Part 1: Overview
Part 2: What Makes Children Angry
Part 3: Having the Right Attitude
Part 4: Communication Skills – Active Listening
Part 5: Communication Skills – “I” Messages
Part 6: Being an Emotion Coach
Part 7: Putting It All Together
Becoming your Children’s Emotion Coach
Parents need to accept and acknowledge their children’s anger, look for underlying issues, consider factors that may influence the anger, and teach ways to express and redirect the anger.
Much of the following information is based upon the work of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and her concept of being an “emotion coach.”
- Stop or change the “dance” – getting caught in familiar patterns of anger. Respond in a different way to your children’s anger than you usually do. For example:
If you have yelled in the past when your children have been angry, respond with a whisper.
If you have given in to your children’s anger, hold firm and know that their anger may get worse before it gets better. If they have been accustomed to using anger successfully to persuade you to get what they want, they may escalate their anger to re-establish that dance.
- Separate feelings from behavior; allow feelings, set limits on behaviors.
- Stop the behavior when it crosses the line into unacceptable aggression. Use calm physical restraint if necessary. Remove your child from the situation.
“It is okay to be angry, but it never okay to hurt another person.”
“You may be angry, but you may not bite, hit, or hurt anyone.”
“We don’t call names in our family. Tell him what you are upset about.”
- If they scream at you, or if they are older and curse at you, let your children know that that is not acceptable behavior, and that you will discuss the situation with them when they address you respectfully. Until then do not engage in a conversation.
Listen to strong feelings
- Let them know you are a source of support when they are upset.
- Give them the opportunity to talk about what they are feeling and to vent their strong emotions.
Teach about feelings
- Help them to identify what they are feeling.
You’re really angry that Jean colored in your book. Now you can’t finish that picture.”
“That’s really upsetting (disappointing, frustrating, . . . etc.)
“You’re angry that you can’t come to the store with mommy and Sarah. You wish you could go out too! I wonder if you’re afraid we will have a good time without you.”
- Use play to help them identify their feelings: for example, they can show different feelings in their faces (mad, sad, happy, surprised, frustrated), or you can show different faces and have them tell you how you are feeling.
- Discuss how characters in a book or a television show may be feeling.
- Teach them to recognize the signs that they are getting angry. Do they experience any of the following:
- getting flushed?
- heart beating more quickly?
- hands moving a lot?
- body moving faster or slower?
- breathing faster or slower?
- feeling hot or cold?
- hands feeling dry or sweaty?
- In addition to their physical reactions, do they:
- get confused or nervous?
- not want to talk to people?
- begin to be uncooperative?
- speak more loudly or softly?
- Share with them what signs you notice in yourself when you are becoming angry.
Teach anger management techniques
- When children are calm show them how to use the following techniques so you can redirect them these activities when they are worked up:
- taking 5 deep breaths
- for younger children – blowing bubbles
- counting to 25
- splashing their own face with water
- going to a designated spot to calm down
- repeating a mantra to help them stay cool and calm. For example, you can teach your child to say, “It’s okay,” or “I can handle this.”
These calming techniques are important and effective because they give your child time to re-engage the “thinking” part of his brain (the neo-cortex), rather than responding from the part of the brain that controls emotions (the amygdala).
- Role play to help your children learn to express anger. Create a fictitious situation and use a doll, puppet, or stuffed animal; talk to your children about the situation, what the puppet is feeling, and help him find a positive way to express the feelings.
- Remind them to use their words:
“Tell the person how you feel.”
“You can tell your brother, ‘I get really mad when you borrow my controller and you don’t put it back because then I can’t find it when I want it.”
- Use creative activities:
- drawing – even scribbling; the idea is to release the emotions. Have dark colored crayons and large paper available. “Draw me a picture of how angry you are.”
- writing – put words to the anger. For older children:“Write about what you are feeling and what happened.”
- Suggest physical activities – hitting a pillow, jumping rope, running
After the fact
- Talk about other things they can do to remedy the situation (problem exploration)
- When they have calmed down, ask them to think about why they were angry. Help them get clear about what the issue is by listening without judgment.
- Remember to praise any progress in learning to express angry feelings appropriately. If your child used to hit, and now he screams disrespectfully, this is still progress.
It is your job as a parent to teach your children the skills they will need to cope successfully with life’s challenges, and this includes teaching them how to manage their own anger.
For more information about managing anger, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.