We often give children the message that being angry is bad. Parents will say, “Don’t be upset” or “You shouldn't get mad over that.” Minimizing their feelings may also make the child doubt his own feelings or increase the anger. Saying “It’s no big deal.” or “Don’t be such a baby.” will not solve the problem. Asking a child “Why are you so angry?” may result in the child shutting down or making up a reason. They may not really understand why they feel that way.
So how can parents help the child deal with situations that provoke anger, hurt and sadness? All of these skills are most effective when modeled by the parents rather than talked about.
1. Make sure the child understands that being angry is a normal emotion. Everyone feels angry at times.
2. Show empathy and recognize the child’s feelings. You might say: “Wow, you sure look upset.” or “You sound angry.” Let the child respond without asking questions.
3. Identify inappropriate responses to anger: name calling, physical aggression or any sort of violence, threatening, attempting to alienate friends.
4. Show appropriate ways to deal with anger: telling the person that you are angry and why, writing about it, physical exercise, meditating, drawing a picture, hitting a pillow or other inanimate object.
5. Be sure child sees adults using these techniques as they verbalize what they are doing. This is not done directly to the child but within his hearing. For example: “It makes me angry when a friend forgets to meet me for lunch. I waited a long time. I am going to call her and tell her how upset I am and ask her to please call me if she can’t meet me. But first I am going to take a walk around the block and calm down so I can help her to understand.”
6. Remember we cannot take away inappropriate responses to anger without teaching more effective tools. Then the anger is just suppressed and become worse.