keep ourselves from feeling so much pain. We mobilize against the perceived threat by attacking. (The best defense is a good offense.

!ometimes attacking makes sense, but only when there is actually a threat. That"s rare. #ost of the time when kids get angry, they want to attack their little brother (who broke their treasured memento , their parents (who disciplined them $unfairly$ , their teacher (who embarrassed them or the playground bully (who scared them. When kids live in a home where anger is handled in a healthy way, they generally learn to manage their anger constructively. That means% *Controlling aggressive impulses - &y the time they"re in kindergarten, kids should be able to tolerate the flush of adrenaline and other $fight$ chemicals in the body without acting on them by clobbering someone. As we accept our child"s anger and remain calm, she lays down the neural pathways -- and learns the emotional skills -- to calm down without hurting herself, others, or property. *Acknowledging the more threatening feelings under the anger - 'nce the child can let himself e(perience his grief over the broken treasure, his hurt that his mother was unfair, his shame when he didn"t know the answer in class, or his fear when his classmate threatened him, he can move on. )e no longer needs his anger to defend against these feelings, so the anger evaporates. &y contrast, if we don"t help kids get to the true source of their anger, they

will *ust keep losing their tempers, without solving the underlying problem. *Constructive Problem-Solving - The goal is for your child to use the anger as an impetus to change things as necessary so the situation won"t be repeated. This may include moving his treasures out of little brother"s reach, or getting parental help to deal with the bully. +t may also include acknowledging his own contribution to the problem, so that he resolves to do a better *ob following his parents" rules, or to come to class more prepared. 'bviously, this kind of problem solving doesn"t happen until after the child has calmed down. And it takes years of parental guidance for kids to learn these skills. &y the time kids are in kindergarten, though, they should have developed the neural pathways to calm themselves so that they can control their aggressive impulses even when they"re very upset. +f parents are able to help kids feel safe enough to e(press their anger and e(plore the feelings underneath, kids are able to increasingly move past their anger into constructive problem-solving during the grade-school years. )ow can parents help kids learn to manage their anger, 1. Remember that all feelings are allowed. 'nly actions need to be limited. . Set limits. Allowing feelings does not mean we allow destructive actions. -ids should never be allowed to hit others, including their parents. When they do, they are always asking for us to set limits and help them contain their anger. !ay "You can be as mad as you want but you cannot hit. I see how mad you are, and I will keep us all safe." !ome children really need to struggle against something when they"re angry. +t"s fine to let them struggle against your holding arms, if that"s what they want, but take off your glasses, and don"t let yourself get hurt. !imilarly, don"t let kids break things in their fury. That *ust adds to their guilt and sense that they"re a bad person. .our *ob is to serve as a safe $container$ and $witness,$ to listen to what your child is telling you. !. "ever send a child awa# to $calm down$ b# herself. /emember that kids need your love most when they $deserve it least.$ +nstead of a $time out,$ which gives kids the message that they"re all alone with these big, scary feelings, try a $time in,$ during which you stay with your child and help him move through his feelings. .ou"ll be amazed at how your child begins to show more self control when you adopt this practice, because he feels less helpless and alone. %. Sta# close and connected when #our child is upset. +f you know what"s going on, acknowledge it% "You are so angry that your tower fell." +f you don"t know, say what you see% $You are crying now." 0ive e(plicit permission% "It's ok, everyone needs to cry (or gets mad, or feels very sad) sometimes. I will stay right here while you get all your sads and mads out." +f you can touch him, do so to maintain the connection% " ere's my hand on your back. You're safe. I'm here."

