Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
We all experience anger in our lives. There is no way to avoid it. However, what can be crucial is how we deal with our anger. It is important to begin teaching our children at an early age how to deal with their own anger issues. There are a variety of methods available and it is crucial, as a parent, for us to remember that all children are different and what works for one may not work for another. Don’t give up if the first method fails; select another and keep trying until you find what works for your child. These are skills that will be important to them for the rest of their lives.
When children are young, make it clear to them that there are alternatives to throwing their toys, hitting their sister, or biting their friend. Young children have difficulty verbalizing their emotions, so they simply act. Help them find actions that are appropriate for their anger and frustration. They can punch their pillow; they can run around the back yard; they can do jumping-jacks. All these activities are physical, which allows them to focus their anger and drain it from their mind and body. After they have resolved the physical aspect of dealing with their anger, have a short, direct conversation with them. What or who made them angry? What did they do to make them angry? What did they do to deal with the anger? Make sure they know that everyone gets angry. What counts is how you deal with the anger.
As they age, children will be more willing to discuss their anger and may not need the physical outlet as much. They still will not be able to internalize the process, so you must be willing to ask the right questions and listen to the answers. Sympathize; even if the incident is not something that would make you angry. Obviously, you are two different people and you are not going to react the same in every incident. If they still need physical release, see to it that it is available to them. Running is an excellent release mechanism for anger and it also releases endorphins which can improve the mood. But be sure to engage in the conversation mode, too. They need to know that you understand their anger issues.
In the middle-school and high school years, a combination of talk, physical activity, and anger management techniques become essential for your children. Remember, again, that every one of them is different. Some may require more talk than physical activity or vice versa. Some may require different techniques for different situations. As an adult, I rarely feel like hitting anything anymore. I will vent verbally and I love for someone to simply sit and listen. But there are the occasions where I simply want to release all my anger and frustrations into the punching bag in the garage. I may be furious when I throw the first punch, but halfway through the session, I am no longer thinking about the anger. The adrenaline is pumping, the endorphins are flowing, and all I am thinking about is fitness, strength and accomplishment. Afterwards my mind is clear and so is the solution to my issue. We tell our children that hitting is never the solution – and it is true when we add “other people, animals, etc.” behind “hitting.” But that punching bag is definitely therapeutic!
Anger management is only one of the benefits of meditation. Stress relief, increased concentration and the learned ability to focus are added benefits. Encourage your children to engage in some form of meditation, if not every day, than at least every other day. This world is not going to get any less crazy and they are going to need to learn methods to help them maintain an even keel. For those of you that say, “My child can’t sit still that long”, there are other alternative methods of meditation that allow for physical movement. Consider Tai Chi and yoga as alternative methods of mediation that allow the practitioner to learn control over both mind and body. You will be surprised at the difference in their temperament before and after such sessions.
Finally, it is incredibly important that we, as parents, are examples of what we request in our children. If we expect anger management and temper control, then we must exhibit it ourselves. After your child has told you about their day and you have discussed any particular topics of stress to them, you might want to bring up one of your own – whether or not you handled it properly. Let them know that you get angry, too. Share with them your successes – and a few failures – when it comes to properly handling your anger. Make sure that when you share a failure, you conclude with a statement of what you should have done to handle the situation and what you would do if you could do it over again. When you need meditation time, don’t feel bad about stating to them, “I need the next thirty minutes for myself. I need to meditate and get rid of the stress of the day.” This lets them know that you will have the same respect for them and that you encourage them to take this self-imposed time-out, just as you do.
Frankly, some people have a harder time learning to control their tempers and their anger issues than others. As I stated earlier, my oldest daughter still needs the assistance of a professional counselor. Do not allow your children, regardless of age, feel stigmatized because they need professional assistance to deal with any part of their life. I am proud that my daughter is willing to admit that her anger is a problem and seeks help in learning to control it. I hurt for her that she is still struggling, but I am happy that she has not given up. If professional assistance is needed, arrange for it. But be picky – interview your choice of counselor/therapist and be sure that you agree with their methods before you enroll your child in their anger management program.