Updated: Aug 14, 2020
We've all been there, at the store, the school, in church, at grandma's house. What seems routine turns array when your child doesn't get their way. You know it's coming,
whether they are 3, 8, or 12 you know you're in for the dreaded temper tantrum. Sure, it looks different depending on their age, but for the helpless adult, it feels the same.
What exactly is anger? Anger is a strong feeling of displeasure (Merriam-Webster, Online). Anger is nature’s way of helping us become strong enough, fast enough, and brave enough to protect ourselves. Anger is a natural and normal emotion and it is our behavior that can become out of control. But anger goes deeper than that. Anger is a signal that we feel something is wrong. Any one thing can truly trigger anger, it is a matter of perception really. Triggers may be related to ourselves, someone we care about, or something we care about. However, if you look into the deeper meaning of anger, it’s likely you will find one if not all of these 4 themes:
1. Injustice/Unfairness—Any situation where a person experiences the event
and circumstances as lacking in equality and justice.
2. Insult/Injury—Any situation where a person experiences the event and
circumstances as having resulted in pain, harm, or damage of any kind including but not limited to social, financial, physical, and emotional.
3. Invasion/Inconvenience—Any situation where a person experiences the
event as an unwelcome intrusion that causes trouble or difficulty as well as disturbance in the person’s comfort.
4. Intent—Any situation where a person experiences the actions of others as
having some form of negative or malicious intent; that the person acted of their own free will in creating an injustice/unfairness, insult/injury, or invasion/inconvenience.
When does anger become a problem? Anger is such a strong and powerful emotion that is filled with so many other emotions (i.e. sadness, frustration, embarrassment). Anger comes with what I like to refer to as the Incredible Hulk Complex. We don't turn green and quadruple in size, but we feel like we have and that's when the anger takes over. We say things and do things that we just wouldn't do without the anger running through us. This is the piece that changes anger from a protective feature (i.e. fight or flight) to that of an aggressor.
What to do about anger? Communication and problem solving are always the best strategies to resolve anger, but must be done while also validating the identified triggers and emotions. Additionally, communication and problem solving are not effective unless all parties are calm. So here are some strategies that both you and your child can utilize to calm down and manage anger:
Disengage physically (i.e. walk away, take a walk, go to your room)
Disengage mentally (i.e. take deep breaths, recall a pleasant scene, listen to music)
Lighten the situation (i.e. Change the subject, use humor [as appropriate], gather information, offer acceptable solutions)
Empower yourself (i.e. utilize positive affirmations "I can do this", plan ahead to prevent the problem, learn from the experience, respond, don't react)
Join the other person (i.e. understand their perspective, actively listen, use positive body language, acknowledge your role in the situation, validate)
DON'T give unwanted advice, interrupt, defend yourself, react blindly, and/or jump to conclusions.
If possible, know the triggers, yours as well as your child’s. If it's reasonable assist in reducing exposure to that trigger. More importantly though we need to utilize coping skills. Children are looking for validation, they want to know that their feelings matter. Validate your child by actively listening and responding to their needs. Don't resist the anger. Fighting the anger just makes it grow. If you fight fire with fire, you get more fire. It's so important to keep yourself under control and calm. When calm we can assertively and respectfully communicate and problem solve and that’s the best answer we have to anger.