Angry children, worried parents: Helping families manage difficult emotions
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By Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. , Robert Brooks, Ph.D. , Sharon K. Weiss
Anger management strategies
There are steps parents can take to help their children deal more comfortably, effectively, and adaptively with anger. These interrelated steps include:
- Serve as appropriate models for your children. Remember that children don't always do what we say. They are more often likely to do what we do. Thus, a key component of teaching anger management is for you, the adult, to manage anger and model effective anger coping strategies for your children.
- Be empathic. As you teach your children to express anger constructively, place yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself such questions as:
- "Am I speaking to my children so they will learn from me rather than resent me?"
- "Would I want anyone to speak with me the way I am speaking with my children?" If we do not consider our children's perspective, we are likely to say or do things that may actually work against helping our children learn to deal constructively with anger.
- Involve your child as much as possible in the process of dealing effectively with anger. Even young children can be engaged in a discussion that includes consideration of:
- what makes us angry.
- what are different options for dealing with anger.
- what might be the consequence of each option, and
- what option might be most effective.
- Remember the adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Engage in prevention and "planned parenting." Notice when certain situations are especially difficult or frustrating for your child and prepare a "plan of action" in advance. For example, if your child gets frustrated when going into a store, wishing to have every item in sight, you can say before going in, "You can select one item. You let me know which one you would like to have." If even this kind of preparation does not work, it may be a signal that your child is not yet ready to accompany you in the store. Or, if your child "fights" about going to bed and you find yourself trying to cajole him for an hour, it might be helpful to provide your child a sense of ownership and avoid a struggle by saying, "Do you want me to remind you 10 minutes or 15 minutes before bedtime that it's time to get ready?" Prevention also involves providing clear and realistic expectations, following a flexible but predictable structure, and being consistent.
- Discipline in a way that lessens frustration and anger and reinforces self-discipline. All parents can become frustrated, at times, with their children, but when parents respond to their children's anger by screaming, yelling, or spanking, they are unintentionally reinforcing the very behaviors they wish to stop. A parent who screams or spanks is communicating such messages as: "We handle frustration through anger," or "As long as I am bigger than you are, it's okay for me to shout and hit." Parents who remain calm while disciplining, who have clear expectations, who use realistic, natural, and logical consequences, and who remember that discipline is a teaching process, will lessen outbursts of anger in their children, while reinforcing self-control.
- Show your children unconditional love and spend "special times" with them. While these behaviors can be placed under the heading of "prevention" (step Four), we believe that they are so important they deserve their own section. When parents accept their children and show them unconditional love, children are less likely to become very frustrated or intensely angry. When parents spend time alone with each of their children in such activities as playing with them, reading to them at bedtime, going out for snack or to a game, they have opportunities to develop a positive relationship. Such a relationship will provide the foundation for teaching children self-discipline and assisting them in managing frustration and anger constructively.
Even in the best functioning families, children may be angry at times with parents. Parents may be angry with children and children may experience anger regarding other issues or people outside of the home. The key issue is how we choose to deal with our angry feelings as parents, and how effective we are at helping our children develop strategies to learn to manage anger. We believe that one of the most important tasks of parenting is to help children become skilled at anger management.
Excerpted from Angry Children, Worried Parents by Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sharon K. Weiss, M.Ed. Copyright © 2004 by Sam Goldstein, Robert Brooks, and Sharon K. Weiss. Excerpted by permission of Specialty Press, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.