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Words Can Hurt: Teaching Kids Better Ways to Express Anger

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By Kristin Stanberry

Finding Replacement Behaviors

It’s best to help your child replace the unacceptable behavior with a more desirable one that still allows him to let off steam. For example, he might substitute swear words with a silly-but-angry retort, like, “Balderdash!” One boy who did this found he couldn’t say the word without laughing, so the replacement behavior diffused his anger as well!

Other replacement behaviors to express anger include punching a pillow, kicking a punching bag, or repeatedly bouncing a ball against an outside wall. Such activities are safe and appropriate and help kids express frustration and anger in a physical way.

Let your child experiment with different replacement behaviors. Make suggestions, but encourage him to come up with his own ideas. Each time he uses a replacement behavior, ask if it made him feel better. He may need to try different methods before finding the solution that works.

Reinforcing Positive Behavior

Give your child an age-appropriate reward (sticker, privilege, or praise) each time he uses effective replacement language or behavior. Point out how his relationships with others are improving because of his new behavior. Specifically, help him see how his new behavior helps him get what he needs, including having others understand him.

Taking Techniques to School

If your child’s outbursts are a problem at school, clue his teacher into the technique you’re using at home. She may be able to employ it (or some version of it) with your child at school. Consistency between home and school leads to greater reinforcement of the desired behavior.

Practicing? with Patience

Be patient as your child practices changing his behavior. It’s normal for kids to backslide from time to time. When he does, don’t overreact; simply intervene and help him get back on track. And as always, help him celebrate - and focus on - his successes.

When to Get Professional Help

If your child’s expression of anger frequently turns into aggression toward people or destruction of property, or if your ongoing attempts to help him control his anger don’t seem to be working, it may be time to get some help from a therapist or counselor. For some children, the common approaches to behavior management are not effective. When this is the case, the sooner you get help to figure out an effective approach, the better. Ask your pediatrician or school psychologist to recommend a therapist.

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.


Comments from readers

"'Invent hand signals (such as a “time out� signal) or verbal cues and use them to help your child realize he’s getting wound up. In time, he’ll learn to recognize when he’s getting upset.' I'm sorry, but that makes it look like the child is some kind of pet . This site has some very great tips, but I couldn't help but notice that there isn't that much respect towards the kids. Especially when giving an example to some with disorders."