My child is always angry!Dealing with a tantruming child that struggles with intense bouts of anger management is a difficult hurdle, among a laundry-list of other hurdles, that some parents struggle to maneuver.
And, in a world where anger-induced children seem to be steadily taking control of our universe via shouting at television screens and demanding more screen-time, you, as a new or veteran parent, may rely on tactics you experienced growing up to regulate these behaviors. Telling your child to scream into a pillow, for example, has been well-practiced by exhausted parents but has been shown in research to provide little assistance with emotional regulation of children (Kennedy-Moore & Watson, 2001). In that same breath, expressing or "venting" anger has actually demonstrated heightened feelings of anger and aggressiveness.
Author Eileen Kennedy-Moore covers "Children's Anger Management Strategies That Work" and introduces emotional regulation by highlighting the earlier work of James Gross, who outlined five points at which people can change their emotional response to a situation:
With this framework of emotional regulation in mind, it is easier to see that screaming into a pillow, as one example often employed by parents of frustrated children, does little to manage troubled behaviors. That is because it does little to alter the situation or manage the child's perspective of the situation after the problem behavior has already occurred.
So, what can we do?
Thankfully, research does indicate possible interventions for children with emotional regulation difficulty and/or anger management challenges.
Talk it out
A recent study conducted by Wainryb and colleagues (2018) demonstrated that the act of just telling a narrative of an anger-inducing event shows potential to help children and teens feel less angry both immediately and up to one week later. By detailing the sequence of events, a child's brain is permitted to slow down and stop, think and process the situation. Be sure to validate and empathize with your child when he or she is exclaiming an anger narrative. Meet your child with compassion and gentleness to promote future expression of emotion.
As their primary role model in the lives of maturing, young brains, your role as a parent and modeling appropriate expression is absolutely imperative. Every action you make that your child witnesses is potential for modeling, so it's important to carefully act out appropriate behaviors and expressions when around them. We can't expect our children to be freely expressive with their feelings and emotions if we do not first provide them modeling opportunities to demonstrate it. With that said, demonstrating to your child that yelling, throwing objects, hitting or other are appropriate behaviors when feeling mad will only elevate the chances your child will demonstrate these behaviors instead. Rather, consider modeling more healthy responses when feeling angry or upset by stopping to think about the why's of your anger feelings. What's causing your anger (e.g. think about the time of day, who might be causing your anger, what you're wearing, smelling, etc. There is no detail too small when looking for anger-provoking cues)? How do you feel as you start to get angry? And what are self-soothing techniques you can employ to calm yourself down? Be sure to model this cognitive approach to dealing with anger to your children. Rather than screaming into a pillow or saying and/or doing something that harms yourself or others, consider reflecting on your anger as a source of information to use rather than something you need to immediately get rid of. By examining the why's, how's, who's and when's of your anger, you just might feel lesser angry! And by modeling it with your children, you just might equip them with the skill set to be less angry themselves.
Justin writes about ways to optimize your health and well-being by cultivating resiliency and self-compassion through sustainable movement and exercise habits that lift you and those around you up..