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October 12, 1996

Safely and appropriately expressing anger

by Shari Steelsmith

TIP--Begin working with your young child on how to safely and appropriately express anger.

Keep in mind--Anger can be a difficult emotion to handle. As parents we need to teach our children that it's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hurt someone--physically or verbally. Feelings are different from behaviors.

There are two general steps in anger management. First, you must offer your child acceptable ways to express his anger, and second, you must work with him on problem solving.

  1. Acceptable Ways to Express Anger. Elizabeth Crary, author of I’m Mad and I’m Furious (for children ages 3-8) and When You’re Mad and You Know It (for toddlers), writes books that offer children different ways to express anger. "There are physical ideas, verbal ideas, and creative ideas for dealing with anger," says Crary. Not all children are the same. A very active child might benefit from running around the house three times to help diminish his anger. A quiet child might prefer talking with a parent or listening to music to calm herself down. A child needs to choose what works for him. Here are a few options drawn from Crary's books.

    For Toddlers:

    • Say "I'm Mad!"
    • "Shake" it out
    • Stomp with Dad

    For Older Children:

    • Squish playdough
    • Breathe deeply
    • Kick a soccer ball
    • Talk about your feelings

    Reading books like Crary's, or watching puppet role-plays helps children see other children deal with similar problems and consider many different options for behavior. Children can learn that there are many safe ways to express what they feel without getting in trouble.

  2. Work with your child on solving the problems that trigger anger.

    Link to book description
    Let's say your toddler grabs his nine-year-old sister's pencil when she is doing her homework. She explodes. Your older child needs to learn how to control her anger response and then bring her mind to the problem of how to deal with a little sister in a way that protects her homework materials. After your child is calm, help her brainstorm ways to solve the problem. The parent and child might think of these options:

    • Do homework on a table where sibling cannot reach.
    • Put on a video for sibling during homework time.
    • Ask Dad to distract sibling with a game.

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in I’m Mad, I’m Furious, and When You’re Mad and You Know It by Elizabeth Crary.

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