On the last track, we discussed the two intentions of angry expressions. Anger is displayed by choice as negative anger or positive anger.
On this track, we will discuss children and anger. The five keys we will discuss are don’t be threatened by the child’s anger, let choices and consequences shape the child, don’t preach, don’t major in the minors, and share your own experiences. As I describe each key, decide if you can apply the ideas to a client you may be treating
5 Principles for Dealing with Angry Children
#1 Don’t Be Threatened by the Child’s Anger
As you know, childhood experience can lead to proper or improper anger management as an adult. A number of my clients with anger management issues are also parents. The first key we will discuss is for clients not to be threatened by their child’s anger. Anger management clients who are threatened by their child’s anger sometimes get caught in power plays with their children. Julia, age 41, mother of two, stated, “Either I learn to deal with my damn anger or it’s over for me as a parent. The little brats have threatened to turn against me! They’re sick of my irritability and I can’t make them behave anymore. My life is going to hell!” Some clients become shocked over children’s anger toward discipline. For children, anger is a natural reaction to discipline.
#2 Choices and Consequences Shape the Child
The second key to helping a client manage a child’s anger is that choices and consequences shape the child. As you know, anger management clients may be impatient with their children regarding learning important lessons. This can lead to lectures and maybe even threats. Julia told me about a fight with her ten-year old daughter, Chelsea, involving choice. Chelsea complained about not having enough clothes. Julia’s response was, “How the hell can you say that? You’re closet is full of clothes!”
I asked Julia how her approach worked. Julia stated, “She kicked a hole in the closet door and I grounded her all week. We’re still not talking.” As you are aware, children need to feel competent in order to manage their anger. With that in mind, Julia could have redirected the focus by telling Chelsea, “You have several outfits. Pick anything you want.” This statement would have given Chelsea a choice and made her responsible for the consequences.
#3 Don’t Preach
In addition to don’t be threatened by the child’s anger and let choices and consequences shape the child, the third key to helping a client manage a child’s anger is don’t preach. I have found that when parents preach condescendingly to a child about their behavior, the children often respond more to the tone than to the message.
Would you agree that clients can be more effective with low-key authority than with a preachy lecture. Fred, age 48 and father of three, stated, “I know what’s best for my kids! In my house discipline is a top priority, but my kids try so damn hard to find a way around that. I tell them all the time how best to live their lives, but they ignore me. It’s like banging my head against a wall!”
To help Fred decide if he was being too preachy, I asked him a few questions. “Do you debate fine points with your child? Do you offer rebuttals? Do you work extra hard to convince your child of the validity of your point? Do you accuse your child of insubordination? Do you induce guilt in your child for being different?” I let Fred read his answers. Would you agree that positive answers to these questions may indicate the client leans to heavily on a preachy, authoritative style?
# 4 Don’t Major in the Minors
The fourth key to helping a parent manage a child’s anger is don’t major in the minors. Is the client, or in this case the client’s child, getting upset over trivial things? Would you agree that when minor problems affect children, anger management clients may give those problems too much attention resulting in a perpetuated atmosphere of unnecessary anger? For example, a child spills a drink in the kitchen and is reprimanded by being called clumsy.
I feel that this type of overemphasis on minor matters represents a shallow understanding of empathy. Therefore, overemphasizing minor matters creates the potential for anger. By majoring in the minors, clients teach children imbalanced anger. By letting these minor problems remain minor, emotions can be minimized. As you have experienced, this concept relates to one of the five ways of handling anger discussed in track one, dropping it.
4-Step "Let Go By Holding On" Technique
With Julia, who was upset and threatened by her children’s anger, I had success with the cognitive therapy intervention “Let Go by Holding On”. I have found this technique works well to prevent clients with children from showing negative anger.
a. First, I asked Julia to make a tight fist around a stress ball.
Second, I asked Julia to keep it tight and count out sixty seconds.
c. Third, at forty seconds, I asked Julia to increase her grip with each count.
Fourth, I asked Julia to squeeze tighter through the discomfort until sixty seconds was reached.
I explained that the physical discomfort represents the emotional pain which accompanies anger. Then I asked Julia to slowly release her grip. The sensation was pleasant and Julia felt relief. At this point, I explained that similarly, when Julia lets go anger, she can free herself from emotional pain and threats, thus becoming more assertive. Do you have a Julia who might benefit from the “Let Go By Holding On” technique in which the client squeezes a ball?
# 5 Share Your Own Experiences
In addition to the other four keys: don’t be threatened by your child’s anger, let choices and consequences shape the child, don’t preach, don’t major in the minors, the fifth key is share your own experiences. By sharing experiences with their child, a client can relate to their child on a personal level as well as provide insight to how the child may solve his or her own problems.
Would you agree that children can benefit from lessons learned in adult experiences? Some children may feel as if they cannot discuss their feelings toward an adult’s angry expression. Do you agree clients can develop openness and honesty with their children by sharing experiences?
On this track, we discussed children and anger. The five keys are don’t be threatened by the child’s anger, let choices and consequences shape the child, don’t preach, don’t major in the minors, and share your own experiences.
On the next track, we will discuss rationalizations that perpetuate anger. Four rationalizations you may encounter are “my past is to painful, forgiveness is too good, why should I try when no one else does, and anger is a familiar habit”.
What are the five keys to helping a parent manage a child’s anger?
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