Children of all ages find certain emotions difficult to accept. We can easily picture a toddler with a tantrum or a rebellious teen doing everything out of spite to their parents. However, no age is free of anger, stress, frustration, and other unpleasant feelings that our children may have problems accept, deal with, and work through. In this post, I’m going to show you how a parent can help their child with anger management.
Be a good model of behavior
First thing when it comes to “teaching” a child anything is showing them how to do it. Children don’t learn what we tell them. They learn what we show them. And best if we ourselves practice what we preach.
If you teach your kid how to kick a ball, you kick it first and then let the kid try. If you want a child to paint, you first show them, how to hold the brush, how to make smears, etc. If you want your child to learn how to deal with certain emotions, you need to know that stuff yourself first.
I myself have a really big problem with anger management. I get stressed easily and I hate it when my plans fail. It makes me extremely irritable when I’m tired or my morning routine is ruined. A parent’s life is full of unexpected wake-ups or other unplanned situations. My pregnancy hormones don’t make it any easier for me to stay calm. In the end, it happens quite often that I lose my temper. In such a case, I have to remind myself that it’s not the child, nor the cat, nor the husband, that makes me angry, but the situation. The situation triggers my emotions and it is up to me whether I yell or use this energy for something more constructive. If I fail and become aggressive, I should try to make up for my outburst later on. But it’s always better to prevent than heal. In order to do that, I try to practice mindfulness and sometimes meditate. This way I hope to become more aware of my emotions and what triggers them so that I can anticipate and think of what may happen if I get angry and lose my temper in advance.
When I go through that whole process, I find it easier to talk about emotions to my 2.5-year-old child.
Talk about emotions when they happen
Some experts say that we shouldn’t try to analyze anger while still angry, but rather talk about it later on. However, I found it easier for both me and my son to talk about it right when it happens. This way he learns exactly how the emotion feels and how easily he can tame it and channel it if only he learns what it is.
Name the emotions
The first step in taming an emotion is to name it. No further than today my toddler was building a tower with Lego Duplo blocks. Soon the tower was so tall the blocks didn’t hold and it fell. He was already frustrated so this simple instance triggered him and he started to scream, stomp his feet and throw the remaining blocks around. I kneeled next to him and asked “What happened? Did you get angry?” To my surprise, he instantly became very solemn and said “Yes” in a sad voice.
With older children, you may simply ask them what they feel. With a toddler, who may not be able to do that on his own, it is better not to add to his frustration and just ask if he got angry when we see that. This way, just by naming an emotion, we make the unknown known and we accept it just as a state, without judging. It is not anyone’s fault that they have emotions of various kinds. You can read about it in one of my other posts here.
Name the situation that triggered the emotion
What I asked my son next was simply “Did you get angry because your tower fell?”. Again he confirmed. I also told him that I often get angry, too, when something doesn’t go as I wanted it to. Speaking of emotions, getting a whole family to grandma’s on time or building a tower up to the ceiling is the same thing. We plan something, the plan fails, we get irritated, angry or mad.
I often ask my son, when he gets irritated or angry, whether it’s a big problem or a small problem that he’s facing. Small problems are those that a child can solve by themselves, while big problems need someone else’s help. Realizing that you can deal with a problem by yourself and you don’t really need your mom or dad’s assistance (other than just being there for emotional support), makes a child more self-reliant, responsible and self-confident. Practicing the skill to distinguish between these situations makes it easier for them to assess their own abilities or ask for help in adult life.
Let the steam out
Anger is the reaction of your body to a certain situation. It gives you the energy to change that situation. In prehistoric times that was usually fighting for survival. This is one of the reasons why many people feel aggressive when angry. Our body needs to release the energy outwards so it won’t be directed inwards. If we tend to suppress our anger, it gets directed inwards to our own body which may lead to various illnesses. A suppressed emotion doesn’t get released or cannot be worked through. It stays in and bursts out in unexpected situations, making us overreact.
We can think of various ways to utilize the energy. As adults, we can e.g. do some sports, go for a walk, ride a bike, do some chores (my cousin always tidies her whole house when she’s angry). Even screaming into a pillow allows you to release the tension and then feel better. There can be even more fun ideas for children. Screaming in a pillow is a good one, too. You can also, for instance, tell them to stomp like a big, angry elephant or to roar like an angry lion. Anything involving physical activity will do.
Change the focus of attention
If the situation that triggered your child cannot be helped, it may be best to focus their attention on something else. Or even better, rephrase the situation so it doesn’t look that bad.
I said to my toddler “But look, you built that tower yourself, so you can fix it yourself!” This way he stopped focusing on the fact, that it fell. Now he focused on the activity of rebuilding it and his ability to do that. This also allowed him to believe in himself and his own skills.
As you can see, being aware of one’s emotions is key to accepting, experiencing and dealing with them. It is vital to be aware of your own emotions if you want to teach that your child. That way we will be able to guide them through the same process so that they can learn and become self-reliable, not parent-dependent. There are many ways to achieve that. You can practice mindfulness or meditate. Research says that at schools where meditation was included in the daily routine, everything improved: they noticed less aggressive behaviors, better achievements, etc. You can read about it on “Educate, Inspire, Change” here.
One day, when I had just learned about mindfulness and how to acknowledge my own emotions, I was going to pick my toddler up from nursery school. I was tired after work and I kept thinking about the groceries, the dinner, the child being needy and clingy when we get home. But then, I focused not on my plans, but on what I felt in that particular moment. I suddenly realized that I missed him and I was excited to see him after the long day at work. No matter how tired I was, I suddenly felt how much I loved my only child. All the chores didn’t matter as long as I could be with him. Just by allowing my emotions to speak freely, I felt better. Just by acknowledging what I felt, I became a more loving mother.