What are the acceptable ways for children to express anger? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 02:02 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I have to post about this every so often - bear with me.

My DS expresses his anger physically, i.e. hitting, pushing, kicking, biting, etc. He is now at the point where he uses words a lot more, but you can tell he is going with Plan B, so to speak. Still, it's a big improvement. This is not to say the hitting, etc. never happens, however.

He also tends to yell and scream when he is angry. I mean, blood curdling screams.

I have difficulty giving him appropriate outlets for his angry feelings. This is probably because I have trouble with my own. Is screaming OK? I don't like screaming and yelling. But he is not quite 4 and he is trying to let out some strong emotions, and I am trying to get him not to hit. Screaming is better than hitting. But I don't want him to be a yeller, either.

If someone is sad, they cry. If someone is happy, they laugh. Embarrassed, thay blush. What do you do when you are angry? What is your natural reaction? Mine is to yell. This is not really acceptable. I can't go around yelling at everyone who ticks me off. DS's natural reaction is to hit or push, and that's not OK either. I want him to express his emotions in a healthy way and not have to squash them down in order to be socially acceptable. Somehow saying "When you knocked down my sand castle, I felt angry" doesn't do it for me. Just like saying "I am sad" is no substitute for a good cry. I think anger triggers a physiological reaction and I am trying really hard to figure out a good way to channel that.

So, any suggestions are welcome.
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#2 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 09:32 AM
 
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subbing because I'm not sure how to address this with dd either.
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#3 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 09:32 AM
 
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Its funny when this happens, but I found myself reading your post and thinking to myself, "He must be four now!" Then I read your siggy last and sure enough -- about to turn four!

Both my children when through exactly what you are describing at age 4. It lasted a few months. Anger became an overwhelming experience right around that age, and I think it relates to an increase in awareness. They start to begin exploring the concept of "fairness." They don't know what to do with their own powerful new understanding level and emotional reactions when they perceive an injustice. (Not that their perceptions of "not fair" always match reality though. Though, I have to say, its not usually worth arguing the point. They FEEL things are unfair, and that can be validated/respected whether its accurate or not.)

My approach was to encourage *any* expression of anger that was not phsyically aggressive toward people. So I praised them for yelling, because it was a heck of a lot better than hitting! I wonder what the neighbors thought, hearing my kids shouting, "I AM SO MAD AT YOU MOMMY!" and then hearing me say, "Great job using your words!" Ha.

Later, when they got to the point that they were no longer inclined to hit, kick, or spit (age 5ish?) then I started working with them on modifying their verbal responses to something more "polite." But its too much all at once to teach "use your words" and "be polite" all at once when emotions are running so strong.

Also -- age 4 is a good time to start teaching the concept of "solving a problem." The language of problem solving appealed very strongly to my kids at this age, and the idea of being powerful enough to "fix" what they didn't like was very empowering to them. They would often stop mid-tantrum if I simply stated, "Wow, I see there is a big problem! Lets think of some different ways to solve it."
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#4 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 10:02 AM
 
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I encourage my boys to yell into pillows. I know sometimes for myself, when I am to the point of feeling so angry or overwhelmed I *need* to do something, I will lay on my bed, scream into a pillow and kick until I feel better (Gosh I sound like my 2 year old!!) Somehow physical excertion helps tremendously.

Both my boys will say, "I feel so (angry, mad, sad)" and I will help them figure out a way to express it. I love it when my 2 year old cries and will tell me "Mama, I feel sad" and I will ask how come and he will say "I dont know!" and we will talk about it and afterwards he feels better. So much better than a crying screaming throw yourself on the floor tantrum!! (Which he also went through!)

My 5 year old will remove himself to his room to regroup and collect himself when he is feeling angry. H ewill say "Im so angry, Im going to my room!" When he comes back downstairs he always says, "Ok, I feel better now" If he w3ants to talk about why he felt angry I encourage it, otherwise I just let it go as he has a coping skill.
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#5 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 10:28 AM
 
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I really like mamaduck's reply.

I do think that anger produces a physiological response. I think anger is a secondary emotion, one that arises when a need/feeling of ours goes unmet for too long (so it's often preventable by addressing that sooner. but not always, sometimes our emotions come on fast and strong). And I think with anger the corresponding physiological response is the protective flight or fight response, or is at least similar. So there is that sensation, for me, of physical tension or energy that wells up and feels almost as if it needs to be let out. And it's hard to communicate effectively when we're so highly aroused. While I sometimes do try to let out that energy by crying or with physical activity (not hitting pillows or such, or screaming, I find that feeds the energy), I also find it helpful to take some breaths, to be quiet, to calm my body first and then my mind. This is what I try to help my kids do, take some time to relax and quiet their bodies. Sometimes they might just sit with me and cry until their bodies settle, but sometimes they want a backrub, sometimes they want to do something they have to concentrate on--they need things that are incompatible with maintaing that highly aroused state, things that bring them back down. And then we can work on communicating and problem solving in ways that are effective and satisfying to everyone involved.
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#6 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 01:29 PM
 
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I have my DS stomp his feet and say "I'm mad" - not that he does it yet, but it does get the physical aspect of being angry out of your system in a (hopefully) nondestructive manner.
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#7 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 01:59 PM
 
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subbing...

