Anger is a natural human emotion. Getting angry can be a healthy response when you need to assert your rights or resolve a problem. However, this becomes unhealthy when it turns into verbal or physical abuse, hatred or when we think about plotting revenge.
Anger can often be confused with guilt, loss and confusion, and anger can also provoke many different emotions such as fear, worry, jealousy, shame and disappointment.
Why do some children become frustrated much quicker than others do? This can be due to a variety of reasons. For example, some children:
- believe in personal rules about how others should think or behave more strongly than other children and become angry when others do not conform to this
- have low self-esteem which means that they are more easily threatened, provoked or humiliated. Sometimes children can over re-act inappropriately if they feel threatened, so then the body’s physiological preparation for violent action is heightened.
- have clear aims that they want to meet and feel angry if they cannot do this
- have a keen desire to be first or win and can become angry when cannot succeed
- mis-interpret what has been said or done which makes them confused and angry
- ack awareness of their feelings so are surprised when they become angry quickly and perhaps do not know what else to do
- are worried or insecure and need opportunities to openly discuss and learn to understand their emotions
- find tasks difficult and so become frustrated because they are not able to keep up with their peers
- have developed a negative outlook (perhaps they have been bullied or mistreated in some way) which can make you view the world in a gloomy light. These children may have grown up thinking that they are worthless, other people are unfriendly and that only bad things will befall you.
We all have an arousal cycle - which we go through when we become angry. Knowing and understanding our emotions helps us manage and handle them, especially the powerful ‘negative’ emotions of anger and anxiety. The assault cycle moves through:
- A trigger phase – this could alert a child sense of belonging or self-worth so that he or she begins to react physiologically. For example, a child may
- The escalation phase – Lillie becomes more aroused and anger signs more noticeable. Without intervention the child becomes less amenable to diversion and more intensely focused on the particular issue.
- The crisis phase – intense point of physiological arousal - explosion
- The recovery phase - high arousal can remain a threat for up to 90 minutes after the incident
- The post-crisis stage – mental and physical exhaustion
Anger management is about controlling how you react by having a more flexible attitude to others. Sessions help discover how to learn to manage ‘angry feelings’ in a healthy way.
This can help build assertive skills and boost self esteem as children learn to assess situations objectively, think how to solve the problem, be flexible and use negotiation. This takes a lot of practice.
Looking at the “triggers” or the thoughts helps stop anger becoming a negative force. The types of issues children can respond to are:
- When are you likely to lose your temper? Are you .... tired? frustrated? tense? hungry? sad? irritated?
- What are the physical signs of anger in your body? .... muscles tight? rapid breathing? pounding heart? clenched fists?
- What’s going through your mind? .... it’s me or him! .... I’ll show them! ....It’s not fair! .... I’ve got to win this one!
Just being aware of some of these things is often half the battle. Then a child can try techniques to help such as:
- Trying to relax
- Taking deep controlled breaths
- Having a moment to think about what is happening – count to 5/10/20
- Using a magic word in your head, e.g. STOP! or CALM!
- Trying to distance from the thought or event, e.g. sing a song in your head or count backwards from 20
- Walking away
- Saying some positive things to yourself because we feel the way that we think
- Trying to imagine a soothing scene in the mind, e.g. on a riverbank or floating on an airbed on the sea
- Learning to recognize ‘what makes me feel cross’ by using an anger diary
- Learning to assert opinions and feeling so that they can be considered by others.
- Learning how to change your steps
- Taking on board that it’s not about winning or losing
- Learning to verbally negotiate to resolve problems in an objective manner that takes other people’s needs and opinions into consideration. Negotiation is learning to empathise with the other person, seeing the world through their eyes and understanding what has caused them to behave in a manner that has got you annoyed.
These are all complex skills that are not easily mastered.
Children need to develop a great deal of emotional competence to cope with angry feelings. Some children find it much easier to negotiate, take time to understand and recover from upsetting situations than others.
This means that as adults we need to be very aware of each child’s personality, resiliency, learning style and overall ability.
About the author:
Irene Broadley-Westerduin is an experienced Chartered and Educational Psychologist with considerable and successful experience in working with children and adults. She has researched to doctorate level in the cognitive psychology and the effects of training short-term memory. Irene is an experienced trainer and has researched, planned and delivered many courses to further the professional development of psychologists and teachers. Dr Broadley-Westerduin lectures at numerous universities and conducts inset training for schools and is the managing director of EDUK8, based in Hampshire, UK. To contact Irene visit her website: www.eduk8.uk.com or email email@example.com.