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Got Angry Kids?
By Yvonne Sinclair M.A.
Everyone gets angry sometimes. Parents usually want their children to be happy. When the children are angry or sad, sometimes parents feel they have failed in parenting. This is not so! Your job, as a parent, is not to provide a life of glee for the child without bumps or problems. Your job, as a parent, is to prepare your child for real life. In real life, people get angry, and people get sad. Creating an atmosphere for your child to experience feelings in a safe place is good parenting. Anger is not wrong or bad. What we do with anger or how we express anger can be wrong or bad. It can even get us into trouble.
Let us explore anger and children. Here are some things for you to ponder as parents:
1. It would be good to rule out any problems that are not just behavioral. Check to see if your child may have a form of ADD, or another learning problem. It would be a good idea to consult an M.D. for any physical problems to, again, rule out any other issues.
2. Anger expression is learned. You can model good anger expression, and this will help your child change. If your modeling has not been what you want to see from your child, then all is not lost. If the child sees you changing, then that will help him/her to realize he/she can also change behaviors.
3. I am suggesting a no-violence month to start. Again, anger is learned, and if you want your child’s behaviors to change, then the input and influence of violent TV, games, movies, and play needs to be monitored. I would suggest all violence and aggressive forms of games (including, but not limited to, paint ball, guns, attack, or war type) be eliminated completely. Violent movies and television need to be avoided. The computer use should be monitored closely. Watch what your kids watch; this makes you an informed parent.
4. I am suggesting a token economy (explained later). Your consistency will determine the success of whatever discipline or consequences you decide to use. If the consequences are always the same and administered with love, then it actually gives the child a sense of security. It has a calming effect.
5. Something else to consider is the fact a child will act out the stress he/she feels at home. If the parents are having problems, the child will know, and behaviors will suffer. Even if the problems are not talked (or yelled) about, the child will feel the tension.
Children need to understand anger is not bad. They are not bad for feeling angry. Everyone feels anger at one time or another. It is what we do with our anger that gets us in trouble or not. Before we can handle our anger, we need to notice when we are angry. Here are some suggestions for you, as parents, to try. You can then help your child express anger in a healthy way.
For a week, keep track of each time you are frustrated, angry, mad, annoyed, or irritated. Remember you are responsible for your anger. Finding someone else at fault for your anger and your expression will not only sabotage your changing behaviors, but it will give him/her power over your expression that is not truly his/hers. Someone else cannot make you mad; only YOU can allow yourself to become angry. Take responsibility for your own behaviors and choices. When we stuff our angry feelings, we build up the angry energy, and one little thing can cause an explosion. This is like blowing little bits of air into a balloon again and again and again. Eventually the balloon will explode.
This next week, continue to notice each time you are having negative feelings that may lead to anger. Each time you notice a feeling of anger, frustration, or annoyance, express yourself OUTLOUD in some way.
Time-out can be useful to you also. Time-out does not have to be used as a punishment, but it can be a time to cool down and effectively discipline. Again, this is good modeling for your child.
Doing something to calm your angry feelings before they build to an explosion is a healthy way to manage your anger. Using words and sounds helps. Let’s talk about doing something physical to help lower your stress level and decrease angry feelings.
Here are some ideas to consider for your kids:
-Breathing. 4X4X4 Three breaths in and three breaths out like you are blowing out a candle.
-Counting slowly to ten or higher
-Ripping newspaper, scrunching it in a ball, and throwing it in a paper bag (for easy clean up later).
-Taking a voluntary personal time-out
The things you tell yourself can either fuel your anger or calm you. Here are some examples of what kids may be telling themselves. Self talk can be changed from negative to positive by paying attention to what we are thinking and rewording it.
If I don’t win all the time:
I am a loser.
I am so ugly.
I am stupid.
Nobody likes me.
Nobody cares about me.
I look weird.
I have to be first.
Everyone is smarter than I am.
No one wants to play with me.
I cannot do anything right.
My parents like my brother/sister more than me.
Here are some examples of changing negative self talk to positive self talk:
I am okay. No matter what, I really am OKAY!
I can suck at something and still enjoy trying.
I can win and love it and lose and love it, too.
I can be me,
look like me,
walk like me,
talk like me and
be me… all wonderful ME!
I can be different from everyone else, and I know that is okay.
Fair-Fighting: Fighting can be a way of communication and a way of resolving problems IF it is done fairly. This list of fair-fighting rules applies the discussions adults have and when you are working out a problem with your child. Here is a list of fighting rules that will help your discussion. It will keep the conversation productive, and it will ultimately work at resolving the issue.
1. Identify the problem. .Ask yourself, “What is really bothering me? What do I really need or really want?” State what is really bothering you.
