In the earlier blog How to Model Anger, and Why You Should, I invited parents and carers to be aware of how they respond to their children’s anger, considering whether their reaction is inline with how they speak about anger. I was careful to mention that sometimes we can shoot down developing anger and in doing so, create a sense of shame and not OKness about the emotion.
I understand why this is sometimes done and I do think it’s important to teach our children appropriate/safe anger. However, without knowledge of the impact this can have, we risk giving our children mixed messages.
Our children and young people are in the process of developing their relationship and identity in the context of all their emotions. They draw information from parents, carers, family, teachers, peers and the media, these are also met with hormones, stresses and at times, a lack of emotional awareness. It’s fair to say then, that they will make mistakes and this is OK.
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Our children’s anger can sometimes evoke anger in ourselves and this is one of the reasons I am writing these blogs and holding the Facebook live Understanding Anger in Children and Young People, because I believe in developing our own awareness before the event, to enable us to better facilitate our mini adults.
I strongly believe and advocate anger being as important and valid as any other emotion; we need to express it to stay well. So when your children are exploring ways to express anger, here are some ways you can suggest to them, if the way they are doing it feels not OK or unsafe in some way.
I always explain to children and young people that their anger is OK, that sometimes the way in which we express it isn’t OK and if that’s the case it’s just a behaviour, it can be changed and it doesn’t define them/make them not OK.
How to tell if an expression of anger is OK/safe:
We all have a right to be safe, this is really important, it can empower children and young people and it also highlights our responsibility to others. Anger is OK if:
You’re not hurting yourself; this means physically and emotionally. Examples would be hitting doors and walls, pulling own hair, using alcohol and/or drugs to help cope/forget.
You’re not hurting others; this means physically and emotionally. Examples would be hitting, kicking, name calling, being abusive/hurtful and getting pay-back by telling someones secret for example.
Damaging belongings, equipment and property.
5 Strategies to express safe anger:
Use a feelings pillow - any pillow will do or you can get a pillow case and felt pens and encourage your child to draw/create a pillow that is exclusively for them to express any emotion onto. Talk about the different ways you can use it for different emotions. Test their understanding of safe i.e. “if you hit and scream into the pillow is it safe? Does anyone or anything get hurt?”
Cry - crying is a way to release energy and is not a sign of weakness. Releasing energy means we free up space for stress/anger/upset at a different time and reduces the risk of us feeling like we’re out of control.
Write - children and young people love it when I show them this one. I get them to think of the last time they were angry and who was involved, I asked them to write their name on the paper (the person involved in them being angry) and what they would like to say to them if they could get away with it. This doesn’t need to be neat, polite or even seen! Once they’ve finished I get them to scribble all over the paper as quickly as they can, trying to scribble over everything they have written. I encourage them to express their anger in their movement and get them to be aware of their increased heart rate, therefore the release of energy. Once they have finished, I get them to rip the paper up into as many pieces as possible, again, using their anger to fuel their speed. Older children can also write a letter, they may want to defend themselves and explain the injustice - this is a safe way to do it if they’re not likely to get the outcome they want from doing it with the actual person.
Exercise - playing sport burns energy and can reduce the overwhelming feeling of anger. If your child is living with a lot of anger it would be good to speak to them about it as an energy (all feelings are energy) and explore ways they would like to release it and if you can, support them in doing so.
Talk about it - sometimes all we want is to be understood and have our feelings validated right? It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about being valued and accepted. By encouraging your children to talk about it and helping them understand who would be right to talk to and why it can be helpful, you are promoting their mental health and giving them permission to do the same.
Some of these may seem obvious, but it’s important to understand the theory behind a behaviour. If we understand why it’s useful, we can play close attention to the benefits and this can act as a motivator to continue. The benefits of these strategies are release of energy (increased heart rate), externalising thoughts, accessing support, learning to self-sooth, taking responsibility of our actions (not in a shaming way), developing the belief that anger is OK, and a belief that they are important.