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How to Raise a Nonviolent Child

Arthur (Edward): "What an ugly shirt. Did your sister buy you that shirt?"
Charles: "I am sorry you don't like it. I bought it, and I like it."
Arthur: "It looks like my sister's shirt."
Charles: "I like it."
Arthur: "It's ugly."
Charles: "I am going to the playground. See you later." (Charles walks away.)

You may need to practice role-playing several different situations. This helps children take what they learn by role-playing into the real world. Role-playing works with any age of child. Young children call it pretending. After each role-playing activity, praise your child for his effort and desire to learn to manage anger.

Teach your children to learn from their anger. Talk with your children after an anger episode. Be sure to wait long enough so that your child is ready to talk and listen. Many parents want to rush into this while the child is still angry. This could be a mistake because it could reignite the anger. It may be helpful to say, "Let me know when you are ready to talk about this."

Begin your talk by asking your child to remember what happened to get the anger started: "What is making you upset?" With older children you may actually label this the trigger event. Then ask the child why the trigger got the anger going: "Can you say why this upset you so much?" If your child has trouble using words to describe what happened, you might want to offer some ideas: "It sounds like you felt left out of the game."

In some cases, you may want to ask if the anger was helpful: "Did getting angry help you feel better? Did getting angry change what happened?" Finally, you want to talk about alternatives: "What else could you have done?" "What have you done before that may have worked better?" For most children, simply talking about anger is a helpful way of learning about anger management.

Dad: "I would like to talk about this, now."
Nick: "Talk about what?" Dad: "Talk about what happened and what got you so angry. Can you tell me what happened, please?"
Nick: "I got mad because he took my CD without asking me."
Dad: "Your brother took your CD, and you got mad."
Nick: "Yes."
Dad: "I can understand that. Did getting angry help?"
Nick: "Not really. We just got into an argument."
Dad: "Can you think of something else you could have said?"
Nick: "No!"
Dad: "I might have said, 'It really upsets me when you take my stuff. Please ask me next time.' Can you try that?"
Nick: "I don't know if that will work."
Dad: "If you try it next time, you will know. It sounds better than fighting!"

Many children have difficulty using words to describe how they feel. Teach your children to express with drawings. This helps young children get started. Once they have a picture, you can ask about events and feelings.

Susan had Jack pose for several pictures. In one picture he would smile, in another he would frown, in another he would make an angry face. Then Susan drew a picture of a thermometer on a large chart. She labeled the thermometer from bottom to top: calm, upset, angry, hot, and steaming. She taught Jack to choose a picture that showed his feelings and then place it on the thermometer. This enabled Jack to express himself and gave Susan a tool to begin talking with Jack about his anger. Pictures and words are always better than hitting.

Older children can use a diary to help reflect on their anger. Teach them to write down what happened, how they got angry, and what they did after they got angry. This helps children see patterns to triggers and reactions.

None of these suggestions will work unless you model and practice anger management yourself. You cannot just tell your children what to do. You have to show them. You need to be a living example. Your children will learn to manage their anger by watching the way you manage your anger.

For most parents, anger habits are learned. The way you manage your anger is part of your parenting style and is sometimes affected by your temperament. Some parents suppress their anger and let it simmer until it boils over, and then explode over a little misbehavior. This confuses children; they never know when you are going to go off. Some parents vent their anger by "blasting" every chance they get. This may seem to work sometimes, but the constant yelling only teaches children to stay out of your way. Children learn that yelling, screaming, and adult tantrums are a way to control. Neither of these styles teaches your children good anger-management strategies.

Parents who are successful anger managers are good models for their children. They have learned to handle anger in a way that is constructive rather than destructive. They have learned to acknowledge their anger and then use it to solve the problem or improve the situation. Parents who manage their anger are aware of their triggers, and they plan to prevent these events from becoming button pushers.

Frustration is a common parent trigger. We work hard each day to provide our children with a fine home and a secure future, and yet the trash sits there for days. You might say, "I am upset that the trash is still in the kitchen. I asked you to take it out yesterday. Please do it now before it becomes a bigger problem for both of us."

Arguments are another common trigger. When you discover that you are angry and arguing, withdraw immediately: "This is not helping. I am getting angry with this. I am going to deal with me, and then I am coming back to deal with you." This approach lets your children know that you are serious about the situation but that controlling your anger is what you need to do first. Your children will also learn that when you do return, you will be more reasonable and less emotional.

Do not take your child's anger personally, even when he is angry with you. When your child strikes out at you in anger, stay calm. Walk away if needed. This is not easy. If you get angry in return, you are setting up a pattern of power and control, and your child may then seek revenge by becoming angrier.

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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