Modeling Anger Control for a Child
Children need to learn how to control their anger – how to use their words instead of their hands or feet. They learn this best by watching their parents, who are always modeling for them. Without even understanding the dynamics of anger (see Anger = Expectation + Interpretation, version1 and version 2), you can teach your child self-control and constructive expression of angry feelings by practicing the following techniques when you start feeling angry. The more you can catch yourself and do these things before you start yelling, the quicker your child will learn to take a time out voluntarily and use her words instead of her hands or feet.
The Parent Takes the Time-Out
In this case, the parent must also model for the child HOW to use words, by saying them, and by taking a time out in order to control her own anger.
- “I’m getting angry. I need a time-out.”
- “I’m getting mad (upset, irritated, ticked off, frustrated, etc.). I need a time-out.”
Teach Child to Use Words, Not Hands
If the parent uses only words to express anger, and repeatedly tells the child that using hands or feet is completely unacceptable (forbidden), the child learns to use words, just like mom and dad.
Teach Child Which Words to Use
The parent must teach the child which words to use to express anger and frustration, and encourage the child to use those words:
- “I see you’re getting mad (angry, upset, irritated, ticked off, frustrated). Tell me about it.”
- “Use your words, not your hands!”
- “We never use our hands when angry. Hitting is always wrong, because it hurts.”
- “We have negative consequences for hitting (biting, kicking, throwing things, etc.).”
- “We have negative consequences for using bad words.”
Write down a sentence or a phrase you find easy and natural to use, then use it with your child:
Be 100% Consistent
If either parent contradicts in action what is said verbally about expressing angry feelings, then actions speak louder than words. In this case the parent undermines his/her own authority (or the other parent’s authority). The child learns
- “What we really do is say one thing but do another, so it’s okay for me to use my hands, just like mom/dad.”
- “Dad doesn’t really mean what he says, so I don’t have to believe what he says or do what he says.”
- “She’s lying. I can’t believe anything she says. It’s okay for me to lie too…and it’s okay for me to use my hands, because he/she does it.”
Try this exercise when you start feeling angry with your child as a way of modeling self-control:
- Cross your arms, holding your hands in with your arms;
- Direct your energy through your brain (power refinery on top of the volcano):
- Say, “I’m getting mad. I need a time-out. I’ll be back.” Then walk away and cool down.
- Come back and engage the child in a dialogue about what was happening.
- Listen first. Use the three listening skills/techniques.
- Talk second. Use I-messages. Don’t lecture or scold.
- Work at negotiating agreements– about the incident, and about handling anger.
You, the parent, are the one who will teach your child how to handle his/her angry feelings. Your child will learn to express anger the way you do it. It’s up to you to do it right.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.