Helping Kids Manage Angry Feelings
All children find it difficult at times to express and manage angry feelings. Let’s take a look at what causes children to become angry and how you can help them respond to stressful situations more constructively.
What Causes Angry Children?
Kids feel angry in response to either external or internal events. For example, your daughter may feel anger in response to the behavior of a specific person, like her brother or the child next door. Your son may feel anger in response to something that happens—not being able to watch his favorite television show or being told “no.” Children may also feel angry as a result of their own thoughts and feelings—things like worry, fear, hurt, or remembering upsetting events. Any of these things can set off angry feelings.
Some experts say that anger is a secondary emotion that is triggered by another emotion such as hurt, fear, or frustration. To resolve the feelings of anger, you can help your child identify and express the primary emotions that lie beneath the anger.
Feelings of anger are neither good nor bad. The important thing is to help your children realize that they have the ability to choose their responses to their feelings in any situation. Their way of dealing with angry feelings can be either positive or negative, leading to either a destructive or constructive outcome for themselves and those around them.
How Is Anger Harmful To Children?
Psychologists have long disagreed about the value of venting feelings. Recent research shows that expressing anger often results in more irritation and tension rather than feeling more calm. Giving vent to anger can produce the following harmful effects:
- Blood pressure rises.
- The original problem is worse rather than better.
- The person venting anger seems negative and intimidating.
- Being around an angry person drives others away.
What Are The Physical Effects of Anger?
Children who are frequently angry tend to develop more physical problems as they become adults. For example:
Heart. Researchers at Stanford University have found that of all the personality traits found in Type A patients, the potential for hostility is the key predictor for coronary disease. The combination of anger and hostility is the most deadly.
Stomach and intestines. Anger has a very negative effect on the stomach and has even been associated with the development of ulcerative colitis.
Nervous system. Anger is bad for people (both children and adults) because it exaggerates the associated hormonal changes. Chronic suppressed anger is damaging because it activates the sympathetic nervous system responses without providing any release of the tension. It is a bit like stepping down on a car’s accelerator while slamming on the brakes.
Why Do Children Become Angry?
Anger is our response to stress. Many times we feel anger to avoid feeling some other emotion, such as anxiety or hurt. Or we may feel angry when we are frustrated because we want something and can’t have it. Sometimes, feeling angry is a way of mobilizing ourselves in the face of a threat.
Anger may be useful because it stops (blocks) stress. Here are two examples:
- Your son is up at bat at his baseball game. From the stands, you yell out his name and cheer him on. He looks up at you at glares. After the game, he snaps, “Why do you have to embarrass me when I’m trying to bat?”
- Your daughter has just finished taking an important exam. She has studied for weeks and the result is very important to her GPA. She fantasizes all the way home from school about relaxing in front of the television with her favorite show. When she gets home, her brother and his friends are using the television to play video games. She yells, “Why don’t you ask me before you start hogging the TV with your stupid games?”
This explains why people often respond with anger when they experience stressful situations like being in a hurry, feeling overworked, feeling attacked, feeling forced to do something they don’t want to do, feeling out of control, and so forth.
What Are Ways To Channel Anger In Children?
There are lots of constructive things you can teach your children to do to deal with stress instead of becoming angry. Here are a few examples:
- Get some physical exercise.
- Play a game.
- Walk away.
- Listen to favorite music.
- Make a joke of the situation.
- Take a nap.
- Do something relaxing.
- Tell someone about the situation.
- Write about it.
How Can I Help An Angry Child Deal With Stress To Prevent Anger?
An angry response often results when children are unhappy with someone else’s behavior. Here are some other responses kids can choose instead of flying off the handle:
- Teach them to set limits. Let’s say your daughter’s friend hasn’t returned a game she lent her. Now the friend wants to borrow another one. Your daughter could say, “I’m not going to be able to lend you this game until you return the first one.”
- Teach them to speak up. When your child realizes that he or she is starting to feel annoyed by a situation, encourage him or her to speak up. It’s better not to wait until annoyance escalates into anger.
- Teach them to be assertive. Show your children to say what they want to get from others—in a positive way. For example, suggest that they say things like, “Please call me when you get home” rather than “Would you mind giving me a call when you get there?”
How Can Children Stop The Anger Spiral Once It Starts?
Once a child begins to feel angry, there are several things you can teach him or her to do to stop the process and keep things from spiralling out of control. Here are a few ideas:
- Call a time-out. This is a very effective technique for breaking the sequence of behavior that leads to a blowup. It works best if it is discussed ahead of time and both people agree to use it. Either person in an interaction can initiate time-out. One person makes the time-out gesture like a referee in a football game. The other person is obligated to return the gesture and stop talking.
- Check it out. When a friend is angry, it is okay to ask, “What’s bothering you?”
- Make positive statements. Teach your children to memorize a few positive statements to say to themselves when they feel their anger being triggered. These statements can remind them that they can choose their behavior instead of reacting in a kneejerk manner. For example:
- “I can take care of my own needs.”
- “His needs are just as important as mine.”
- “I am able to make good choices.”
- Be prepared with a memorized response. Here are a few statements and questions that will help your children deescalate anger:
- “What’s bothering me is . . .”
- “If this continues like this, I’ll have to do X to take care of myself.”
- “What do you need now?”
- “So what you want is . . .”