Anger Management Guide: How to help your child put their temper in the back seat
An anger management guide that teaches children to identify the emotions that tend to hide behind anger and how to cope
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that is an inevitable part of the range of human emotion. It serves a purpose and can be used as a positive force - it can be liberating and motivate action to create change. But it may also overpower people and cause emotional and even physical damage. Many children (and adults) struggle with how to effectively interpret, manage, and act upon this unpleasant emotion. When left unchecked, childhood anger can lead to excessive physical and emotional aggression. Alternatively, if suppressed or ignored, such anger can lead to health issues.
It is a worthwhile practice examining certain emotions that often hide behind anger and how to navigate them in a grounded way:
INSULT: Insult is an emotion that occurs when we interpret what someone said as offensive or humiliating, even if there was no intention in hurting us.
Possible ways to cope: Encourage your child to openly state that they were offended. Oftentimes when children explode, the other party does not even know what has upset them. Chances are, there was no intention to harm the other person and resolving things is doable. Another helpful method geared for children who have been hurt and do not want to talk involves trying to get them to view the situation from another angle; encourage them to see circumstances through the lens of a sibling, a friend, or even their favorite TV character. Encourage them to guess how this person would react if in their position. Lastly, encourage them to do something that will make them feel good in order to cheer up.
SHAME: Shame arises when we believe we are unworthy, incompetent, or flawed. We often feel shame when we are criticized or judged, or simply anticipate feeling judged.
Possible ways to cope: To deal with feelings of shame, one can help the child think of a soothing sentence. Additionally, if your child gets anxious in social situations, it’s advisable to encourage them to speak with a friend who knows them best. It may also be worthwhile to highlight that mistakes happen and we are all human -- it is important for them to feel empowered and ultimately to not avoid the social situation. Lastly, ensure they do something calming for themselves leading up to the social event.
EMBARRASSMENT: Embarrassment arises when we say or do something that is inappropriate for any given situation while in the presence of other people. This sometimes occurs when we feel we made a bad impression or that we may be laughed at.
Possible ways to cope: This is a good opportunity to help your child take a deep breath and remember that whatever happened does not define them. This grounding statement will calm them down and allow them to reassess the situation. It is also an opportunity for them to repeat an empowering sentence pertaining to their intrinsic abilities. For those who have a sense of humor, it can help to release discomfort through laughter.
WORRY: Worry entails constant rumination about the worst-case scenario, causing us to be anxious about facing scary situations - now or in the future.
Possible ways to cope: The first question your child should ask themselves is whether or not they can do anything about the fear. The ability to act frees people from feelings of helplessness that often lead to anxiety. If they realize they can do something, then encourage them to be proactive! Also, teach them to routinely check in with themselves when they are worried - who can I trust to lean on right now? What can I do to improve things? Lastly, encourage them to look for a reliable source of information to ground them in rationale whenever their worries take over.
FEAR: Fear is an emotion that arises when we think of or experience a situation as dangerous.
Possible ways to cope: We are all afraid of something and therefore it is appropriate to give fear a place, acknowledge its existence, and find out from your child whether or not the fear will prevent them from doing what they want. Additionally, it can be helpful to find out what would help them feel safer in the moment. Lastly, encourage them to ask for help when they feel fearful so they have someone to talk it out with.
STRESS: Stress is a state of mental, emotional or physical strain resulting from highly demanding circumstances. The cause may be external or internal.
Possible ways to cope: To mitigate anxiety, children can be taught to take a deep breath and release slowly, until they feel less tense. Sports activities can also help reduce stress and take childrens’ minds off the source of stress. Lastly, making a game plan for how to reduce stress can also be enormously helpful.
ENVY: Envy is a feeling of discontent by comparing ourselves with someone else’s achievements, attributes, possessions, or luck.
Possible ways to cope: Envy is an unpleasant feeling that often surfaces in the face of someone else’s success. To strengthen the child’s sense of self and redirect feelings of jealousy, you should have them focus on their own strengths and abilities, and to think about what they can do to succeed at the next opportunity. You can also encourage them to consider if they can be happy for the person they feel envious of, and also to ask themselves what they can do to succeed as well.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Disappointment arises when there is a gap between expectations and reality. We feel disappointed when either we or others do not live up to expectations.
Possible ways to cope: It is worthwhile to understand what exactly the hope was that did not materialize, and whether it was something that depended on the child, a separate person, or simply the circumstances. It is important not to dismiss the emotion but to acknowledge it and then aim to find a practical solution. Have your child to ask themselves what they wanted that didn’t work out, if/how they can achieve this goal at a different time, and if were there any lessons learned looking back.
GUILT: We feel guilty when we see ourselves as responsible, rightly or wrongly, for physically or emotionally harming someone else. It does not matter if it was done intentionally or unintentionally, as guilt arises based on what we believe occurred.
Possible ways to cope: It’s advisable to help the child take responsibility for the situation and examine what can be done in the current moment to correct what occurred. For example, to recognize their role in the matter if they originally blamed someone else, or to explain their intention and apologize in case of injury. Encourage them to ask themselves what they can do now to fix the situation while also forgiving themselves and others.
SADNESS: Sadness is an emotional pain associated with a sense of loss, sorrow, despair, or helplessness.
Possible ways to cope: If your child is sad, check in with them on what they need and emphasize that you are there for them for a conversation or a hug at any time. Also, when words as a form of expression don’t come easily, children often find it helpful to express their sadness through creative means; writing, painting, sculpting, and the like. Lastly, encourage them to share their feelings with someone else - talking aloud often alleviates feelings of sadness.
FRUSTRATION: Frustration is a feeling that arises when there is a gap between what we strive for and our actual achievement. Frustration often arises when our sense of competence is wounded.
Possible ways to cope: Stop and identify the source of frustration and then take a deep breath to reassess the situation. Sometimes it turns out that there was something external that caused the difficulty. Once the source of difficulty is identified, frustration often reduces in intensity. If the difficulty does not stem from an external source, encourage them to try something different, to explore another way to achieve the goal.
DISCOMFORT: Discomfort is a strong feeling of distress resulting from a physical or emotional difficulty - ranging from feeling too hot, too tired, or being in an awkward or unpleasant situation.
Possible ways to cope: Ask your child if they can do something to improve the situation. For example, opening/closing a window, changing clothes or eating a snack. If not, you can play with the magic of the imagination - have them imagine that they are somewhere more pleasant, and remember that this situation is temporary and will soon change - because nothing is permanent. For instance, if on a very long road trip, remind them to focus on the destination. In other words, it is advisable to emphasize, “we’ll be arriving soon”.
CONCLUSION: Because many children struggle to make sense of and manage anger, and because they typically don’t understand that anger oftentimes acts as a mask of emotion, it is worthwhile to teach them socio-emotional skills through play. Play is considered the universal language of children - a medium through which children are more willing to engage in an exploration of various emotions, and as a result, they tend to feel safer and less threatened within this context. Whether facilitated by a parent or a professional, play has proven exceptionally effective and enjoyable for children, particularly when pertaining to navigating challenging emotions.