Anger Management and Problem Solving
Help your child with anger management - learning how to manage powerful feelings helps children to develop problem-solving ability in the frontal lobes of the brain.
As adults, it’s easier for us to manage emotions. If we’ve had healthy attachments and therefore developed rational, problem-solving frontal parts of our brains, we can work out solutions. Children have not fully developed this ability yet. Often when an event happens that triggers anger, low mood or anxiety, it can feel terrifying and overwhelming.
Helping kids to mange their feelings leads to healthy development into clear thinking, problem solving, emotionally mature adults.
What is anger for, and how can it become a problem?
Anger can be a particularly powerful feeling. It is also a healthy part of life and a sign that our boundaries have been crossed, or that we aren’t being treated well. It can guide our decisions about whom we want to spend time with and what our values are.
But when anger is suppressed it can cause anxiety, and when acted out (for example through hitting) it can cause havoc in children’s friendships and sibling relationships. So how do we help children to acknowledge their anger, but not be defined by it?
Tips for helping children manage their anger:
1. Validate your child’s feelings
Help children to name and express their feelings. As a parent, stay calm and validate your child’s feelings by telling them it’s ok to feel angry. Try to come up with a solution that takes their feelings seriously and helps them to see that if they choose to engage and stay calm, there are positive rewards (see example below)
2. Set clear boundaries
Clear boundaries are crucial. It’s not ok to hurt someone else or lash out. 8-year-old Simon (not his real name) had a lot of anger following his dad’s affair and his parents’ subsequent divorce. He was defiant and confrontational and prone to violent outbursts during therapy. I told him firmly that this was unacceptable, and in his therapy sessions I taught him to control his feelings by helping him to label and communicate them productively.
It is important for children to receive a clear message that feeling anger is fine and normal, but reacting violently as a result of it is not acceptable. It is not the child who is bad, but rather their behaviour, and this behaviour will not be tolerated. Although this might seem harsh, ultimately children will give anything to feel that there is an adult in their world who can manage their most challenging behaviour and still love them. They will then learn to do this themselves.
3. Help your child express appropriate anger
Instead of reacting violently, some children repress their anger, especially girls. In our society there are still cultural messages that teach us girls are sweet, don’t say no, and don’t feel anger. Also if children are witnessing extreme levels of anger in adults around them, they come to fear anger as an emotion and therefore find it difficult to acknowledge it in themselves.
If your child seems emotionally absent or dissociated (not feeling anger when they ought to) the key is to work towards becoming emotionally connected with them so that acknowledgement of feelings and healthy emotional expression is normal in the family home.
Look at how you express and deal with your own anger, and try to ensure that you are providing a positive role model in this respect. Often within families there is a history of fearing or not showing anger, or expressing anger in unhealthy ways.
Remember that anxiety can be about repressed anger – if you or your child are feeling anxious, explore whether you are also feeling angry about something.
4. Talk to your child about how they are feeling
Children between the ages of 2 and 11 are developing rapidly in the emotional centres of their brains, the amygdala (part of the limbic system). They are prone to quite explosive feelings but they are also receptive to being asked what’s wrong. It’s so easy to get swept up in the intensity of highly volatile situations and emotions, particularly when kids are arguing. But getting down to their physical level and giving them undivided attention and asking ‘what are you feeling, what’s going on?’ will help focus them and calm down their limbic systems.
A girl is being teased by her brother. One parent might urge her to act out her anger and hit her brother, but this does not let the emotion move through her body and leave her feeling intact. Another parent might try to stop her feeling and expressing anger, and say ‘don’t worry, he’s only playing.’ This message could have a very negative impact on the girl’s sense of self. If she is taught that it’s not ok to feel anger, she will repress it again, not allowing her body to deal with the emotion and heal from it. She will believe it’s ok to be treated that way because she doesn’t have access to the emotion that tells her otherwise, potentially leading to relationship difficulties and anxiety.
The middle way is for a parent to acknowledge the daughter’s anger and validate it. You might say ‘that must be so infuriating. How about expressing to your brother how you feel when he does that and telling him to stop. Your anger is telling you that you don’t like being treated that way. If he doesn’t stop, you can choose to leave the situation and not give him any more attention. You know that his teasing is his issue and you don’t have to be defined by it.’ This gives her a way of feeling her anger, using it to inform her likes and dislikes about how she wishes to be treated, and leaving her emotionally intact because her anger isn’t energised or pushed away.
If your child is having difficulties with anxiety, or anger and/or it is impacting their friendships, studies or lives in any way, call Children’s Therapies on 0208 6737930 to discuss how we can help.