By Jon Hsieh*, MSW, LCSW
Anger can be as unpredictable as the weather. On some days, it can show itself to be mere frustration, or it can move in like a tornado in the form of rage. Whether we are surprised by it or see it, or see the coming signs of its' arrival - ignoring anger only leads to problems. Most families don't have a plan for anger. They try to weather the storm, waiting for the sun to come out. As many families find out the hard way, it won't just go away. Here are some ideas for dealing with anger in your family.
Anger is a feeling. We are all designed with a wonderful range of emotions - including anger. Emotions gives us clues about the world around us and ourselves. Anger, in particular, points out problems, revealing things that are wrong or that need attention. Help your child understand that anger is good for identifying problems. Children often think that when they feel angry it makes them bad - "My anger is bad, therefore, I am bad." It is important to help children understand that they have a right to feel anger, but they do not have a right to express it any way they please.
Anger is a feeling to be learned. Children can experience learning in two ways: imitating their parents (and others), and experimenting with what they learn. So parents, it begins with you! Your children will model themselves after your behavior. If you scream and yell, if you withdraw and leave, if you hit things, if you take your anger out on others, if you apologize for angry behavior, whatever you do with your anger - expect that your children will "do as you do" and "say as you say."
Anger is power. Children will also experiment with what they learn - creatively using a powerful emotion - to try to get what they want. If little Mary can make others "jump" or "do things" by having a tantrum, Mary will get a distorted sense of her own power over other people. Parents empower their children by how and to what they respond. Mary may need to know that Mommy will talk with her about why she is anger when she is done with her tantrum. Help children understand that anger is a source of power to change their own behavior, not control others. Tip: You can't reason with a child who is enraged. Talking can happen only when they are settled down.
Anger is a behavior. Children can learn to recognize the signs of becoming angry such as body tension, clenched teeth, restlessness, unkind words or tone of voice. When children are more aware of their own feelings of anger, and the others feelings that accompany anger, such as fear, sadness, disappointment, they are in a better position to have more control over their behavior. Parents and children are not perfect in how they manage anger. When mistakes are made and feelings are hurt, what matters are that these are acknowledged and apologies are made.
Anger—A final test. Ultimately, it's about your relationship with your children. Helping children talk through feelings is an important step toward resolution. This may mean accepting a situation that can't be changed, or finding positive solutions. When all is said and done, if after an angry exchange you find yourselves feeling closer to each other, if your relationship is strengthened in some way - your headed in the right direction! Enjoy the weather!