+f he yells at you to go away, say% "You want me to go away. I will step back like this. !ut I am right here. I won't leave you alone with these big scary feelings." &. Sta# calm. .elling at an angry child reinforces what she"s already feeling, which is that she is in danger. (.ou may not see why she would think she"s in danger when she *ust socked her little brother, but a child who is lashing out is a child in the grip of deep fear. !o your anger will only make the storm worse. .our *ob is to restore calm, because kids can only learn and understand how to $do better$ when they"re calm. +f you are in the habit of yelling at your kids, know that you are modeling behavior that your child will adopt by the time she"s a teen, if not well before. -ids need to learn from you that anger and other upsetting feelings are not so scary as they seem -- after all, #om isn"t scared of them. .our presence helps them feel safe, which helps them develop the neural pathways in the brain that shut off the $fight or flight$ response and allow the frontal corte(, the $reasoning brain,$ to take over. That"s how kids learn to soothe themselves. '. (ive #our child wa#s to manage his angr# impulses in the moment. #ost kids resist punching the pillows on the couch, which feels artificial to them, but many love having a punching bag to beat up. .ou can teach your child to stomp his feet when he"s mad. With a child who is a bit older, you can suggest that she draw or write on paper what they are angry about, and then fiercely rip it into tiny pieces. Teach her to use her $1A2!3$ button by breathing in for four counts through her nose, and then out for eight through her mouth. 0rab two s4uishy balls5 hand her one, and demonstrate working out annoyance on the s4uishy ball. When your child is calm, make a list with her of constructive ways to handle emotion, and post it on the refrigerator. 6et her do the writing, or add pictures, so she feels some ownership of the list. &ut also model using it when you"re mad% "I'm getting annoyed, so I'm checking the list. "h, I think I'll put on some music and dance out my frustration#" ). *elp #our child be aware of her $warning signs.$ 'nce kids are in the full flush of adrenaline and the other $fight or flight$ neurotransmitters, they think it"s an emergency, and they"re fighting for their lives. At that point, managing the angry impulses is almost impossible, and all we can offer kids is a safe haven while the storm sweeps through them. &ut if you can help your child notice when she"s getting annoyed and learn to calm herself, she"ll have many fewer tantrums. When she"s little, you"ll have to know her cues and take preventive action -- offering some snuggle time, or getting her out of the grocery store. As she gets older, you can point out to her "$weetie, you're getting upset. %e can make this better. &et's all calm down and figure this out together." +. *elp #our child develop emotional intelligence. -ids who are comfortable with their feelings manage their anger constructively. There"s a whole section on this website on emotional intelligence. !ome kids, unfortunately, don"t feel safe e(pressing their uncomfortable feelings. !ometimes they have parents who discount or even ridicule their fears or disappointments. !ometimes they have been sent to their rooms to $calm down$ and never received the help they needed to handle their upsets. !ometimes the pain or grief *ust feels too overwhelming and they fend it off to survive. They try hard to repress their fears, *ealousies, and an(ieties, but repressed

feelings have a way of popping out unmodulated, as when an otherwise loving preschooler suddenly hits the baby. These kids live in fear of their feelings. To fend off this reservoir of fear, grief, or other pain, these kids get angry -- and they stay angry. When this happens, a child needs professional help.

*ow do #ou know when #our kid needs help handling anger, -ook for these ten signs. 7. !he can"t control her aggressive impulses and hits people, past the age of five. 8. 9re4uent e(plosive outbursts, indicating that he is carrying a full "tank$ of anger that"s always ready to spill over. :. !he is refle(ively oppositional (and she isn"t two years old. ;. )e is unable to engage in constructive problem-solving and doesn"t acknowledge his role in creating the situation, instead feeling constantly victimized and $picked on.$ <. !he fre4uently loses friends, alienates adults, or is otherwise embroiled in interpersonal conflict. =. )e seems preoccupied with revenge. >. !he threatens to hurts herself physically (or actually does so . ?. )e damages property. @. !he repeatedly e(presses hatred toward herself or someone else. 7A. )e hurts smaller children or animals. When a child has $anger management issues$ it means that he is terrified of those pent-up feelings under the anger (fear, hurt, grief. To defend against those vulnerable feelings he thinks will destroy him, he hardens his heart and clings to the anger as a defense. Therapeutic intervention can help the child work through those deeper feelings and develop more ability to manage all of his emotions.