Mad isn’t Bad !
Posted by: Sue Atkins
Today I am really thrilled to have my friend Wendy Young as my guest blogger. Wendy is the mum of three, an award winning Child & Family Therapist and the founder of Kidlutions: Solutions for Kids.
Here is her excellent asticle on handling anger.
“Does your child get angry? That’s what I thought! Anger is as much a part of all of our lives as joy, surprise and excitement. Anger can be a powerful force, and for young children, anger can be overwhelming.
A child’s brain is just developing, and the highest “thinking” part of the brain, the neocortex, is much smaller than the emotional/feeling part of the brain, the limbic system. That can all translate into your child’s feelings being bigger than he is. Add to that a young child’s limited coping skills and you can have a recipe for disaster.
However, we know that all feelings matter. Mad isn’t bad…it simply is. It’s just a feeling. Inherently, feelings aren’t good or bad. Some feelings can make us more uncomfortable than others…until we figure out to better manage them.
Here are some ideas to help your child better manage his anger.
Validate the Feeling
The next time junior has an anger attack, think about the message you are sending about handling this emotion. Do you validate the feeling, and your child’s experience by saying,
“Wow! I can see how angry you are!”
“Your mad feelings are bigger than you are!”
“It looks like your mad feelings can reach the roof!”
“Your mad feelings are so big right now. How can I help you?”
Or, do you minimize and deny your child’s feelings by saying,
“Cut it out. Enough of that!”
“Be nice. Why are you so mad!”
“You have nothing to be angry about!”
“I don’t want to hear about it…knock it off!”
In order to help our children truly embrace their anger, understand it and learn how to cope effectively with it, we have to first allow them to feel it. Validating that they are angry is the first step to helping them. Once we make anger an okay feeling to experience, we can move on and help them manage it.
Provide Coping Strategies
As a therapist who has worked with angry children for more than two decades, there are some things I have learned about helping kids shrink down their anger. Teaching kids coping strategies will go a long way towards helping them better manage over-the-top anger.
Balloon Breathing Breathe, breathe, breathe. Helping kids learn how to breathe appropriately when they are angry is a huge benefit. When we get angry, bio-chemicals surge through our system. Our fight or flight system roars into effect. We can calm down our brains and our bodies with simple breathing exercises. When we become angry, we start to breathe in a shallow manner. This only intensifies our body’s anger response. To break free from that, teach your child to breathe in so that his stomach (not his chest) expands. He can tell that he is doing this properly by holding his hand on his stomach, until he gets the hang of it. His stomach should rise and fall, not his chest.
Talk! Our self-talk has a huge impact on our overall sense of well-being. Your child’s thoughts may be fueling his anger. If he is saying things like, “I can’t stand this!” “I can’t handle this!” “I’m so mad I’m going to explode,” then it’s understandable that his anger will continue to amp up. You can help him learn how to replace those thoughts with new, calming thoughts, such as: “I don’t like this, but I will handle it!” “I’m mad, but I can control myself!” “I can breathe and get rid of my mad feelings!” “My mad feeling is so BIG right now, but I know it will shrink down if I work on it!”
Get Physical Did you ever notice how kids sometimes lash out physically when they are angry? (Even some adults do this!) I have always believed that E~motion is ENERGY in MOTION. Therefore, we need to teach children appropriate ways of discharging angry energy. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, none of which involve hurting themselves or hurting others. Below, I’ll share a few of my favorite techniques.
Clay Play Pounding clay releases tons of pent up energy and anger. Clay can be pinched, pounded, pulled-apart, smashed…and then it goes right back together again. Putting the clay or dough back into its container is also symbolic of the fact that we can contain our anger…we can manage it.
Run, Chum! Running is a great way to release angry energy. Running also helps our bodies manufacture more “feel good” chemicals, which naturally improves our mood! How many laps will your child need to take around the yard until his anger lifts? If you don’t live in an area that is conducive to running…simply invite your child to run in place. How many minutes will it take until the anger subsides?
Like tying shoes and learning to zip zippers, dealing with emotions is a skill that takes time. Children thrive when caring, supportive adults model calm behaviors and provide the necessary coaching to help them succeed.
Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD, is the mom of three, an award winning Child & Family Therapist, and the founder of Kidlutions: Solutions for Kids. She has helped thousands of parents, educators and children better manage their anger. Find our more about her new Anger Toolbox for Kids and get your free 45 minute downloadable MP3 and printables to help kids with anger here.