You and your child are enjoying an afternoon at your neighborhood park -- that is, until your child believes he was being treated unfairly by another child near the swings and, out of the blue, your little one pushes the alleged perpetrator to the ground. While you may be mortified and embarrassed, you can also view this as an opportunity to show your child the right way to vent his anger and frustration. Children use unhealthy methods of venting when they're hurt and need their parents' help to properly cope, says Dr. Jane Nelson on the Positive Discipline website.
Effective communication doesn't come easily for many adults -- imagine the difficulty that younger, inexperienced children have when they want to communicate complex emotions. Lise Fox and Rochelle Harper Lentini with the National Association for the Education of Young People, the world's largest organization advocating for young people, note that children with a large "feeling vocabulary" -- or list of words to express emotions -- are more likely to use language to communicate anger and frustration than problem behavior. Teach your child how to identify feelings such as anger, frustration, fear and sadness. If your child hits or yells at someone, ask him "Were you angry when you hit him?" or "Was that frustrating for you?" Familiarize your child with these words by explaining them as often as possible, and encourage him to tell someone about his anger, rather than hitting others.
Licensed mental health counselor and registered art therapist Mineko Takada-Dill, MA, LMHC, ATR, notes that art activities are therapeutic for children who have difficulties expressing challenging, complex emotions. Kids can use art to identify things that are causing their anger, frustration or other difficult emotions, and can do so without hurting others, says Takada-Dill. Your child can benefit from art activities at home, or you can take him to a licensed professional if you think his coping strategies are harmful to himself or others. At home, encourage your child to draw images of how he feels when he's angry, what made him angry or what he often feels like doing when he gets angry. Remind him that he can draw whatever he wants -- even if these images are rather dismal -- because it's healthier than hitting others, and allows him to learn more about how his anger operates.
Encouraging your child to engage in physical activities -- such as running, playing a sport or doing cartwheels outside -- helps him reduce stress and thwart anger and frustration. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also note that physical activity helps boost children's self-esteem, which will help them perceive situations in a more positive light -- instead of being easily angered or frustrated. If your child is on the verge of having an explosive moment in the home, kindly invite him outside to release some of his anger through play. Accompany him during this time, and use other strategies mentioned above, such as helping him identify his emotions, to continue to teach him healthy ways to cope with difficult emotions.
Teach your child how to take deep breaths when he feels anger or frustration rise. Medical professionals at the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website explain that deep breathing helps alleviate stress by lowering or stabilizing blood pressure and slowing the heartbeat. Encouraging your child to breathe deeply when he's angry helps him experience calm instead of feeling the urge to hit someone or inappropriately express his anger. Harvard Medical School professionals also note that deep breathing feels unnatural to many people, so you may have to work with your child on several occasions to teach him how to properly use this technique. Teach your child to take deep breaths in through the nose, and out through the mouth, recommend Harvard Medical School professionals. You can also encourage your child to count to ten while taking his deep breaths, which gives him sufficient time to calm down.
- KidsHealth: Taming Tempers
- Positive Discipline: How Can I Get My Child to Stop Hitting?
- The National Association for the Education of Young Children: Teaching Children a Vocabulary for Emotions
- Studio Mene: Art Therapy and Counseling Services: Challenges of Childhood
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Adolescent and School Health: Physical Activity Facts
- The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response
- Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images