Anger – Teaching Children How to Control

 

By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.

 

As children grow up they will use anger to express themselves. In the two previous articles we have discussed what anger is and how to teach children alternative behaviors. This article will give some suggestions on how to teach children to “cage their rage.” In other words how to maintain control of their behavior and not give control to others. When children allow themselves to get angry they empower the person or thing that they think is angering them to be in control them. Parents need to teach children how to maintain control rather than give control of their lives to others by allowing others or things to anger them.

To do this a parent first needs to give up the idea that anger is natural or needed. Pure and simple, anger is a learned behavior. The emotions and feeling that come with anger are wired into us but the decision to be angry is totally under the child’s control. We as parents have got to recognize that if a child says, “I couldn’t help it” that this is an excuse not a reason for angry behavior.

As a result a parent should never counsel a child to get rid of their anger by hitting a pillow or doing something that requires movement. Exercise does help relax a person but it will never stop aggressive behavior. To prove my point, just watch a basketball, football, or baseball game. These are active games, but participating in these is no assurance that the participants will automatically dissipate their anger.

An interesting thing about anger is that, once a child makes the decision to use anger, emotions can slowly build up until the chemistry of the body is so intense and so poised for defensive action that it becomes difficult to stop a full blown rage. We are so wired that the body cannot tell the difference between imagined danger and real danger. If a child thinks that something is unfair and that the situation is horrible the body chemistry is the same as if a huge bear had just appeared that must be fought or fled from. For survival purposes, the child is ready to fight.

Helping the child stop the emotions before the emotions are in control should be our goal. Here are some suggestions:

1.    Help your child recognize that sometimes unfair things happen but that this is not the end of the world. Teach your child to stop and think before deciding that anger is the only course of action. You may want to sit down with a young child and have them physically make a paper stop sign out of construction paper and a Popsicle stick. Have your child write the word STOP on one side of the sign and THINK on the other side. Teach them that before they decide to get angry to stop and think about what to do instead. If your child can learn to do this they may be able to avoid getting into the rage cycle in the first place.

2.    When you children are angry they are “drunk on power.” You can’t reason with a “drunk.” Just recognize that you accomplish nothing by trying to reason with them when they are angry. Control or contain them, if you have to and give them time to “cool down” before you try to discuss anything with them. If you can do this you will not get caught in your child’s anger cycle making it more difficult for you, the parent, to maintain your composure.

3.    Because calming down once a child is into the anger cycle is difficult, give you child some tools to help calm down. Teach your child to calm the body by thinking pleasant thoughts. By thinking pleasant thoughts you take your mind to a place that appears safe and as a result the body chemistry responds by providing calming hormones that will help them respond rationally rather then emotionally. Tell them to think about their favorite spot or of the person they are angry at being dressed like a clown. This will help them maintain control. You may also want to teach them how to do deep breathing or Yoga Breathing. This type of breathing also takes a child’s mind of the anger and has some positive physiological effects on the body. This is done by breathing slowly into the lower lungs to a count of eight and breathing slowly out to a count of eight.

4.    Let your child know that you have faith in their ability to control their anger. Tell them how you learned. My Dad’s story, when I was a child, went something like this. “I sure hope you don’t have to wait as long as I did to learn to control your anger. When you were young and I worked as Head Rose Grower at VanBucklel’s Greenhouse ’I got mad at my boss and slugged him. I lost a good job and your Mom and you kids had to suffer because I hadn’t learned to control my temper.” I never forgot this story and worked hard to make sure I was in control of my temper.

It is important that your children learn to control their anger. If you can give them some clues on how to “cage their rage” you will give them a gift that will allow them the chance to be in control of their life rather than allowing life, people, or things to control them. Without this control, they are left to the whims of emotions and circumstances neither of which should control nor push them into paths that lead only to unhappiness and unfulfilled dreams.