I just lost it.
Anger is a healthy and normal emotion. Everyone gets angry, but not everyone expresses it well. This is the first in a two-part blog series on Managing Anger with Recognizing & Resetting (part 2 coming in January 2021). This blog will focus on the Recognize and the second blog will focus on how to Reset by learning relaxation strategies and effective ways to release anger.
THE GOOD AND THE MAD. All feelings are ok. Being angry or mad can be a signal that something is wrong or needs to change. It might be a response to a perceived threat. Anger can indicate that boundaries have been crossed, that we have been treated poorly, or that an injustice has occurred. It can be protective, preparing us to respond fighting when there is a real threat (setting off the Fight-Flight-Freeze response). It always involves a physiological response in our body. Adrenaline and hormones are released, heart rates and breathing quicken, blood pressure rises, focus narrows.
Anger is problem when it results in aggressive, destructive, and harmful behavior, when it hurts others either physically or emotionally. It is a problem when it is too intense, affects health, hinders functioning and school/work. Expressing anger in violence can have serious consequences. Expressing anger with yelling and demeaning comments can also cause lasting harm to relationships and is particularly damaging to trust and connection between parents and children.
The goal is not to stop feeling angry, the goal is to learn how to choose behaviors or actions that are helpful and not harmful. The work is being able to know when anger is escalating and to learn techniques to be able to calm down and release anger before losing control. This is true for parents and children. The best way to help your child calm down is to stay calm or calm down yourself first.
One of the first steps to manage anger effectively is to become aware or RECOGNIZE how we experience anger, how anger feels in our body as it increases in intensity, and what “triggers” our anger.
This begins by knowing how to talk about feelings and to have words to identify emotions. It is also important to consider that anger can also be a secondary emotion that is covering or connected to other “hidden” emotions such as embarrassed, anxious, discomfort, grief, powerlessness, and fear.
Talk about feelings and emotions.
- Label feelings- yours, your child’s, even characters on TV shows
- Teach how to recognize all different emotions (by facial expressions, body language) when children are young. Having a word to express an emotion is the beginning of learning to handle it.
- When you notice your child starting to get annoyed, frustrated, or angry label this and point it out. Do this calmly and validate the feeling. (Remember you do not have to agree with why, but do not try to dismiss or minimize what they are feeling or indicate that there is anything wrong with having this feeling).
- Model and give children/teens language to use.
- When your child expresses anger. Listen. Acknowledge how upset your child is and why he or she is angry.
- Validate feelings. Rephrase or repeat what your child/teen says (active listening to help him or her feel heard and understood).
- Remember to say you FEEL angry not you ARE angry.
- Encourage empathy and seeing the perspective of other people
It is also important to talk about the difference between feelings and behavior (“It’s ok to feel angry, it is never ok to hit”). Children can learn that you can feel your feelings without acting on them- especially in a way that is hurtful or harmful. They, like us, can learn to tolerate the physiological response without losing control and lashing out.
Identify what situations, issues, or behaviors make you feel angry.
- Learn your own triggers to be proactive.
- Help children and teens increase self-awareness about why they are angry
- Watch for tired, hungry or feeling ill- for yourself or your child. Do a “body scan” to see if there is something you need that might affect how you feel.
- Talk about your own feelings (appropriately) and never blame a child, if a behavior makes you angry identify that behavior as something you do not like, rather than telling saying your child made you angry).
- Watch for patterns with your child and what happened leading up to anger (as well as when increasing intensity of emotion.
Pay attention to how you experience anger in your body.
- Notice your physical sensations or signals you experience when becoming angry
- Anger creates the Fight-Flight-or Freeze reaction with physiological changes including increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, release of adrenaline and hormones. Your body is preparing to protect you and thinking becomes less clear and more hyper-focused. Decisions and consequences of actions often become less controlled as anger increases.
- Watch your child/teen and help identify signals and point out changes you see (clenched jaw, tight fist, red face etc). This is particularly important- build awareness of how it feels in your body to be angry and at different levels of intensity.
- Recognizing the progression of anger is essential (irritation to frustration to rage) in learning how to manage anger effectively.
ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOUR CHILD BUILD RECOGNITION OF ANGER SIGNALS:
- Color anger in your body. Draw a picture/outline of a person and ask your child to color where in their body they feel anger. Head? Heart? Fists? Talk about what this feels like and why. Talk about what you notice and how you feel anger.
- The Anger Thermometer. Draw a thermometer. Label 1-10 (or low/medium/high for younger children). Identify a feeling for each level from calm/peaceful to explosive/out of control. Talk about how each level of anger feels- from irritated/annoyed to frustrated to angry to furious. Talk about what your child/teen/self could do at each level to express anger appropriately and calm (*blog 2 will share ideas about specific calming or coping strategies for each level to add to the anger thermometer.) You can also download: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/anger-thermometer.pdf