Angry Kids + Summer = No Fun

As any parent can attest, children often find it difficult to regulate their emotions, especially when it comes to anger. As they are learning (through personal experience and guidance from adults) to control their behavior by using healthy coping skills to deal with their emotions, they can experience some major bumps in the road. Often parents and caregivers are so busy with the myriad details of daily life that emotional outbursts and aggression from their kids can be overlooked or placated for the sake of just getting to the soccer match on time or surviving a trip to the grocery store.
As we roll into summer, our children are getting farther and farther away from the structured routine of the school year. They are well aware that their teachers are not going to be around to ensure that they take turns, use their inside voices, walk in a single file line, remain on task, keep their hands to themselves or use their time wisely! They have tons of free time on their hands and lots of opportunities to get into skirmishes with siblings as well as authority figures. Shouting matches, arm punching, hair pulling, toy breaking, name calling and the like can all take place before lunchtime among normally loving brothers and sisters.
What’s a parent to do?
As you may have already guessed, the first step in dealing with anger is to talk to your children before there is a problem (or at least at a calm moment between fights). Have a discussion about what causes kids to feel angry; hurt feelings, frustration, not getting something they want (“unfairness”), etc. Explain that everybody gets angry sometimes, and it’s okay to express your anger by talking about your feelings. However, it’s not okay to scream, break things or hit people. Talk to them about how you know that they don’t want to be in trouble all the time for the way they act when they’re angry, and that they probably feel really bad when they hurt someone else’s feelings, person or property. Have them describe to you how they can tell when they’re angry. Ask them what it feels like in their bodies. Do they feel tingly in their chest? Do they make their hands into fists? Does their face turn red? Have them describe something that makes them really mad.
Explain to them that there are things they can do to take charge of their anger. Discuss the following list of suggestions with them; ask them which ones they think would be doable for them; and invite them to brainstorm on other options:
• Go to an adult and talk to them about why you’re angry. Maybe what’s making you angry can be easily resolved by an adult.
• Take a break from a stressful (anger provoking situation) as soon as you notice you’re becoming angry. Walk away for a few minutes, and then come back when you’re calm.
• Do jumping jacks, run around the outside of the house five times, sing and dance to a song on your iPod, or do cartwheels on the lawn. Do something fun to “get the anger out.”
• Draw a picture about your anger, or write in a journal about your feelings.
• Think about something that makes you happy (a fun vacation, your favorite movie), something that is totally unrelated to what you’re angry about. Visualize it in great detail, until you feel better.
Be sure to remind your kids that anger is only temporary. While it’s nearly impossible to never be angry, children can learn to be the boss of their anger with practice. Granted, it is more difficult for some kids to control their temper than others. Make sure yours know that how they act when they are angry is what determines if the situation is going to get better or worse. Be very clear about the consequences for undesirable behavior (they should be immediate, reasonable and enforceable). Taking away Xbox for an entire month from a child who has just hit a sibling in the head with a Lego Millennium Falcon is neither reasonable nor enforceable. You will suffer mightily until you eventually relent…taking it away for an evening is a better option. It’s important that your kids feel like there’s hope for tomorrow. If there’s no hope, there’s no reason for them to try.
Most importantly, give lots of specific praise for good behavior whenever you witness it. For example: “I like the way you two are taking turns on the computer so nicely.” Or, if you witness a situation starting to escalate, you could say, “Travis, I can see how you are becoming frustrated with what’s happening with your brother right now, what is something (that we’ve talked about) that you could do to take charge of your anger?” If they have trouble thinking of what you agreed upon in the heat of the moment, it’s a good idea to give them a hint. Either/or questions are great: “Did we say to do cartwheels in the yard, or think about Spongebob Squarepants trying to give Gary (his pet snail) a bath?” If they don’t follow your lead, walk through the process with them in a fun way: “Come on, let’s see who can do 20 jumping jacks the fastest!” Once calmness is restored (and hi-fives have been awarded), it’s time to talk about what’s making Travis so angry. Give him your undivided attention, and work towards win-win solutions.
Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Behavior modification takes time and repetition, but it is so very worth it. Remember to keep your cool, no matter what happens! Showing your kids (through word or deed) that you’re angry because they’re fighting again, is not exactly going to help them learn to control their tempers. Chances are it will only serve to escalate the situation. The last thing you want to hear is, “Yeah, but you’re yelling too, Mommy/Daddy/Nana!” Let your kids know that you care about what they’re feeling and that you’re ready to help them make good choices. If it doesn’t go so great in the beginning, it’s okay. Tomorrow is another day, and another chance to teach and learn. kidshealth.org  has some pretty great information on how to deal effectively with children when it comes to anger issues.
If your child or teen is having more trouble dealing with anger that you think is typical, give us a call at Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando at 407-355-7378. Our licensed Counselors are experienced in working with children who could use some extra guidance and support to get them back on track.
Best wishes. Kim

Kim