Powerful emotions such as anger can be scary and overwhelming for anyone to feel. Anger comes over us when we feel we have been wronged, threatened, or prevented from doing something we want to do. Children who have hurt feelings, are frightened, are overwhelmed or feel embarrassed may be quick to feel angry. Sometimes these emotions are on a shorter fuse when people feel tired or hungry. Even though anger can seem scary or feel uncomfortable, it’s important to recognize that there is value in feeling angry. Anger can be positive when it leads us to respond to a situation taken action towards positive change. It also encourages children to be more persistent in solving problems. This lecture overview will focus on how we, as adults, can help children manage and express their anger in safe and healthy ways through the use of positive discipline, modeling behaviors, and using calming tools.
Using positive discipline provides children with a model which is kind and respectful. Positive discipline also helps to reduce triggers and provides calm environments to communicate feelings as they work on problem-solving. Positive discipline involves using more positive statements than negative statements. When we use anger in a hurtful and negative way the situation can become worse rather than better. A negative tone can start a corrosive cycle; a child becomes as horrible as possible until someone gives in. Some children may even skip the cycles and go right to explosive behaviors. To overcome a negative cycle it is important to catch children being good. It’s helpful to make five positive statements for every negative statement. Another approach that works well is rephrasing what you say, in a positive way by telling what it is you expect or want rather than what you don’t want. For example, the dishes need to go into the sink after dinner instead of don’t leave your plate on the table. Also, spending 15 minutes each day with a child on a child lead activity without demands helps to build a connection with children establishing a more positive and cooperative relationship.
Are there times when your child is more reactive, impulsive, or emotional. Note times of day or events when angry feelings are expressed. By identifying triggers it may be possible to make adjustments to minimize those times when a child may be overwhelmed, tired, hungry, or sick. You may even ask your child for suggestions when they are calm to solve problems around triggers. The goal is to work towards cooperation rather than power struggles.
Think about how you would respond to a good boss vs. a bad boss who yells, nags, and micro manages. Which boss would you collaborate with to solve problems? To collaborate with your child state what you would like to see, ask for cooperation with a positive response, and give a direction with choices. Using when... then…. statements to help children anticipate what will happen. “When you get your homework done, then you may go on the computer. “ Use timeouts as a break away from the moment to reflect. Turn the activity into a game, help them, use a sense of humor and be silly. Meet the child’s momentum; don’t have them drop what they are doing sometimes the last minute notice can be a challenge. Instead, give a five minute warning or set limits. You could say, “Shoot three more baskets and then come inside.” This warning can reduce strong feelings about stopping an activity.
Adults modeling a calm behavior helps to maintain authority and respect. Yelling gives away authority, and scolding gives attention in a negative way. Make positive statements and verbal observations when children move in the right direction. Remember to be respectful in return and thank them for their efforts. Describe what you see and why it’s good. State how it helps others and label personal strengths.
When solving problems remember to do the right thing even when a grown up is not around. An approach to collaborative problem solving is to learn to become more tolerant and flexible. This is done by communicating and collaborating. In general there are three styles of disciplining according to Ross Green. These styles include imposing adult rule, collaboration, and removing all expectations. His recommendation is to focus on a collaborative style to help build an individual’s ability to problem solve. Collaboration allows an opportunity for guidance and growth. When collaborating with a child first restate the issue, acknowledging the child’s concern to show you understand. Next define the problem and present two concerns the child and your concern. For example you may have a safety concern the child did not bring up. Finally invite the child to solve the problem by asking, “How can we work it out? That’s one solution, but it doesn’t solve the other concern. What else could we do?” Remember to check your own emotions, having empathy for your child can reduce adult anger.
Another helpful tip is to create a calming box. A calming box is filled with items that are pleasing to the senses to reduce stress. It might include mints, gum, pictures, postcards, photos, feathers, soft fabrics or even a scented candle for aroma (you don’t even need to light it). Children may open this box and use the materials to self-calm.
When faced with a child using a rude tone of voice try saying, “You know how to talk to me if you want me to listen.” When the child uses a calm voice you can change your response to match their words. If they continue to use a rude voice you may recommend another choice or give them a timeout to prevent the situation from escalating.
Angry kids need connection not punishment, that is why collaboration can be an effective tool for problem solving. In addition, adults can model kindness and respect to children so they will learn from your example ways to manage their responses to stress and anger. Remember to have compassion and forgiveness for yourself and your child.
Kennedy-Moore, E. (2014). Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids. Lecture presented at The Great Courses in Virginia, Chantilly.