Previously, we looked at how to help your child to manage stress (click here for article). Now, we look at another big emotion that can overwhelm all of us from time to time and leave us feeling out of control: Anger.
Anger is a natural emotion that is meant to alert and energise us when there is a need to change a harmful situation. Anger can trigger a necessary response to a negative situation. If we let anger get out of control, however, it can damage our health, our relationships and those around us.
Modelling positive responses is so important in teaching our children how to manage their anger. If we fly off the handle, they will learn that this is okay. If we step outside of the situation, take some calming breaths and wait until we have calmed down to react, they will learn to do this too.
Our anger responses are learned behaviours. We can change them, but it takes some effort and time. Below are some ways to help deal more effectively with anger. It is really helpful to write things down what triggers us, how we feel and how we react. This can also be adapted to help children to recognise their own triggers and name their own emotions.
- What Triggers the Anger? Write down those things that cause you to become angry. These might be external triggers (what others do) or internal triggers (what you say to our self or how you interpret an event)
- Notice your body’s responses. Notice and write down your body’s response to anger producing situations. You might feel flushed or hot; have a pounding heart; a knot in your stomach; start grinding your teeth; have sweaty palms; you might clench your fists or tense your muscles; your breathing may become rapid, etc.
- Use Anger Reducers. Notice and write down what helps to relieve the tension in your body and reduce your anger. It might be things like taking calming breaths, counting backwards; taking a walk; thinking of calm, pleasant images; conscious relaxing of your muscles; or thinking through your responses—what would happen if I lose control? Why am I getting so angry? Is it worth it?
- Try Using Reminders. Write down words and phrases to help “cool” and refocus your thoughts. Use problem solving or questioning thoughts (“How can I solve this peacefully?”; “Why am I getting angry? What’s behind this?”). Try control and escape thoughts (“I can walk away” or “I can take some time out”) or forward-looking thoughts (“What will happen if I let myself get angry?”) Praise yourself (“Good! I’m not yelling. I’m staying calm)
- Reflect on your Response. Write this down and think about your response to a situation that made you angry. What did you do? How did you feel? Were your grievances real or imagined? Did selfishness or jealousy feed your anger? Did your own thoughts feed the anger? What we the consequences? What did you do well? What could you do better next time?
Remember that trying to change behaviour and teaching your child these skills is not easy—it takes time and patience. No one handles every situation perfectly so remember to be kind and forgiving to yourself and your child.
This article was contributed by a member of Parenting Limerick, a network of parenting and family support organisations in Limerick.