Responses that Reduce Anger
Anger understandably occurs when a person of any age is overpowered. Because young people have so many rules to learn, they are likely to be overpowered many times a day. Thinking that children should accept your decisions without comment will only make you frustrated and do little to resolve the situation. Although it is natural for children to get angry with parents, they do need to express their feelings in a productive way. Understand that refusing to allow children to express any anger at all is just as destructive as allowing them to vent it how ever they please.
UNDERSTAND AND FEED BACK FEELINGS
Labeling and feeding back feelings are the first steps in teaching children how to express distress without acting out inappropriately.1 Making at least three statements that rephrase, understand, validate, or encourage children to express feelings can reduce anger. For example:
When children are angry, you may be tempted to explain why their feelings are unjustified or to defend your actions. This is generally an undesirable course of action because it provokes arguments and creates power struggles. Even if children don’t get their way, they have reduced you to their level. Remember that children often have difficulty understanding consequences and rules. Therefore, the best thing to do is to remain firm and avoid arguing by:
Temper tantrums and explosions:
Even when you feed back children’s feelings and refuse to argue, anger can escalate into a full-blown tantrum. Several strategies can be used when this happens. Find the one that works best for your child:
Hitting or biting:
When people are mad, their natural inclination is to strike out. Very young children have not yet learned to contain this energy. Toddlers who hit or bite can have their hands or mouths firmly held while being told “Hitting (biting) hurts people.” Maintain this position until the toddler clearly is upset and then let go to see if he or she can handle the frustration without striking out. If not, repeat the procedure. Older children who hit can be made to copy statutes on domestic violence.
Anger often results from conflicts of interest with siblings. As soon as your children’s bickering becomes annoying, separate them until they are calm enough to follow the three steps for conflict resolution:
Name-calling is often the forerunner of fights. Using reverse psychology can markedly reduce this. Make a rule that anyone who gets called a name or is hit without striking back receives a “victim’s compensation point” or reward. These points can add up to earn snacks or prize money. This creates an incentive for children to adopt a totally different viewpoint about being called names. They can thank their adversaries for saying or doing mean things that help them earn points. If the parent doesn’t hear or see the conflict, a child can still earn points by telling the parent something that he said to “thank” the one who tried to start the fight. To avoid tattling, the child needs to report what he or she did to help, not what the other person did to cause hurt.
Several books elaborate on skills that improve communication with children: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Avon, 1980). The Explosive Child by Ross Green (HarperCollins, 1998) is especially important reading for parents whose children have anger problems.
Ideas in How to Handle Bullies, Teasers and Other Meanies by Kate Cohen- Posey (Rainbow Books, 1995) help children deal with name-calling and reduce fighting.