Thursday, October 17, 2013

Helping a Child Settle Angry Feelings

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Recently I sat watching my two little cousins color together on our picnic table. Everything was going great until 2 year-old Luke decided he wanted a crayon from 4 year-old Hannah's pile. Reaching across the table he grabbed the crayon. The response from Hannah was instant and angry "Luke that's my crayon!" Hoping to intervene, I asked Hannah if it was okay if Luke borrowed the crayon while she wasn't using it. Tiny hands clenched together, eyes squinted and voice shaking Hannah exclaimed "I'm trying really hard to share but its hard!" Watching my cousin struggle to stay in control validated her statement completely. It was hard! Hannah was not only trying to share she was also valiantly attempting to control the anger overcoming her.

Anger is a very intense emotion that can be extremely hard for a young child to deal with. Until they learn how to settle these angry feelings the result is a loss of control. Temper Tantrums, hitting, and screening are all evidence that uncontrollable anger that seems to take over their whole body. 

So what can you do to help your child settle those angry feelings? In his book "Mastering Anger And Aggression The Brazelton Way" Dr. Brazelton gives some helpful advice:  

Stop the Action - Leave the Scene: Getting away from the source of anger can be a critical first step. When a child says "Don't talk to me" or "Go Away" he may be working hard to isolate himself from whatever is making him angry so that he can get himself under control.  

Soothing - A Parents Calming Efforts: Example of soothing include a gentle voice, rocking, a lullaby, a hug. Be aware, a parents soothing needs to be carefully timed. A child in the midst of a tantrum needs to be left alone. He's unreachable. Only when its over will he need and respond to cuddling

Self-Soothing - A Child's Own Calming Efforts: Thumb-sucking, curling up in a ball, and singing to himself are all examples of self-soothing. 

Distraction/Diversion: Examples include offering a pleasant thought, noticing something funny, and being drawn into an engaging activity.

Physical Activity : Offer your child a punching bag, a pillow, or a bouncing ball. Suggest going for a run or a bike ride. Even taking a shower or drinking a glass of water can help

Creative Expressions: Try mashing a ball of clay with your child. Hand them crayons and paper and let them furiously scribble out their feelings, draw angry monsters, or simply pound on the paper with the crayons. Building tall buildings of block towers and knocking them down, or playing out angry scenarios with dolls may also work. 

"Getting Feelings Out": Talking with someone who understands can relieve angry feelings. Screaming at the top of one's lungs may or may not. 

New Understanding: Anger is often a secondary emotion. When a child is ready to talk help him recognize the other feelings such as pain, hunger, or sadness that may underlie the angry ones.   

Remember to be patient while helping a child work through their anger. Even when they "Are trying really hard" sometimes they will still lose control. Knowing that you understand what they are feeling can make difficult tasks like sharing seem a little easier.

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