Baltimore Sun

Raising kids who are good at getting mad

Parents can help by teaching them to manage anger

- By Catherine Pearson

Inever really witnessed pure rage up close until I became a parent of toddlers. My children, who are a bit older now, weren’t big tantrum throwers. But when they went for it, they really went for it: screaming, sobbing, full-body shaking — the works.

I was flummoxed by their fits of anger, and sometimes worried about whom I was raising.

“Many of us were taught that anger is bad, and that to show we’re angry and express our feelings is bad,” said Jazmine McCoy, a child and family psychologi­st and author of “The Ultimate Tantrum Guide.”

But anger isn’t bad, McCoy said; nor is expressing it inherently dangerous or disrespect­ful. Learning to manage anger is a lifelong skill that allows children to function at home, in school and out in the world without losing control. And it’s a skill that parents can help their kids cultivate.

Don’t be afraid of tantrums

When it comes to kids and anger, it can help to remember simple facts: First, anger is a basic human emotion. And second, emotions exist to tell us about ourselves and our relationsh­ips, explained Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologi­st and vice president of school and community programs at the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit that provides therapy to children and families. Emotions can help us answer basic questions: What would we like more of ? What would we like to stop?

Reminding yourself that anger is an intrinsic part of being human can help you respond to a rampaging child with compassion, not judgment. Yelling at a child — who is yelling at you and the world — is only likely to escalate the situation.

It can also be useful to remember that meltdowns or tantrums (nonclinica­l terms that describe those moments when your child goes berserk) can be a developmen­tal rite of passage, especially for kids under 3 who are still learning how to self-regulate.

Emotional vocabulari­es

“Name it to tame it” — a phrase coined by psychologi­st Dan Siegel — is an oft-repeated mantra among child developmen­t specialist­s who believe in the importance of teaching children to identify and label their feelings so they can talk about what they are going through.

McCoy recommends reading babies simple board books with pictures of other children smiling or laughing or frowning, which they tend to find “captivatin­g.” Evidence shows that babies can begin to identify emotions in others by the time they’re just 6 months old.

Tell them when you are angry

Parents sometimes feel the need to shield their children from their own emotions, but opening up during moments of fury or frustratio­n can be educationa­l. Describe to your child what it feels like. Is your mind racing? Is your heart beating fast?

“Really taking some time to slow down and label what’s happening in your body — and how you know you’re feeling what you’re feeling — is such a powerful experience,” McCoy said.

Identify ways to cope

Kids also need to find their own ways to self-regulate, and they may be different from yours.

Helping your child find an outlet (or outlets) for anger may take experiment­ation. Some children will respond to simple deep breathing exercises, Anderson said. Others may require a more intense physical release.

Set boundaries

Children must learn the distinctio­n that while all emotions — including anger — are OK, not all behavior is OK, McCoy said. So clear, consistent boundaries around aggressive or unsafe behaviors are important. And if your children seem to be angry often, or as if they are struggling to regulate their reactions, check in with their pediatrici­an or a mental health provider.

Listen to your child

In terms of the bigger picture, it is important to make sure your children have ample opportunit­ies to discuss their feelings — anger, sadness, excitement, all of it — with trusted friends, family members or a mental health provider.

It is not always easy to hear that your children are having a difficult

time, but those conversati­ons and connection­s are essential for validating what they are experienci­ng and providing emotional release.

“I like to say the best form of anger management is feeling understood,” McCoy said. “Often when we’re angry, underneath we feel scared, we feel misunderst­ood and we feel disconnect­ed.”

 ?? JESS CHEETHAM/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Being mad is a basic emotion, and learning to cope with it can make everyone’s life easier.
JESS CHEETHAM/THE NEW YORK TIMES Being mad is a basic emotion, and learning to cope with it can make everyone’s life easier.

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