Eight-year-old Peter has had a problem with his anger since he was a toddler. Anytime something doesn’t go his way, he turns ugly. The most recent incident was when his mother went to pick him up from his friend’s house.
Peter refused to stop playing with his friend and get his coat on. When his mother tried to take his arm, pull him off the floor, and help put his coat on, Peter starting kicking his mother and screaming, “I hate you. I’m not going home with you.” Twenty minutes later Peter’s exasperated, embarrassed mother was able to extricate Peter from his friend’s house.
Bea is 13 and also has an anger problem. When told to do a chore such as empty the dishwasher or watch her younger sister, she will answer, “I’m not doing it.”
When her mother tells her she’s a member of the family and she needs to help out, she often comes back with, “Who cares? You can’t make me.”
The last time her mother said, “You’re right, I can’t make you clean out the dishwasher, but you’re grounded this weekend,” Bea marched over to the refrigerator, opened the door, and started throwing everything out on the floor.
Both Peter’s and Bea’s parents reported that their children have never had a problem with anger at school, and, in fact, are well-behaved there. This is helpful for me to know as a therapist. Armed with this information, I explained to both sets of parents that Peter and Bea have the ability to control their anger. How do I know? Because they do so at school. What they must now learn is to control their anger at home.
Things I suggest for anger control:
• Have a family counsel. Tell your child that anger is an okay feeling, but using anger inappropriately by yelling, screaming, belligerent acts, or mean-spirited behavior can no longer be accepted. Ask your child for his cooperation in controlling his anger. Also remind your child that you expect him to control his anger at home just as he controls it at school. If you, the parent, have a problem with controlling your anger, chances are your child will point this out at the family pow-wow. Agree with the confrontation and decide that you, too, will work to control your anger.
• Writing down how one feels stepped on and abused is often helpful in dissipating feelings. Ask your child to write down why she feels angry. Reassure her that within a half hour of her putting pen to paper, you will read what she has written and write back your response.
• Ask your child not to allow himself to explode when he feels angry. When he feels anger coming on, tell him to purse his lips tight, set the timer on the stove for four minutes, and breathe deeply until the timer goes off. Once he’s controlled himself for four minutes, he’s won the battle.
A similar technique is to suggest to your child that when he feels himself getting angry, he rush to a chair, sit down, close his eyes, and see himself playing on the playground at school or swimming in a pool. This is called imaging. It helps the mind to calm the body and dissipate the adrenaline that accompanies angry feelings.
Suggest that when your child feels furious, instead of gritting his teeth and doing something mean, he should try to sing his favorite song in his head or repeat a favorite joke to himself. I told one little boy this, and he looked at me like I was nuts. But the next time I saw him, he couldn’t wait to report that it had worked.
Invite your child to say over and over in her head during the day for the next several months, “I choose not to get angry.” Repeating this affirmation reinforces the decision not to become angry.
Just as children need help learning to tie their shoes, write a report, iron a shirt, or throw a ball, they need help learning to control their anger. Take the time to give your children this skill-- a skill that will serve them the rest of their life.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,“ and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: http://www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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