By GALTime Parenting Pro Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Clenched teeth. Rapid breathing. Red face. Teaching kids a new way to cope with their intense feelings is not easy-especially if they have only practiced aggressive ways of dealing with their frustrations. The good news is that although aggression is learned, so too is calmness. Learning any new habit takes time-- especially expressing anger more constructively, so don't give up! If you're consistent, you'll be able to help your kid learn a healthier way to handle his anger. You may also be able to help him discover the source of his anger.
Anger is normal, but how a child displays anger can be appropriate or inappropriate. And that method can become a habit that is difficult to re-frame. My goal is always to help parents teach children healthier habits. Here are five steps to guide you in squelching inappropriate anger in your child and teach him healthier ways to express it.
Step 1. Identify Anger Warning Signs
Explain to your child that we all have our own little signs that warn us we're getting angry, and that we should listen to them because they can help us stay out of trouble. Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs she may have that tell her she's starting to get upset. For example: "Looks like you're tense. Your hands are in a fist. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?" Anger escalates very quickly. If a kid waits until he is in "melt down" to get himself back into control, he's too late-and so are you to try and help him.
Step 2. Recognize Potential Anger Triggers
Every kid has certain cues that trigger deeper frustrations and unresolved conflicts that may resort in angry outbursts. For example: your child may feel unappreciated in your family, may feel inadequate in a competitive classroom environment, or may suffer from low self-esteem. The key is to identify what causes the anger in your kid and help him be aware of it when it occurs.
Step 3. Develop a Feeling Vocabulary
Many kids display aggression such as kicking, screaming, hitting, biting because they simply don't know how to express their frustrations any other way. They need an emotion vocabulary to express how they feel, and you can help your kid develop one.
Here are a few: angry, upset, mad, frustrated, agitated, furious, apprehensive, tense, nervous, anxious, irritated, furious, ticked off, irate. When your child is angry, use the words so that he can apply them to real life: "Looks like you're really angry. Want to talk about it?" "You seem really irritated. Do you need to walk it off?" Your goal is to have your child be able to label his upset feelings to you - without the inappropriate outburst. And when he does, acknowledge and reinforce it!
Related: Are You Raising a Brat?Step 4. Teach Healthy Anger Management Skills
If you want your kid to handle anger more appropriately then you must teach her a new behavior to substitute for the inappropriate she now uses. Here are four of my tried and true solutions.Step 5. Use Time Out When Inappropriate Anger Persists
Though you've taught your kid alternative strategies to handling strong emotions, old behaviors take time to replace. Meanwhile, you can't let your kid continue to display inappropriate anger. So explain that while it's okay to be angry, he must use words- not his fists- to tell how feels.
YOUR TURN: What works in your house to calm the kids?
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