I have asked countless number of children “Is getting mad bad?” Very close to 100% answered yes. This has made me very curious as to the message we are presenting to children about anger. It has made me wonder how we adults express our anger and how that affects our children’s perspective that mad is bad.

While talking to children about anger I speak to the important role anger plays in our lives. Anger lets us know that something is wrong. It is a signal that we are hurt, scared, or frustrated, our rights are being violated, or our needs are not being met. I tell them that when anger is utilized in a productive way, it motivates us to make necessary changes to live more comfortably and safely in this world. When anger is expressed in destructive ways, it only serves to intensify the feelings of pain, frustration, and fear.

One young man, of middle school age, who was studying the civil rights movement of the 1960’s made a very astute observation. He pointed out that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a lot of things to be angry about. He said Dr. King and his people were being hurt on multiple levels and that Dr. King got angry enough to do something about it. This young man was able to recognize that Dr. King harnessed his anger to take a stand, be heard, take courageous action, and yet never once express his anger in a violent way.

Teaching our children how to properly express and deal with feelings of anger is a critical and ongoing lesson. Children need to know how to stand up for themselves, speak so people will listen, and take courageous action when needed without causing undue harm to themselves or others.

The number one most important element in teaching our children how to effectively manage anger is to know how to effectively manage our own anger. Children learn how to deal with anger by imitating the behavior of their caregivers. Children learn my watching, not by listening to what is said.

Despite our best attempts to be patient, resourceful, and flexible there are times we get angry with our children. Children pay close attention to our anger and will, in fact, provoke us just to see how we respond. They are actually giving us the perfect opportunity to teach them that anger is a normal, even healthy emotion, and show them positive ways to express it and how to move through it successfully.

Pay attention to the emotion beneath the anger. Anger is normally a response to an uncomfortable emotion. Pain (emotional or physical), fear, or frustration, are the usual culprits driving the anger. Identify these feelings to help you better understand and deal with your anger.

Name your anger. Children are very sensitive to non-verbal cues and pick up on subtle changes in voice tone, skin color, and body tension when we are mad. Let them know that this feeling has a name and that it is not too scary to talk about: “I’m feeling very angry and frustrated right now. I lost my keys and am running late to pick your brother up from school, and now you won’t put your shoes on so we can leave.”

Express anger without assigning blame. Children will do many things that we will feel frustrated about, but they are not responsible for our anger. When you are feeling angry, do not start a sentence off with “You”. When we say, “You are driving me crazy,” or “You make me so mad,” we are falsely giving our children the message that they are in control of our behaviors and emotions. Instead, explain to your children that our feelings of anger are in response to their behavior. Honestly share your feelings, and their connection to them, without blame. “When you climb on the furniture I feel scared and mad.”

Don’t strike your child. Hitting your child only teaches them to fear you and that violence is an acceptable way to express anger and solve problems. Yelling and name calling can be as hurtful as physical violence.

Recognize your triggers and early warning signals. Every one has their own hot buttons. For some parents it may be being ignored, for others it might be being talked back to, or being ordered around. Become aware of the early warning signs that these triggers produce so you can take action before the intensity of your feelings get to high. Once you have identified the triggers that spark your anger, set clear limits with your children around those areas.

It’s never too late to apologize. It’s a rare parent who hasn’t let their anger get the best of them and have done or said something they later regret. When the inevitable happens, it’s important to apologize for scaring or hurting your children. “I’m sorry that I scared you when I yelled at you. I got frightened when you climbed on the bookcase. I don’t want you to do that because it is not safe, but I didn’t mean to scare you.”

When you follow these guidelines for effective anger management, you are modeling healthy responses for your feelings of anger for your children to observe.

Author's Bio: 

Forrest Samnik, LCSW, EFT Cert-I, CCH is a psychotherapist, EFT Practitioner, and life coach with a private practice in Palm Harbor, Florida. For questions or comments call LifeWorks Counseling & Coaching at (727) 781-6567.