Behavior Makeover: Anger

Four Steps to Squelch Inappropriate Anger
Here are four steps to guide you in squelching inappropriate anger in your kid and teaching him healthier ways to express it.

Step 1. Identify Anger Warning Signs
Explain to your child that we all have our own little signs that warn us we're getting angry and that we should listen to them because they can help us stay out of trouble. Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs she may have that tell her she's starting to get upset – for example, "It looks like you're tense. Your hands are in a fist. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?" Anger escalates very quickly; if a kid waits until he is in meltdown to get himself back into control, he's too late – and so are you to try and help him.

Step 2. Recognize Potential Anger Triggers
Every kid has certain cues that trigger deeper frustrations and unresolved conflicts that may resort in angry outbursts. For example, your child may feel unappreciated in your family or inadequate in a competitive classroom environment, or may suffer from low self-esteem. The key is to identify what causes the anger in your kid and help him be aware of it when it occurs.

Step 3. Develop a Feeling Vocabulary
Many kids display aggression such as kicking, screaming, hitting, and biting because they simply don't know how to express their frustrations any other way. They need an emotion vocabulary to express how they feel, and you can help your kid develop one. Here are a few: angry, upset, mad, frustrated, agitated, furious, apprehensive, tense, nervous, anxious, irritated, furious, ticked off, irate. When your child is angry, use the words so that he can apply them to real life: "Looks like you're really angry. Want to talk about it?" "You seem really irritated. Do you need to walk it off?"

Step 4. Teach Healthy Anger Management Skills
If you want your kid to handle anger more appropriately, then you must teach her a new behavior to substitute for the inappropriate one she now uses:

  • Use self-talk. Teach him an affirmation: a simple, positive message he says to himself in stressful situations – for example: "Stop and calm down," "Stay in control," "I can handle this."

  • Tear anger away. Tell your child to draw or write what is upsetting him on a piece of paper, then tear it into little pieces and "throw the anger away." He can also use the concept by imagining that his anger is slowly leaving him in little pieces.

  • Teach abdominal breath control. Teach the method with your child sitting in a comfortable position, her back straight and pressed into a chair for support. Show her how to inhale slowly to a count of five, pause for two counts, then slowly breathe out the same way, again counting to five. Repeating the sequence creates maximum relaxation.

  • Teach "1 + 3 + 10." Explain the formula: "As soon as you feel your body sending you a warning sign that says you're losing control, do three things. First, stop and say: 'Be calm.' That's 1. Now take three deep, slow breaths from your tummy. That's 3. Finally, count slowly to ten inside your head. That's 10. Put them all together and you have 1 + 3 + 10, and that helps you calm down and get back in control."
Step 5. Use Time-Out When Inappropriate Anger Persists
Although you've taught your child alternative strategies to handle strong emotions, old behaviors take time to replace. Meanwhile, you can't let your kid continue to display inappropriate anger. Explain that while it's okay to be angry, he must use words, not his fists, to tell how he feels.


From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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