Children's anger and aggression can sometimes be challenging for parents and adults to manage. Parents may try different types of responses, some of which may sometimes seem to work, and others that just don't work, but parents aren't always sure what else to try. Typically, parents report that they respond to children's anger/aggression with the following: -raising their voice/yelling -spanking -time outs -asking the child why they did something -taking something away from the child (punishment). These responses don't usually yield the results that parents are hoping for. The first two, yelling or spanking, can escalate the situation. They also model the exact opposite of the positive behavior that a parent is trying to teach the child. Time outs work great with some children when they're used appropriately, but with other children they escalate the situation, making the child more upset. Asking a small child why they bit their friend at pre-school is often not helpful because the child may not know why, or how to verbalize why, and if the child were old enough to respond, often these types of discussions don't result in positively, and instead may create more anxiety. And finally, taking something away from a child doesn't offer the child any incentive for correcting their behavior. If they've just lost their phone and can't earn it back, why should they change/correct their behavior?
Here are some alternatives to try. Start modeling appropriate verbal expressions of anger. Use words like angry, mad, frustrated and annoyed in sentences when situations arise. For example, as the adult, let the child hear you say, "I'm so frustrated that dad got the remote before I did." or "I'm annoyed these dishes didn't come out of the dishwasher clean" or "I'm so mad that the dog peed in the house again!" So often adults want children to use words to express feelings when the adults around them aren't modeling any feeling words. Try making it fun by planning out role play scenarios that 2 parents/adults can act out that the children can witness or overhear.
Another important thing to keep in mind about anger is to offer children appropriate alternatives to release it. Here's where you can use the 3 step limit setting (see June 2015 blog post), including naming the feeling, stating the limit and offering an alternative behavior .
Some ideas for step 3 are:
Teaching and modeling deep breathing, yoga and meditation can go a long way to help children find ways to listen to their bodies, self-sooth and find peace in stressful situations.
LCSW, CCLS, RPT-S
Morris County Play Therapy
(862) 242-0559 Denville, NJ