Anger – Teaching Children What to Do Instead -


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


As children grow up they will use anger to express themselves. In this article we will evaluate how to give children alternatives methods of problem solving that do not involve anger or aggression. This is not an easy task because aggression and anger are very powerful behaviors and most children that use anger feel that these behaviors are ok because they sometimes get what they want, at least in the short run. They do not, when they are young, recognize that in the long run anger is never effective.

If children do not learn alternative behavior or do not use socially appropriate behavior as they grow, anger and aggression become behaviors that older children feel are powerful. Such ingrained and powerful behaviors are not easily abandon unless these children know what else to do and are truly motivated.

One of the ways children learn that anger and aggression can be used to get them what they want is by observing and imitating the behavior of others in their world. When they observe what seems like an interesting and possibly effective behavior such as anger they mimic this tactic and if it works they put it in their toolbox of behaviors.

If aggression and anger are learned in this manner it only follows that alternative behaviors can be learned in the same manner. This means that children need to be provided with examples of sensible and effective behavior that they feel is just as effective if not more effective then anger. This means that parents, teachers, friends, and peers need to not only demonstrate and model non-aggressive behavior, they must also communicate and demonstrate that angry behavior will not get anyone what they want and, in fact, will lessen the children’s ability to get what they want, solve problem, or overcome obstacles that are the reason for anger. Here are some ideas on how to do this.

1.    When your children decide to use angry behavior, do not get angry back. If you must display any emotion. Turn on sincere and heart felt sadness. You may say something to your child like this. “It looks you’re your behavior is such that I can not work with you right now. When you get your act together I will be happy to discuss this problem with you.” Or you may say something like this. “How sad that you find it necessary to get angry. It saddens me that you have chosen to behave like this because that means that I will have to do some things to help you that I would prefer not doing.”

2.    It is important that the interaction between you children and yourself is perceived by your children as helping in nature. This means that if you must be firm, be firm. But do not be firm in an angry manner. Your anger just gives the children something more to attack with further anger. Your children may not see where they are doing as anything wrong. In their mind they are only defending their rights, their turf, trying to get what they want, or defending themselves from you. You may choose to say something like this. “It looks like you are having some difficulty right now controlling your behavior. Would you like to talk about it in a civil way or would you rather I help you by making decision for you until you can learn to treat me with more respect.”

3.    Always assume that your children have the capacity to act in a non-aggressive manner. Assume that they are doing their best and are immature when they use anger. Give up the idea of fearing that they bad or flawed. Assume that if you show them what do instead of aggression that they will eventually figure out how to approach problems in a non-aggressive way. You may say something like this to them. “I can see that you are frustrated right now and having some difficulty approaching this issue. I have some ideas that I think might work better. Are you in a state of mind where you could listen to these ideas now or would you prefer spending your time calming down and discussing them later?” You can then, when your children are ready, teach, model, or role play techniques such as negotiation, compromise, accepting responsibility for your mistakes, the importance of learning from mistakes, patience, respect for others, etc.

4.    Do not accept others “aggressing” on your children. Teach them what to do instead. If your children who use anger hurt other children teach the other children well as your child. For instance. If one of your children should choose to become aggressive and the child who is being attacked becomes aggressive back and gets hurt in the process your may hear a conversation that goes something like this. Mom: “John it looks like you hurt your brother Allan.” John: “He deserved it. He always has an attitude. I couldn’t take it anymore.” Mom: “To me it makes no difference what the reason is for violence or anger. All I know is that you, John, now have an obligation to take care of the harm you were responsible for. When you have figured out how to relieve Allen’s his pain and/or assure that he is ok I will be willing to discuss some ways you could have addressed Allen’s behavior in a manner that would protect your rights and not physically harm Allen.”

Assuring that you, as a parent, demonstrate what to do instead of anger can be one of the most powerful ways to help your children give up any aggressive or angry behavior that they may mistakenly feel is working for them.