Have you ever been in a situation where you were so overwhelmed with feelings of anger that you were at a loss for words? You had the presence of mind to know all of the things that you shouldn't say, but weren't quite sure how to express your true feelings without damaging your relationship. Adults often struggle with effectively communicating their angry feelings. For children, this challenge is doubly difficult; kids don't want to get in trouble for expressing themselves aggressively, but they often lack the skills for communicating assertively.
Parents can help their kids develop specific skills for assertive anger expression, beginning with these three primers:
1. Acknowledge that Anger is OK
From the time they are toddlers, children are often coaxed to deny or quickly dispense of their feelings of anger. Well-intentioned messages like, "Don't be angry" give kids the message that this most basic of human emotions is something to feel badly about or guilty over. When kids do act out-either through the tantrums of their earliest years or the rebellion of their teenage ones-they are chastened for all of the behaviors that adults do not want them to use.
Rather than hammering away at all of the things kids should not do when it comes to expressing their anger, it is most helpful for parents to show empathy for their child's emotions experiences and to acknowledge that anger is okay. When kids learn that any way they are feeling is acceptable-and that it is what they do with their feelings (e.g. how they act them out) that counts, they gain skills for effective emotional management and self-control.
2. Talk it Out
True emotional intelligence and self-control has everything to do with learning how to put feelings into words. You can help your child cope with often-overwhelming feelings by consistently encouraging him to talk about them. It may be helpful to work with your child to develop a list of the most common triggers for his anger. Participate alongside of him, creating your own Anger Triggers list. As the two of you share your lists and compare notes, you gain mutual understanding that can lead to more careful and respectful interactions around "trigger" issues.
Even if your child is not comfortable sharing his feelings in words, encourage him to keep a writing or art journal, to record his thoughts and feelings about everyday situations that create powerful feelings. Keeping a regular journal is a great way for your child to explore and express a range of emotions on a regular basis, which contributes to better self-understanding and emotional maturity.
3. Be Willing to Receive Anger
A final key in helping your child learn to accept and manage anger well is to be willing to receive your child's anger. For parents, it can be quite difficult to be on the receiving end of anger-especially when you are not its rightful target. Nonetheless, when adults demonstrate for kids that they are willing to listen to their respectfully-expressed anger, they send the powerful message that the child's feelings are valid and that assertive anger will be rewarded with the gift of a listening ear and non-punitive response.