“I had that first! I want it now!” my youngest yelled after dinner one evening. His little fists clenched, his face reddened, his eyebrows furrowed, and his voice rose to a screech. My son felt angry, no doubt about it. As I captured his little hand mid-punch and reminded him that we don’t hit, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet taught him what we do instead.
As I captured his little hand mid-punch and reminded him that we don’t hit, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet taught him what we do instead.
The next day, I spent some time alone with my littlest boy, guiding him through simple anger management skills.
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Before you dive into anger management training, it’s important to first teach your child how to identify his basic emotions: sad, mad, glad, scared, disgusted, and surprised. Kids that are capable of identifying and expressing their feelings appropriately tend to exhibit less behavior problems.
When a person is angry, her face may redden due to increased blood flow to the brain. Her heart may begin to beat rapidly due to an adrenaline rush, and she may begin to take shallow, rapid breaths. Fists may clench or feet may begin to run as her amygdala’s natural fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in. It is important to teach children that feeling angry is a normal, natural human emotion. It is okay to feel angry, but it is not socially appropriate to engage in “angry actions” like hitting, kicking, biting, pushing, and throwing objects. It is important to teach children how to calm themselves down before they make a sad choice due to their strong feelings.
Belly Breaths are an important skill to teach your child because when your child learns to control his breathing, he will feel control over his body and actions. Belly Breaths, or deep breathing, will calm down his body and give him time to think through his actions. There are many ways to teach your child how to use deep breathing to calm down angry feelings.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Instruct your child to lay down on his back and close his eyes. Place a paper boat on his stomach and ask him to imagine that his stomach is the ocean. His deep breathing will create waves that will gently bob the boat up and down…up and down. When his breathing has slowed and turned into deep belly breaths (you will see his stomach rising), ask him to open his eyes so that he can see his boat move. If you don’t have a paper boat handy, he may use his hand instead.
- Use a physical tool like a pinwheel, bubbles, candles or scratch and sniff stickers to encourage your child to breathe in deep through her nose and out through her mouth. It helps my oldest son to count his breaths using the fingers on his free hand.
- Ask your child to imagine that he is a dragon who blows out fire, or try this Blowing Color Steam activity from Play Trains. Children typically love imagery due to their natural ability to pretend, play, and imagine.
Releasing Energy and Talking it Out
When a child is angry, he often has excess energy that needs to be released before his body can relax. Squeezing Oranges is an activity that helps release that energy. Teach your child to imagine he is holding an orange in each hand. Next he must squeeze his fists tightly together to “squeeze the juice out of the oranges.” If you prefer to use a physical object with this activity, try using an orange-scented orange ball from The Dollar Tree.
Smashing playdough or bubble wrap is another activity that releases bottled energy and aggression. My oldest son likes to smash playdough on a table, whereas my youngest prefers to stomp on bubble wrap. After your child has released his surge of angry energy, you will notice that he may begin to roll or sculpt with the playdough or carefully examine the bubble wrap. When you see this, you will know that your child is ready to talk about what made him feel angry.
I keep our anger management tools inside of a basket and have taught the boys to help themselves when they feel upset. The tools are intended to help them gain control and calm down. When they have relaxed, we always talk about the reason for their anger and problem-solve solutions.
It is just as important to teach children social-emotional skills as it is colors, numbers, and letters! Teaching a child to identify and handle their emotions leads to learning empathy, which is one of the greatest gifts we can give a child.
More Resources for Social-Emotional Learning