“Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine, and valleys of frustration and failure.”
Calvin and Hobbes
This post was sparked by a question from one of my readers. How do we teach our children how to handle anger? and the next question was in some cultures, venting out anger is commonly done – this is healthy (will address this in my next post!) ? Yes, Natalie, I heard your questions. Here are my thoughts:
Yes, we parents have to be careful in our modelling (easier said than done!)… there are times when our lives get so stressful and we ourselves are so full of anger that we either blow up or break down. I don’t think we should beat ourselves over it when it happens and the kids see it but if it is a regular occurance, then, we should address it. Afterall, it is not good for us too.
Let’s get back to how to help our kids. I can suggest a few ways:
A) Identify what is anger
Sometimes, kids don’t understand what is anger – at least – physiologically what happens in their bodies when they feel angry. We need to give them tools of having that body awareness .
In my EQ workshops, one of the exercises that I do with children is to get them to understand that when they are angry, their hearts beat faster. This is what you can do. Measure the number of heartbeats per minute when the child is sedentary. Get them to jump up and down for 1 minute or do a fun high energy dance (this way, they also associate learning about emotions with something fun). Then measure their heart rate again. Ask them:
Does your heart feel like it is beating faster?
When they answer yes, tell them that this is how anger initially feels like…
i) the heart will start beating faster first…
ii) some of us clench our teeth or fists
iii) some break out in sweat
iv) blood rushes to our face ( explanation to kid : your face becomes red)
B) What the brain does when it is angry
Then let them know that when we feel anger, our thinking brain goes a bit into hiding and our angry brain starts to roar, drowning all other thoughts.
How do we gain back control of our thinking brain? I would suggest practicing the following exercises when the child is feeling clam and receptive.
1. Take 10 slow and deep breaths
“Imagine that you are going to blow up 10 balloons. Take a deep breath, blow up the first balloon – breath in and breath out”
So do this together, 10 times with the child
2. Imagine popping the balloons.
“After blowing up the balloons, you are going to imagine popping them. Count from 1 to 10, as one by one your balloons are popping. As the balloons pop, you can feel your anger popping away, floating away in the sky.”
3. Think/imagine a special place
This is a tool that you can equip your child. Help the child identify a happy place that they can easily imagine. So step 3 after popping the balloons is to imagine themselves immerse in their special place, enveloped in a calm environment.
At this point, the Thinking Brain should be back in control.
There are 2 other methods we can use to help a child with anger.
A) Identify situations that usually make her angry.
So when Bea kicked the rocks on her walk, one thing I did was to ask her – “Did the rock do anything to hurt you?” “You were frustrated because you tripped over the rock, but did kicking the rock make you feel better? (to this she said, no.) So this led to the second method
B) Providing the child with a set of comebacks thinking – what psychologists call positive self talk
So I told Bea, the next time you trip over a rock, this is what you can do – since it’s not the rock’s fault – you can say , “It’s a small thing, I will continue with my walk.”
Other positive self talk are:
I am cool.
Time for deep breaths
I don’t have to look at her/him.
I can just walk away.
Maybe I misunderstood him/her.
Don’t take it seriously.
I will stay calm.
These things happen.
An angry child is not easy to handle, yet as parents we cannot stop trying to help them to understand an manage it because this is what life is all about – to have hopes, fear, sadness, anger and happiness. 🙂