Over the past couple of weeks, I found myself seeing more children than adults. Children in school seem to be having numerous challenges, and there has been a pattern with moms and dads finding their child very angry. Do you find your child lashing out? Are you having trouble communicating with your child during moments of extreme frustration or aggression? While children are growing and still learning how to cope with anger, they tend to merely use anger as a defense against physical and emotional pain. I wrote this blog for the anxious mom, tired dad, or any parent that wants support. Dear parent: there are many ways you can help your child through these emotional moments. Here are some helpful tips to teach your children how to cope with anger:
1. DO recognize and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Acknowledging feelings causes your child’s anger to soften and leaves a safe space in which he or she can learn empathy and coping skills. On the other hand, if you discount your children’s feelings and experience, their anger will intensify as they fight to establish and validate their own sense of self.
2. DO practice empathy. By listening to your child’s feelings without interruption or defense, you create space for your child’s anger to dissipate, as they no longer need to use up energy defending the fairness of their position. By empathizing with your child’s feelings, you are helping them regulate the cortisol — the fight-or-flight chemical — that emerges through emotional stress. The more consistent you are, the better they are at cooling off.
3. DO teach your children problem-solving skills. We really help strengthen our child’s mind when we let them solve their own problems. As a parent, you can teach your children how to recognize, acknowledge and appropriately cope with their feelings by asking questions that prompt children to think up their own solutions, such as “What do you think would happen if you did Choice A instead of Choice B?” or, “What sort of options do you think are available to you and what do you need to do to find a resolution?”
DON’T attempt to orchestrate your child’s feelings.. For example, if your child is hurt or crying, never say to them: “Stop crying.” But rather, validate your child’s experience, saying, “I know that hurts; that would make me cry also.” This makes an ally out of you, rather than a target for free floating anxiety and anger.
As an ally, your child learns to trust you, realizing you are there for them — no matter what, right or wrong, and that they can count on that. If your child can trust you, they can learn to trust themselves and the outer world.
4. DON’T go down to your child’s level of behavior. OK, I admit, this is certainly not easy! However, it is important to deliberately step into your role as the adult and remain there for the entire stressful episode. Little children can really work themselves up emotionally, especially while defending their position. Your job as a parent is to stay composed. Your state of calm allows your child to feel safe in the midst of chaos. Children become afraid when their parents display anger. By staying in your adult role, you are teaching your child that it is okay to feel angry, and that when the feeling passes, you are still there, holding a secure space for them.
In the end, remember that you, as the parent, can control the outcome. By following these tips, you can help strengthen your relationship with your child and give them the tools they need to cope with their anger. If you notice that your child has relationship problems, is a bully, or tries to hurt themselves, others or animals, do consider seeking professional help for both you and your child.
Compiled by Olivia Guerini