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How to Raise a Nonviolent Child

Whenever I am asked what is different about children today compared to thirty years ago, when I started working with children, I immediately answer, anger. We have so many angry children, and the degree of anger is significantly more intense. There are children who are angry every day of their lives. They wake up angry, go to school angry, and go to bed angry.

Since children do not manage anger well, anger often results in conflict with siblings, peers, parents, teachers, and authority figures. When conflicts are not resolved, anger can turn into aggression, revenge, and violence. The way today's children react with revenge and violence is more excessive, cruel, and brutal. Thirty years ago, the most violent act we would see at school would be an occasional fight, which might have resulted in a couple of black eyes. Today, children use knives, guns, and even bombs to express violence. Anger is the primary reason behind the excessive violence in our children.

A Brief Overview of Anger
Anger exists in everyone. Occasional anger is normal; chronic anger is not. Chronic anger can destroy relationships. Chronic anger can damage our mental health and our physical health. Typically, aggression, revenge, and violence occur when anger becomes chronic. The purpose of this chapter is to help you teach your children how to manage their occasional anger and keep it from becoming chronic.

It is helpful to think of anger as a secondary emotion. Something will happen to upset you and then you become angry. Something happens to activate the anger. As parents, our children may disappoint or frustrate us, and we get angry. We may become angry when our children disobey, defy, or talk back. A child may experience teasing, hurt, failure, or rejection and become angry. Many children become angry when they do not get their way or when they believe that something is unfair. These initial, activating events are called triggers. We all have our own unique set of triggers. My anger can still be triggered when I see a child bullying a younger child.

Anger is part of our temperament-our overall mood or disposition. Temperament is inborn. Some parents have anger that is more easily triggered, and so do some children.

Anger is also learned. When children live with parents who are angry, children learn to be angry. When a child sees a parent acting out his anger by screaming or hitting, he learns that it is okay to scream and hit when you are angry.

How do so many children become angry? There are a number of factors. There are more angry adults in our world today. Road rage was unheard of thirty years ago. More angry adults means more angry children. Some children are angry because they have been excessively punished or punished unfairly. When children live in a hostile or critical home, they become angry because of feelings of despair and hopelessness. Many children are angry because of prolonged sadness or unhappiness. This can lead to depression, which is anger aimed inward. Children are angry because of divorce. Many children of divorce become angry because they feel alone or abandoned. They do not have a solid connection with an adult or with their family.

Teaching Anger Management
Teach your children to recognize and regulate their anger. Teach them how anger affects their body. When you are angry, your heart beats faster. You may breathe hard. Your face muscles feel tight. Your eyes might squint. Your body is rigid. You may clench your fists. You may feel like screaming or hitting.

Teach your children that it is normal to feel angry, especially if someone has hurt your feelings. You may want to get even, but hitting or fighting does not solve the problem; thinking and talking are better ways. Tell your child,

"When you are angry with someone, you may think about hitting him. You feel like you want to hurt him because he did something to hurt you. Whenever you get even with someone because you are angry, it is not a good solution. When you are feeling angry, the best thing to do is tell someone. Tell someone you trust. Talk with your dad or me. Talk with your teacher or a good friend. When you talk about anger, it helps you feel better."

Teach your child strategies for calming and redirecting himself when he becomes angry. Choose a time when your child is quiet and receptive. Do not try to teach calming techniques when your child is in the middle of an angry outburst. Practice techniques such as deep breathing, counting to ten, playing with a favorite toy, or going to their room and taking a rest or listening to relaxing music. When your child does become angry, use a verbal reminder or cue to help him calm down.

Jordan would often get angry when she did not get her way. Mark taught Jordan how to use deep breathing to calm down. Mark began by telling Jordan that deep breathing is an idea that many adults use to help calm down. Then he showed her what to do. He put his hand on his chest and took two deep breaths. Jordan did the same. When Mark would see Jordan getting upset, he would cue her by putting his hand on his chest and taking a deep breath. This would help Jordan remember to use deep breathing to calm down.

Wendy also taught Conner to use breathing to control his temper. She knew was making progress when one day Conner reminded her, "Mom, you are getting mad. Take a few deep breaths."

Role-playing is an excellent way to practice anger management. Ask your child to think of a situation that makes him angry. Brainstorm possible solutions. Then role-play the situation. We often tell our children to walk away and ignore others who are teasing them or trying to get them angry. Walking away is not easy. It takes practice. Edward used role-playing to help Charles learn to manage his anger when his friends would tease him. Edward played the role of Charles's friend Arthur.

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From How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!. Copyright � Sal Severe, 2000. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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