We all get mad; it's how we manage our anger that matters, and no one is perfect. For example, just this morning, I was trying to finish an article while my 1-year-old slept. Her sister had other plans though, and decided to start rummaging through my home office. Her exploration quickly launched into diving behind furniture and generally making a mess. Since I was on deadline and pressed for time, I quickly got angry and yelled.
We all know that it's important to lead by example when it comes to anger management, especially when dealing with young children, but do we? When tears followed my outburst, I realized my misstep and abandoned the project to pay attention to my daughter, which, as a parent, was the right decision.
At 3 1/2 she is at the prime age for immature emotional outbursts, which makes my response even more crucial. Young children aged 3-5 generally lack the impulse control needed to avoid ripping up a drawing or knocking down a block tower when something doesn't go their way. However, it is how they react following that outburst and how the adults around them explain it that makes all the difference in terms of their ability to manage anger as they age and enter school.
Like many social skills, anger management starts in the home. As adults, we get caught up in our own lives frequently and it is easy to take out our frustration with others on our children, like I did this morning. Obviously, we need to learn to control these events, but no one is perfect 100% of the time. I believe it is the response that we give after the outburst that matters most. By explaining anger in age appropriate ways and labeling the emotion early on, children are more likely to pick up on both the inevitability of and the proper response to the anger emotion.
Anger Management at School
As teachers and school counselors, we have little control over the reactions our students face in their homes, but we can extend the lessons of anger management into the classroom in similar ways. Labeling the emotion is a first step, which goes hand-in-hand with open discussions regarding anger. These discussions should include what makes each child angry and why, as well as what responses each has to the emotion. Naming a problem goes a long way in helping to solve it, and since lack of anger management skills is closely tied to bullying in school, taking the time to mention the importance of this emotion from an early age is an essential component in bully prevention strategies.
Consider some of the following resources for lesson plans and ideas in the classroom:
Elementary School: The book When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang is a great starting point for a discussion of anger, even for preschoolers. Other books and activities for anger management can be found here.
Middle School: Since this age group can be reluctant to share emotions with each other freely, anger-related journal questions or homework can be used as a means to begin the discussion internally before bringing it to the group. PBS Kids suggests an interview with an adult that can also serve as a means to open the floor to discussion at home.
High School: PBS again provides a wonderful lesson plan in anger management and the importance of the "I-Message." By phrasing anger in the 1st person, older teens can begin to see the personal elements of the emotion.
It's Okay to Be Angry
Anger is inevitable, even if it's misplaced. I know that my stress is no excuse for being "mean Mommy," and this morning I immediately recognized that. Plus, I know better than to try to "sneak" work into the day when I'm alone with my kids, so the fault was with me, not my daughter. Even though she's 3 and unlikely to understand the full implications of it, I apologized to her and explained why I yelled.
Anger management starts with example and it's important to show children that at times when you do lose control, you can stop yourself and right your course. I wanted her to know that it's okay to be angry, but that in expressing that anger, we need to also exert control and remorse.
Writer: Andrea Ditter-Middleton
Bio: Andrea is a college writing teacher whose work experience includes everything from coordinating YMCA after-school programs for at-risk youth to tutoring developmental writing students to general classroom instruction. In addition to writing professionally, Andrea currently teaches a range of adult community college students in both online and physical classroom settings. At home, she keeps in shape by running after her two young daughters