2. Focus on the problem. The problem is the problem, not the person. Try to focus on that and not on the person. Use careful language and talk nicely.
3. Attack the problem. Words are good here. Attacking the problem means you don’t attack the person with names or threats.
4. Listen with an open mind. That means you try to see the other side. Don’t interrupt when he/she tries to talk. Actually listen and don’t make up in your mind what you think he/she is going to say. Watch the sarcasm and tone of voice when you are talking. Go ahead and ask questions to get the picture right. Remember: it is okay to agree to disagree. You can both be right and not agree. So put yourself in her place, and if someone took something of yours without your permission, then you might feel like calling names, too, especially if you did not have a personal anger plan.
5. Treat the other person with respect (even if the person is a child). You should do this even if you don’t think he/she deserves your respect. This “treating him/her with respect” stuff is for you, too. You are being respectful, appropriate, and keeping your power, yea! So here are some words you can use: you seem angry. I care about resolving this. Do you want to talk now or later?
These are respectful words that may even get things resolved.
6. This is the hard one: take responsibility for your own actions. Blaming others takes away your power and may mean you are avoiding responsibility for your own stuff. No one can make you mad. Only you can allow yourself to be mad. Don’t give him/her the power. Take responsibility and blow him/her away with an apology. Take responsibility for your own stuff.
Using your words is harder than going off on someone (even your child) with aggression. Using your words keeps your power. When children are having a problem, they may be at a loss for words. Here are some examples of ways they can use their words and keep their power:
POWER words to use ______instead of these words
I don’t like to be teased. SHUT UP!
When you yell, I get scared. You are stupid.
When you don’t share, I get mad. You are just mean.
Hey, you, that is my pen. Dummy, that is mine.
I really don’t want to play now. Leave me alone, stupid.
I want your attention. I hate you.
I want to play with you. Your game is lame.
I would like to be alone. Go away! You’re annoying.
Could you be more quiet, please? Stop the noise!
This system is used for positive reinforcement. The child learns to monitor him/herself, and the bad behavior becomes the “bad guy” instead of you. The child can be caught to be good and replace points.
The most important message for the parent is: you get what you notice. If you are constantly noticing the negative, then you will get more and more of that. If you notice the things and behaviors you want, then you will get more of those.
Keep the system simple at first. Be consistent. Let the child have input on what points to take away for what behaviors and also for the good behavior adding points. He/she will probably be harder on themselves than you would be.
Start with 1000 points at the beginning of the week for 7 years old and older. For younger children, you can even do a daily chart depending on their ability to focus and their frustration levels. Keeping points will be an incentive to continue. Points are taken away for bad behavior. Violent behaviors cause more points to be lost. Be fair and consistent. When you catch them doing something extra or good, add points and let them know you caught them – you will get more of what you notice.
At the end of the time period, the remaining points can be used to buy extra privileges. Again, ask for the child assistance in determining how many points spent for certain things. These extra privileges may include: extra TV, time with Mom or Dad, favorite snack, extra hugs, those type of rewards.
You can use a chart with stickers or a marker if you’d like. That way the child can keep track of how he/she is doing.
Have a great time changing the dynamic in your family. Choose your battles. Ask yourself, “Is this life threatening?” If not, maybe you can let it go and save the energy for a more important problem.
It is very important to allow your child to have a voice. Let him/her express something such as: “I don’t want to do this.” It does not mean he/she does not have to do the action, but expressing his/her wishes may just feel good for him/her. You can respond with, “I understand you do not want to do this, but it still must be done.” If your child can tell you “No,” then rejoice. Yes, I said rejoice. You have given him/her the power to say “No” to an adult, and this may be very important one day. You do not have to let him/her know you are rejoicing, and you may say, “I hear you are not in agreement, but I need you to follow though.” You may replace this with something more appropriate for your discussion.
Give your child choices. For example, you can say, “Do you want to take your shower now or in a 1/2 hour?” Choices help children feel he/she is more in control of his/her life. People (and children as well) like to be asked to do things in a respectful way. The old adage “You get more bees with honey than with salt” still applies. Give it a try and see if there is a different response. Also, if you have been yelling a lot, try a soft voice. Think about it. When there is a gathering, and the adults are all talking, children do not seem to be paying any attention. But, if the adults start talking in whispers, wow do the little ears perk up.
In review: rule out any problems, other than behavioral, the child may have. Model the way you want your child to behave, talk, and express anger. Remember: anger is not bad. Pat yourself on the back when your child is able to express emotion in an appropriate manner. It is also okay for you, as a parent, to get angry. What you do with it helps or hinders the child’s development. My theory of child raising is this: you have their fourth birthday party, and the next day they are packing for college. Yes, it seems that short, so enjoy your children.