Anger In Kids: Why Calming Your Body Works Better Than Hitting A Pillow

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

This morning when I was getting out of my car I opened the door and stuck my leg out. I looked away and the door came swinging back shut– onto my leg!

Ouch!

My immediate desire in that moment was to punish the door- to kick it or whack it or just slam it. But doing that would serve no point: the door isn’t going to suffer too. Instead, I rubbed my leg and went on with my day. Then I decided to google search “Why am I mad at an inanimate object?”

I share this story because I came across an article that is helpful in understanding our anger and helping our kids manage theirs, The Psychology of Releasing Anger.

How many times have you seen you child get angry and lash out: scream, yell, throw a toy or try to hit their sibling or you. This is not just a phenomenon for little kids. Little and big kids and even  adults struggle with feelings of anger. Some of us learn to handle it in a zen-like fashion while others deal with a life-long struggle. Sometimes seeing our kids struggle with anger can be upsetting to us too.

When we see our kids struggle with anger, the first thing to remember is that anger is a feeling and the behaviors are simply a way of communicating the feeling. The behaviors may in fact be dangerous (harming others or throwing things) and we need to set boundaries (“I know you are angry but I won’t let you hit your sister.”) The best thing we can do for kids is stay with them and help them find a calm way to express their feelings. Many times this means we need to help them calm their bodies first. This can be accomplished by focusing on the breath and deep breathing to relax the body. If you can’t help your child accomplish this, distraction may work. Naming the feeling and helping the child recognize why they feel it is next. Finding a way to express that feeling verbally is the finale.

Experts used to tell parents to have their kids hit a pillow or otherwise direct the anger at something that was not the subject of it. The problem is that the scientific research shows that there is no scientific support for catharsis. Acting out on the anger does not make us feel better and can actually make us more angry. The after effects of releasing the anger makes the anger also last longer. And the feelings of anger can be addictive. It might feel good to release it in the moment but we train our brains to deal with anger that way. We create bad habits in the brain that do more harm than good over time. As aptly put, “Allowing yourself to lash out as a means to control your anger is like drinking to control your urge to drink.” Anger turned in ward is not healthy either. It has been shown to lead to physical health problems and depression.

It is not easy dealing with our own anger, let alone our child’s. The last tip I will leave you with for today is the reminder to make sure we are managing our own anger too. Always approach your child in a calm fashion and take deep breaths and relax before ¬†trying to help your child work through their feelings. We as parents are in the best position to model emotional health and guide our kids.

-Lauren