Hot buttons: How to help your child manage anger

From cyberspace bullying to school shootings, the news is filled with examples of youthful anger run amok.

  • Monday, June 2, 2008 4:12pm
  • Life

From cyberspace bullying to school shootings, the news is filled with examples of youthful anger run amok.

When I hear about the latest violent act involving young people, I feel for the victims and their families. I also feel for the perpetrator, who possibly never learned to manage his or her anger before it turned deadly.

What a loss.

Anger is a completely normal, necessary human emotion. But when it has no healthy means of escape, the consequences can be tragic. For good or bad, we learn how to cope with life’s conflicts from experience and from those who shape us, including parents, teachers, friends and mentors.

In my line of work, I’ve seen that young people who have learned to effectively manage their anger and resolve conflicts are more resilient to life’s stresses, disappointments and hurts. The earlier they learn those strategies the better, but it’s never too late.

Daniel Hanson, who coordinates our violence prevention services here at Youth Eastside Services, goes into the schools to talk to kids ages nine to 18 about bullying, aggression and anger.

When it comes to aggression, he says, a fourth grader isn’t much different from a high school senior. Ultimately, he says, it comes down to a lack of power and control. They may be feeling oppressed themselves, so they turn to bullying, teasing and name calling to make themselves feel better.

It should come as no surprise that anger “styles” – that is, how we react to anger – are passed down from our parents. Ever wonder how your kids know just how to push your hot buttons?

The good news is that parents who want to help their children handle their anger in positive ways have a tremendous role to play. When children see us stop, take a breath, and talk things through without resorting to violence, they learn to do it themselves.

Besides setting a good example, here are some other things parents can do to help their children stay cool:

Encourage your child to talk about her feelings and offer support. Anger often covers up other emotions, like fear or sadness.

Practice anger-management behaviors. Some common techniques include counting to 10, thinking calming thoughts, deep breathing and using “I” statements (“I get annoyed when . . . “ versus “You are annoying.”)

Help your child or teen release anger through exercise, music, writing or drawing.

Speaking of drawing, one of my favorite activities has the child drawing circles on a piece of paper and then writing down words inside the circles that make him mad. Talk about the words and why they provoke such anger. Finally, have your child write down the names of three people he trusts and can go to the next time his buttons get pushed. For parents, try making a list of the things that make you angry so that you’re better able to check yourself the next time that situation occurs.

Last but not least, be aware of the signs of a more serious problem. If your child stays angry for a long time, withdraws from family and friends and is damaging himself or his property, seek professional help.

‘Parenting Lifeline’ is a monthly column in Reporter newspapers by Patti Skelton-McGougan, executive director of Youth Eastside Services. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering counseling, outreach and prevention programs to help foster strong family relationships and a safe community. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org

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