Great question! I was also thinking about this, just today in fact, when I told my 3 yo that he could stomp his feet if he was REALLY mad. Not sure that that won't come back to haunt me, but like you said, I want to give him reasonable outlets that aren't hitting or pushing. (I've also struggled with "censoring" him when he yells, or when his words are physically agressive -- "I'm going to throw you in the garbage bin" -- but he's stopped himself from hitting.)
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#8 of 19 Old 09-28-2006, 02:07 PM
 
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Yeah my son started throwing stuff whenever he's mad, and over "small" things or when I set a limit after letting him decide on a lot of other things all day. I don't want to stifle his anger, but a lot of it seems inappropriate in a way. But then some things that I initially frown on are probably fine for his age (he'll bite inaminate objects, like a towel, throw pillows). He doesn't throw anything breakable, but it really gets me upset that this is now his Go To- just throw stuff off the bed, off the bookshelves. It bothers me, and maybe more than it should, but I'm having trouble with it. I don't feel that "trashing" his room is acceptable. I used to be able to calm him down so easily, but since he hit three he's just not interested in a hug.
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#9 of 19 Old 09-29-2006, 12:55 AM
 
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UG! The last 6 months have been H-E-double hockey sticks here with my 4.5 yo. The anger is truly amazing! In addition to the other replies I have tried some things from the How to Talk...etc. book. When he's very agnry and starts hitting/throwing/being physical in a bad way I ask him if he would like to show me how angry he is with a pciture. He usually likes the idea but doesn't want to do it himself, so he tells me what to draw. (usually something like a sad/angry face and whatever he was mad about - like a certain toy or activity). He then carries the picture around. I havwe also found that the "reflect their emotion" thing REALLY helps with both my boys. When he's upset because he can't have something I'll say, "you seem ANGRY! I bet you don't think it's fair that you can't have ice cream. You really WANT ice cream! It's so yummy! I wish I could give you a big bowl of ice cream right now. What's your favorite flavor? Really? I like booger flavored! Does that sound good?" Humor is always a good option if you can lead into it the right way...otherwise they just get pissed. I will be watching this thread for more ideas.

I think growling is another ok anger response...

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#10 of 19 Old 09-29-2006, 01:20 AM
 
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i'll be watching with interest....

dd is just over 3 and starting to demonstrate more angry behaviour, it's good to be forewarned about the 4yo stage!

i'm looking forward to lots of great advice
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#11 of 19 Old 09-29-2006, 11:34 AM
 
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What a great question. I too have been wondering about that. My dd is almost three and is starting to have anger issues (mostly to do with her newly mobile sister getting into her toys) and I wondered if yelling was ok. I don't yell (or rather I don't think it's acceptable for me to yell in anger at her but I slip up sometimes) so is it ok for her to? I guess I think it is. We can work on that as she gets older. I really like the drawing a picture idea.
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#12 of 19 Old 09-29-2006, 11:54 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mamaduck View Post
My approach was to encourage *any* expression of anger that was not phsyically aggressive toward people. So I praised them for yelling, because it was a heck of a lot better than hitting! I wonder what the neighbors thought, hearing my kids shouting, "I AM SO MAD AT YOU MOMMY!" and then hearing me say, "Great job using your words!" Ha.
this was just about the most helpful post I've read, ever. For three reasons:

1. I didn't know to expect a lot of anger around age 4. My son is coming up on age four in a few months! He doesn't get angry that much, now. I love having a developmental heads-up! It always helps me a lot.

2. I love the way you respond to your kids. You are very creative. Your solutions never feel artificial, they always seem like they would work in an emotional moment. I wish I could be like you. Oh wait, now I guess I can! I'm gonna!

3. I love your tone. If we both weren't already married to other people, I would gushily ask you to marry me.

Divorced mom of one awesome boy born 2-3-2003.
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#13 of 19 Old 09-29-2006, 11:28 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for your responses. Everything helps.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sledg View Post
they need things that are incompatible with maintaing that highly aroused state, things that bring them back down. And then we can work on communicating and problem solving in ways that are effective and satisfying to everyone involved.
When I was a child I would read to calm myself down. It always worked. I can remember going to my room all pissed off, and seeing the good book I was in the middle of reading, and choosing not to read it so I could wallow in my bad mood.

