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Anger Management for Kids

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Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 Robert Seith | CWK Producer

“Stop and talk to the child; let’s look at what is really going on internally because many times people hold anger in until it just overflows.”

– Sherry Blake, Ph.D., psychologist

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Shouting, screaming, fighting, throwing punches — how often does this happen in the lives of your children and their friends? If you ask kids, the answer is a lot more often than you might think.

There are all sorts of things that can make kids angry.

“When a person cuts me in line and stuff like that,” says Jake, 7.

“They were on the trampoline and they pushed me down. Now, that makes me angry,” says Walter, 11.

Sometimes this leads to fighting.

“Once I get into a fight, I can’t get out,” says Michael, 10.

In fact, in a new survey of kids 9 to 13 years old, 30 percent say they get angry at someone their age every day.  A quarter of those children end up in a fight with kids punching each other. That behavior surprises their parents.

“So many times I’ll hear parents say, ’I have no idea where that comes from; I have no idea what happened there.’  Well, the reality is that if they would stop for a minute, they would find that some of their own behaviors are a reflection, on a different level, of what they’re seeing their child doing,” says Sherry Blake, Ph.D., psychologist.

What’s the best way for parents to help kids handle anger? Show them, says Blake.

“They see your behavior. Your behavior is one where you’ll stop, talk and try to work things out using techniques other than aggression. Then they learn that’s the way to do it,” says Blake.

She says there’s another lesson that parents can teach kids: the way to defuse anger is to know why you’re angry in the first place.

“Stop and talk to the child; let’s look at what is really going on internally because many times people hold anger in until it just overflows,” says Blake.

What’s more, she says, kids can learn how to control themselves.

“I learned to think calming thoughts. [Also] count back from five when you’re angry,” says Jake. “When you’re really angry, count back from 10,” he adds.

What We Need To Know

  • The American Psychological Association says that anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion.  But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to violent outcomes at home and at school.  In fact, many teens today have a difficult time keeping their anger under control.
  • Anger creates physical changes that both teens and parents need to recognize – the heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises and adrenaline levels start to soar.  Once these changes occur, coupled with thoughts that fuel anger, the emotion can either be helpful or hurtful.  Provena Mercy Center cites the following warning signs indicating that your teen’s anger is unhealthy:
    • A frequent loss of temper at the slightest provocation
    • Brooding, isolation from family and friends
    • Damage to one’s body or property
    • A need to exact revenge on others
    • Decreased involvement in social activity
  • If you believe your teen has a problem with anger, it is your job to help him or her develop positive conflict resolution techniques.  The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) says that teaching children strategies for dealing with their anger is particularly difficult because it can be hard to know when your child will get angry again.  As much as possible, use the time between angry outbursts to discuss and practice how to deal with anger.  The UMHS outlines the following components of teaching your child anger management:  
    • Practice a substitute behavior.  You and your child should practice a substitute behavior to use when he or she is about to get angry.  Some ideas include counting, counting backward or visualizing a picture in your mind, such as a peaceful place or a stop sign.
    • Reward.  Sit down with your child and figure out some rewards that he or she can earn by practicing the exercises (on a daily basis) and when he or she uses the exercises when frustrated or angry.  Don’t skip the rewards – they are essential to the success of anger management in children.
    • Give examples.  Try to think of times when you deal effectively with your own stress and point these out, very briefly, to your child.  Also, share your coping strategy with your child to give an example of how he or she could deal with a similar situation.  It is also important that your child see you successfully deal with your own anger.
    • Encourage using the exercises.  When your child starts to get upset, briefly encourage him or her to practice the substitute behavior.  Only prompt your child once.  Do not continue to bother him or her about using the exercises.
    • Avoid arguments and discipline consistently.  Avoid arguing with your child.  Everybody loses when a confrontation occurs.  You need to set a good example and deal with your child in a quiet, matter-of-fact manner.
  • Teens often require specific strategies that are less formal to help them cope with their anger.  Share with your teen the following tips to try the next time he or she begins to lose his or her temper:   (Nemours Foundation)
    • Listen to music (with your headphones on) and dance with some anger-inspired energy.
    • Write it down in any form – poetry or a journal, for example.
    • Draw it – scribble, doodle or sketch your angry feelings using strong color or lines.
    • Play a sport or work out.  You’ll be amazed at how physical activity helps to work the anger out.
    • Meditate or practice deep breathing.  This one works best if you do it regularly, not when you’re actually having a meltdown.  It’s more of a stress management technique and will help you use self-control and not blow a fuse when you’re mad. 
    • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.  Lots of times, other feelings like fear or sadness lie beneath the anger.  Talking about these feelings can help.
    • Distract yourself so you can get your mind past what’s bugging you.  Watch television, read or go to the movies instead of stewing for hours about something.
  • Parents who teach anger-management strategies and encourage non-aggressive conflict-resolution techniques early on may find the teenage years less challenging.  If your child has long-lasting feelings of anger or is unable to adopt coping strategies, seek medical assistance and treatment.  (U.S. Department of Education)

Resources

  • American Psychological Association
  • Nemours Foundation
  • Provena Mercy Center
  • University of Michigan Health System
  • U.S. Department of Education

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