A boy took my son's ball away from him on the playground. Being 6 years old and, in that moment, full of frustration and anger, my son did the first thing that came to mind to release the anger. He shoved the boy.
Dealing with anger is hard. The strong feelings of displeasure or hostility can make people act in ways they never would otherwise. I'm not just talking about children -- adults have this problem, too. If we're honest, we might acknowledge screaming, stomping, grunting or slamming doors better than any child. On occasion, I've gotten so frustrated with my children for yelling at each other that I yelled at them for yelling. Don't worry. The irony isn't lost on me.
In a moment of calm, talking to your children about anger and how to best deal with their feelings is a great gift. Healthy people, including children, experience anger; but instead of trying to avoid it or negatively act on it, they manage it in productive ways.
Here are some ways you can help your kids properly manage anger:
1. Give words to their feelings. "You feel angry because your friend took your ball out of your hands without asking." "You feel frustrated because you've been trying to tie your shoes for five minutes, and it's not working." "You feel hurt because your sister is listening to her friend's idea for a game instead of your idea." When children can give words to their feelings, they can get the feeling out and gain the support they need.
2. Help them understand what made them mad. If your child yelled, pushed, bit or threw a tantrum, help them to hone in on what happened before the proverbial volcano erupted inside of them. Ask them:
-- What happened right before you got angry?
-- What did you see?
-- What did you hear?
-- What did you feel?
-- What did you think?
With these prompts, my son was able to expound on what happened when the boy took his ball. "I saw him take it out of my hands," he told me. "He laughed at me. I felt upset about my ball. I was thinking, 'Give it back! You're mean! I don't like you!'" While it may take several minutes to get a full understanding of what happened, once you and your child understand the triggers, you can help him or her gain useful coping skills to manage the anger properly.
[See: How to Raise Resilient Kids.]
3. Teach them calming techniques. There are many ways that children can release or redirect their anger, so that they don't hurt themselves or others. For example, they can count backwards from 10, ask for a hug or engage in a calming activity, such as reading a book, singing or building with blocks. They can employ a technique I outlined last month in my blog post on impulse control in which we help our children to take a STEP back, or Stop, Think, Evaluate and Proceed. I teach children to take deep breaths -- 10 counts in and 10 counts out. You can even prompt them by encouraging them to "smell the flowers, blow away the clouds," or "smell the birthday cake and blow out the candles." Different techniques will work with different children, so don't be afraid to try new methods.
4. Encourage children to speak up. While we don't want our children to act out in negative and mean ways, it's healthy and helpful for kids to speak up and express themselves -- as it is for adults. Teach them that, when speaking to a person who angered them, it's best to start the conversation with the words, "I feel" instead of "you." For example, a child might say, "I feel angry when you walk into my room without knocking first." That would be preferable to blurting out, "You barged into my room -- how dare you!" The first approach invites discussion and reflection; the second approach would typically result in an angry or defensive response.
5. Help them learn how to repair their relationships. Children are going to make mistakes. Frankly, so will adults. It's important to know how to apologize, admit wrong and be accountable. This means not only teaching our children to apologize, but also trying to find ways to make amends or fix the problem. Can your child bring a stuffed animal to a crying friend who was hurt by his actions? Can your child use her allowance to pay for the game she broke in anger? When children feel empowered to do something about their mistakes, they are more likely to show accountability.
Finally, model techniques to calm down. Let your kids know that anger is normal for everyone. You feel it too, and you can help them through it. Talk about your frustrations in age-appropriate ways, and show your kids what it's like to take deep breaths when needed or how to speak up in a productive rather than destructive way. Your children will begin to reflect what they see.
[See: How to Be a Good Listener.]
For those moments when anger gets the best of you, show them how to be accountable and make amends. When they see this in action, they can adopt your calming scripts and strategies, make them their own and use them the next time they are in need. And yes, as you can imagine, the next time is likely right around the corner.
Dr. Robyn Silverman is a leading child and teen development specialist, success coach and parenting expert who speaks internationally on topics from leadership to character education, female empowerment and how to talk to kids. An author, frequent guest on national news programs including "Today Show" and "Good Morning America," and founder of Powerful Words Character Development, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and two kids. She can be found on DrRobynSilverman.com, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.com.