Can I ask a potentially stupid question - is anger bad? Is it something we should try to avoid, or get rid of as soon as possible?
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#14 of 19 Old 09-30-2006, 12:57 AM
 
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There is no stupid question

No, no feelings are "bad." They just are. This was a really critical concept for me to grasp. I grew up being told to feel certain ways and that feeling sad, angry, frustrated, etc. was unacceptable. IMO, it's normal to feel angry---it's how we channel and express anger that's the issue (esp. with preschoolers ).

Anger is a really important emotion, IMO. It signals to us that our needs are not being met...and that a change is in order. Anger, when seen as a friend or messenger, can be really helpful.

Oh, and Capt. O---step away from mamaduck---I loved her first

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#15 of 19 Old 09-30-2006, 02:16 AM
 
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What a great thread. Thanks for all of the ideas!


Quote:
Originally Posted by mamabohl View Post
I wish I could give you a big bowl of ice cream right now. What's your favorite flavor? Really? I like booger flavored!
(emphasis mine)

That has the makings of a DDDDC all over it!

Jill
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#16 of 19 Old 09-30-2006, 02:41 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Funny story: the other day I was watching a friend's DS. He was out of sight but within earshot. My DD apparently started touching the truck he was playing with, causing him to say, "Ma-de-LINE!" in just the exact same exasperated tone my DS uses. In fact, I thought it *was* my DS, but the voice sounded totally different. Then my DS says, "That's just how I say it!" Yes, it is! Ha ha.
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#17 of 19 Old 09-30-2006, 08:18 PM
 
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This is a great thread. It's interesting how so many of us (people in general) struggle with figuring out how to express anger in a healthy way. It's really hard!

For years I've been working with young children with emotional/behavioral challenges. One 4 year old I worked with frequently had anger outbursts that involved yelling, spitting, knocking over classroom furniture, kicking things, etc. "Storming." In the heat of the moment, I'd shove a bean bag chair in front of him and say, "THIS is safe to hit and kick!" Because when he got that angry, he wasn't capable of simply "stopping" his unsafe behaviors - he needed an immediate alternative outlet. I kept my words to a minimum, and let him wrestle the bean bag to get the energy out. AFTER it was all over, we'd have discussions about how to stay safe when our anger feels overpowering, how to keep the people and things around us safe, etc.

With younger, less verbal children, I encourage them to growl like tigers or big scary monsters.

Running also helps, if you have the space for it. It's great if you're near a field and can just run like hell...look at a point in the distance, picture the source of your anger there, and run like you're going to smash it to smithereens when you get to it. Once your heartrate and breathing changes, the anger transforms.

When I'm feeling near tears, I often go to the park and get on a swing, and swing really hard and high...because it's the strangest thing - it's impossible for me to swing and cry at the same time. I wonder if swinging would help transform anger, as well. I haven't tried it yet.
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#18 of 19 Old 10-03-2006, 02:57 PM
 
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C.O. and Georgia -- I might consider leaving my DH for either one of you!!!

Famousmockingbrd -- one of the most helpful things I ever learned about anger (in a workshop) is that it should be treated as a "signal." Just like our body signals us to drink by feeling thirsty, feeling angry is a signal to make a change. When we are conscious of our anger, and we respect it as a signal to examine our circumstances and make constructive changes -- then anger is a very good thing. Its only when we deny it or "stuff" it that it tends comes out in damaging ways, because at that point we have lost touch with ourselves. Unconscious anger is dangerous. Teaching a child to think, talk and be conscious of their angry feelings is a great gift.
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#19 of 19 Old 10-03-2006, 03:07 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mamabohl View Post
When he's upset because he can't have something I'll say, "you seem ANGRY! I bet you don't think it's fair that you can't have ice cream. You really WANT ice cream! It's so yummy! I wish I could give you a big bowl of ice cream right now. What's your favorite flavor? Really? I like booger flavored! Does that sound good?"
I the "How to talk..." book.

My (almost) 3 yo is beginning this stage. (She has always started the difficult phases early, lucky for me!) She has started hitting herself in anger... how do we stop this? Its not violent or anything, but I don't want her to think it is okay to hurt herself. We've tried not paying attention to it and addressing it and neither has worked. She won't talk about it either.

We sing the Mr. Rogers "What do you do with the mad that you feel" song. It has lots of ideas for kids to use when handling their anger. Mr. R. is a big hero in our house, he's one of the only TV shows allowed and I just love that song. I encourage her to hit or scream into a pillow or to pound her playclay. She also sometimes will let herself out the back door and stand on the deck and scream really loud.

ITA with one of the PP who said that it is most important to allow them to process and feel what they are feeling. I HATE when I find myself telling her that she's okay when clearly she is not. Its my issue and I'm trying not to lay it on her and allow her to feel everything, even negative feelings.

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