Anger is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain that serves as a cue when the thinking mind perceives threat, frustration or roadblock to a goal. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. Problems arise when anger results in inappropriate behavior. Since temperament and early learning both influence how we manage anger, it helps to ask and answer a few basic questions. How do you respond when angry? Are you cynical? Do you overreact? Do you yell, hit, intimidate, shame the offender? How did your parents respond to you when you were a child? Did they punish you? Did they hit, blame, shame you? Most importantly, do you manage your anger - or does your anger manage you?
The aim of teaching a child anger management strategies is not just to reduce excessive reactions but to recognize anger as a cue to redirect behavior in an assertive rather than an aggressive way. This means learning to cope with angry feelings and becoming respectful advocates for themselves. This does not mean being pushy, demanding, spewing feelings at others or acting out in destructive ways. It also does not mean suppressing angry feelings. Suppressing too oft en leads to projecting (responding excessively to some minor, unrelated irritant), or passive aggressing (indirectly getting back at people) that sometimes shows up as failure to follow through, cynicism or excessive fault-finding.
The following strategies for teaching children to cope more comfortably with angry feelings are recommended by Sam Goldstein Ph.D., Robert Brooks Ph.D, and Sharon Weiss M.A., authors of "Angry Children, Worried parents: Seven Steps to Help Families Manage Anger."
Be an appropriate model for your children. Remember that children are less likely to do what we say than they are to do what we do.
Be empathic. Validate their feelings and perspective. Failure to do so unwittingly teaches them that their and others' differing viewpoints, and by extension they themselves as well as others, don't matter - which results in defensive anger.
Encourage problem-solving. Ask questions that help them identify the cause of their anger, what options they have, the possible consequences of their options and what option might be most effective. This reinforces the understanding and belief that they can actually manage their anger rather than being managed by their anger.
Know your child's vulnerabilities and sensitivities and anticipate situations that are likely to present particular challenges for them, involve them in making a plan and then follow through with consistency.
Discipline effectively by having clear expectations and using natural, logical, realistic consequences and, above all, by remaining calm. Give yourself a time-out or hand off to your partner when necessary - after all, you're only human - and this too will model and reinforce self-control.
Peggy Nolen is a licensed professional counselor in Covington. She specializes in recovery from traumatic experience, depression, anxiety and problems with drugs and alcohol. She can be reached at (770) 314-5924.