"Anger is just anger. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It's like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice".
- Jim Butcher, White Night
Many parents open their eyes in awe when I tell them that anger is my favourite emotion. As a child therapist I have come to understand that anger is a powerful, yet not fully understood emotion. Here are some insights:
1. Anger is different from aggression. Many children have difficulties coping with anger as it overflows their system, making them get from 0 to 10 in a millisecond. It is then, in the red zone, that they kick, scream, yell they hate you or throw things around. By no means aggressive behaviour should be tolerated; it certainly is not safe for parents and, most importantly, it is not safe for the kids themselves. However, it is important to differentiate anger from aggression. With guidance children can learn how to cope with anger without being aggressive. By teaching them how to recognize their triggers, learn about their own strength, and improve their coping skills children can become assertive, using words instead of actions to express their frustration and annoyance.
2. Anger masks many other emotions. Anger is usually the tip of the iceberg. If we are able to explore further and listen carefully, we might discover that under the surface there can be fear, hurt, jealousy, embarrassment, anxiety, guilt, shame or sadness. These feelings are harder to recognize and express; showing them makes us vulnerable. Anger, on the other hand, makes us appear strong and empowered so many children only show this side. However, how different it would be if your child could say "I scream to you because I had a terrible day at school today. They were all making fun of me in recess...I felt sad and full of shame". Knowing about what lies underneath anger evokes compassion and installs a need for protection, making us see the same behaviour in a very different light.
3. Anger can be de-escalated if you are able to remain calm. There are lots of tips and tricks out there to help parents and teachers de-escalate the anger in children. Breathing, mindfulness, redirection, break cards, phrases to say, etc. These are all good efforts that certainly do have a value. Nonetheless, I also see that children tend to feed of adult's energy. The more cool, calm and collected you can become, the more room will have to deal with children's anger and become an emotion coach for them. After all there is no better tool that a parent or a teacher that is loving, consistent, and emotionally available.
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