Anger Is Important — But Only When It’s Managed
Anger leads the list of emotions that can get kids into trouble. Here are simple anger management strategies (that parents can teach at home!) to help your child learn the purpose of anger and how she can get it under control.
Of all the emotions that can get a child into trouble, anger leads the list. While sadness or anxiety causes misery, it is anger that leads to trouble — punishment, suspension, expulsion, and a host of other outcomes we don’t wish our children to suffer.
It is important that a child expresses his anger, but the emotion should be like a sneeze: It clears the passageways and is over. A child who cannot get angry is in as much danger as a child who cannot control his anger.
Here are 10 tips for understanding and neutralizing anger. These anger management techniques can be used anywhere, and do not require a coach’s or expert’s help to master. If you’d like to learn more, I refer you to my book, When You Worry About the Child You Love, from which these tips are adapted.
1. Exercise away hostility. One of the best tonics for the brain is physical exercise. My friend and colleague, Dr. John Ratey, showed in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain that exercise is helpful in promoting healthy brain function, including the ability to control aggression.
2. Learn to put feelings into words. One of the more common reasons a child loses control is that he is unable to articulate his frustration. Saying, “I’m really angry” can prevent anger from morphing into violence.
3. Curb the electronics. Not only does staring at a screen all day numb the mind, it also precludes more useful exercise and face-to-face social interactions. Some electronic use is fine, even desirable. But too much, more than two hours a day, should be avoided.
4. Teach your child that anger is a signal, not an outcome. When he gets angry, he should learn to stop and ask, Why am I angry? If he can put that into words, it will be easier to control that feeling. Furthermore, if he is angry because he is being mistreated or is in danger, he can ask for help.
5. As a family, practice compromise and negotiation. In his excellent book, The Explosive Child, Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., introduced a method he calls collaborative problem solving. Read the book, and learn the technique. It works wonders. It is based on negotiation, not giving orders or commands.
6. Check out any underlying problems you suspect your child may have. Various conditions, including ADHD, conduct disorder, seizure disorders, thyroid dysfunction, or brain tumors, can manifest themselves as uncontrollable anger.
7. Keep notes. If your child has a problem with anger, take a few minutes every day to document what he’s done. After a month, read through the entries. You may see a pattern that will suggest effective interventions.
8. Skip physical punishment. Families run best if they have a shared agreement: “We never put hands on each other in anger.” The days of spanking should be long gone. It will worsen a child’s anger.
9. Be the boss. That does not mean you should run your family as if it were the Marine Corps. But children do better knowing that their parents are in charge.
10. Talk it out. If none of these suggestions helps, talk to people you trust or find an ADHD support group for parents. CHADD hosts many support groups, if you need a place to start.
Almost every child who has anger challenges can learn to control them. It may take some time and some backing and filling, but solutions can be found. Never worry alone.