Let Your Kids be Angry

We should let our kids be angry. What?!? This may sound surprising coming from a counselor specializing in play therapy. How can anger be okay? Sometimes we confuse the emotion of anger with the behaviors that follow. When working with children who express their anger in hurtful ways, we often try to convince them that they should not be angry.

“Just calm down!”

“It’s not that big of a deal!”

“Why are you acting this way?”

These statements may oversimplify anger, leave your child feeling ashamed, and even make the anger worse. But fear not, here are three steps you can use to begin helping your child express anger:

First, you will want to start with a set of anger rules. Work together with your child to write rules to express his or her anger, a natural emotion by the way, in a manner that does not cause harm to self, others or property. Rules can include what to say or not to say, places that are acceptable to yell or scream, and identifying objects that are appropriate to physically release anger on, such as a pillow or punching bag. Make sure that you include the rules you want, but allow your child to be a part of the decision-making process as well. This way they have buy-in and understand that they have a voice.

Next, you will want to make a list of healthy ways to express anger. Rules are what not to do, but now we want to identify what to do. It is important to note that no single tool will work all the time, with every child, or in every situation. Creating an anger box can be very helpful in addressing anger, allowing for creative expression, and providing options that can work in various situations. Inside the Anger Box you can include stress balls, an anger pillow, frustration doll, music, art supplies, emotion cards, or anything that you and your child decide will help to express anger in a safe manner.

The final step – and honestly sometimes the most difficult step – is modeling. When your child breaks the rules or begins to lose control, it is important for you to model the appropriate way to express your frustration or anger to your child. If it is safe to leave the room, you may want to take a step back. If you cannot leave the situation, practice taking deep breaths, then communicating in a calm and collected manner. Your child will learn to express his or her emotions by watching how you express yours.

Rather than attempting to eliminate the anger, you can teach your child appropriate ways to express it. Offering alternatives like taking a self-directed time out, counting to ten, or taking deep breaths can help children express their anger without harming someone or something. By setting anger rules and developing healthy ways for your child to communicate their anger, you can begin to make the positive change you have been looking for. Get creative and have fun with your rules and the anger box. The more involved your child is in creating them, the more likely they will be to begin using the tools!

By: Dr. Pam Wright, Founder and Clinical Director, The Life Change Group