Anger doesn’t have to be a dirty word
When you ask a boy what they think about anger, many will say that it is ‘bad’. Reflecting back I don’t recall being taught how to deal with anger. Rather, we were led to believe that to be angry was to be bad, and we were often made to feel guilty for expressing anger.
Anger is a normal emotion
We need to teach our boys that anger in itself isn’t a problem – it is a normal emotion that all humans experience. It is neither good nor bad, it is just a feeling.
However, where children (and many adults!) become unstuck is in how they manage anger. Rather than deny or repress it, the task should be how to channel anger towards productive, or at least acceptable, outlets.
“It is important to remember angry feelings are different from angry behavior.”Olivia Tims, School Psychologist/Counsellor
The notion of anger causes confusion because it is often viewed as a behavior – it is equated with violence, aggression, meanness and hurt rather than as a feeling. People have behavioral responses to anger, but anger is not a behavior; anger is an emotion.
Anger is misunderstood
As a result of being associated with mostly negative behavioral responses, anger continues to be misunderstood.
There are several aspects to this misunderstanding:
- Anger is regularly mislabeled as the behaviors an angry feeling can provoke (“He is such an angry boy” rather than “He acts in aggressive and destructive ways when he is feeling angry”)
- Anger is commonly misnamed as other emotions that are perceived as less intense and less negative (“I am a little frustrated and irritated,” rather than “I am so angry right now!”)
- Anger can serve as a mask for other emotions we perceive as unacceptable. Anger is often merely just a symptom of something else going on. If we were able to open a boy’s head and look inside when he’s angry, no doubt we’d see feelings such as frustration, hurt, fear or powerlessness.
Therefore, when your son is actually feeling hurt, anxious, ashamed, embarrassed, sad, worried, and disappointed or any number of other “uncomfortable” emotions, the internal experience is one of anger.
Often in our culture boys and men have been directly and indirectly taught it is not OK to be afraid, sad or worried. Consequently, angry feelings are developed as a way to cope with other difficult feelings.
Physical responses to anger
One of the first steps in learning to manage anger more effectively is learning how to recognise early warning signs or body signals that tell you that you are becoming angry.
Learning to recognise the signs of anger is an important life-skill.
The most common responses include:
- pounding heart
- flushed face
- tense jaw
- tightness in the chest
- gritting teeth
Our thoughts or ‘self-talk’ (the little voice inside your head telling you about a situation) can also influence how we manage angry feelings. Self-talk is said to have significant influence on feelings and can make you feel better or worse about any given situation. If self-talk tends to be negative, you probably spend a lot more time feeling angry than someone whose self-talk tends to be positive.
Angry self-talk often magnifies mole-hills into mountains and small problems into rage. The earlier boys can recognise these warning signs of anger (physical sensations and negative thought patterns), the more successful they will probably be at calming themselves down before their anger gets out of control. With early recognition, we can make better choices and create more skilled responses to our feelings of anger.
Parents can play a positive role by helping their son deal with angry feelings in an appropriate way.
Children see everything parents do and say so it is very important parents model the appropriate methods of dealing with anger. When boys live in a home where anger is handled in a healthy way, they generally learn to manage their anger constructively.
However, if you are in the habit of yelling at your son, know that you are modelling behaviour that he will adopt by the time he is a teenager, if not well before.
As a family, you may want to consider adopting some “anger rules” that are applicable to all family members. These set of agreed rules could include things like:
It is OK to feel angry BUT
- Don’t hurt others
- Don’t hurt yourself
- Don’t hurt property
- Do talk about it
Developing an Anger Action Plan
If your son has difficulty with emotion regulation, it might be worth helping him develop an ‘action plan’ he can access as soon as he recognises those first body signals of anger. The basic idea in developing an anger management plan is to try many different strategies and find the anger control techniques that work best for him.
It is important the anger management plan is developed ahead of time (during a calm phase) and the strategies are rehearsed so they become almost automatic during times when he is emotionally charged.
Although each plan should be individual, some general techniques or strategies that might be useful include:
- Deep breathing: Proper deep breathing tricks the body into thinking it is in a calm state. When we are in a state of stress, our bodies are in a “fight or flight” response. Our bodies in this state react with an increase in heart rate & breathing becomes rapid & shallow, as opposed to the calm state of deep “within our gut” breathing & slower heart rate. Have your son take a slow deep breath in through the nose all the way down to the stomach, counting to 3 quietly as he breathes in through his nose. Have him expand his stomach as he breathes in. Then have him slowly release the breath, counting to 5 while breathing out and deflating his stomach. Repeating this three times lowers the level on stress and anger.
- Cognitive Restructuring: When you’re angry, your thinking can get exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, “oh, it’s awful, it’s terrible, everything’s ruined,” tell yourself, “it’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyway.”
- Find a way to (safely) get the anger out: talking about it with someone you trust, hitting a pillow or punching bag; doing something physical (kicking the footy, hitting a tennis ball, going for a short run); distracting yourself by watching a favourite TV program, listening to music, playing a computer game; getting creative – writing a letter or drawing a picture of why you’re so angry or upset.
- Create a Calm Down Box – this work particularly well for younger boys and is good for encouraging your son to calm down from a tantrum or for use anytime he is feeling frustrated, angry, or even sad. Everything in the box should represent a positive and acceptable means of managing emotions & the box should contain items that appeal to the senses – basically, toys that feel good to look at, touch, smell & hear. Some items you might like to consider including are: squeeze toys, stress balls, special blanket or cuddly toy, timers, playdough, books, rubix cube, coloring materials, sensory (textured) balls, kaleidoscope, bubbles (encourages deep breathing).
Providing positive feedback to your son when he manages his emotions well is very important. Using praise, paying attention to positive behaviours and showing him you notice him managing his frustrations can motivate him to improve his behaviours.
If you have a son who gets angry easily, it can be helpful to praise his efforts when he is trying something difficult. Praise should also be specific – make it clear the reason you are praising, eg: “Josh, I like the way you keep rebuilding the tower so patiently after it falls.”
Children, particularly boys thrive on positive feedback, so offering praise when he shows self-control is a vital part of any effective behavior management plan.
Information has been adapted from the following sources:
http://www.psychpage.com/family/angry.html, Dealing with Anger & Children, written by Dr Richard Niolon,
Creative Therapy Associates Inc (2000). Anger Management: a guidebook for Psychologists/Counselors, Educators, Families/Individuals
Murphy, T. (2002) The Angry Child: Regaining control when your child is out of control
http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/raise-great-kids/emotionally-intelligent-child/angry-child, Helping your child learn to manage anger, written by Dr Laura Markham,
http://www.kimscounselingcorner.com, 50 games & activities for anger, written by Kim Peterson,
http:// http://discipline.about.com/od/increasepositivebehaviors/a/Use-Praise-To-Encourage-Good-Behaviors-And-Teach-New-Skills.htm, Use praise to encourage good behaviors and teach new skills, written by Amy Morin,
Olivia Tims is a School Psychologist/Counsellor with almost 20 years experience working with young people. This article is about Wellbeing
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