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Children’s Rituals to Handle Anger (Part I)

Shortly after the terrible two tantrums end, the pre-school drama began…and one of the most crucial things we can teach our children is how to deal with the feelings that they have as they move through life, particularly those feelings that can put themselves or others in danger if they don’t learn to handle them effectively or healthily.

It is critical at this time that we teach our children to be aware of anger, to practice appropriate ways to express it and to give them a healthy outlet to work out frustration before it escalates.  Anger is something that we will always deal with in life, so learning to control it early and starting health emotional habits early in life is incredibly important.  I’m no child psychologist, so take this all with a grain of salt…but in our family, what seems to be working is a multi-pronged process that goes beyond those moments of high emotion:

  1. Practicing meditation and movement to promote being centered, grounded and mindful on a regular basis.
  2. Discussing and practicing how to deal with angry and frustrated feelings in times of calm.
  3. Diffusing anger before it hits in situations where it is likely
  4. Dealing with anger positively when it hits.
  5. Reflect on how we handle meltdowns after normalcy has been re-established.

Disclaimer:  As I already said, I’m not a child psychologist, nor a counselor, etc.  I have however taken plenty of education and child psych and development classes (with the intent to be a teacher at one point in my life), I have worked as a summer camp counselor teaching everything from nature study to canoeing, I’ve taught just about ever class the Red Cross offers for children, I’ve tutored, and not only do I have two children of my own, but my momma happened to gift me with two brothers–after I graduated from high school…between them and the babysitting that many teens do to earn some extra money, I’ve had lots of time to observe and experience what works and what does not.  So, take it with a grain of non-professional, plenty of experience salt.

Regular Meditation

Adopting a regular meditation practice with the kids gives them time to decompress and teaches them to acknowledge and process their emotions.  It also teaches them to ground their energy and emotions and to center themselves an listen to the world around them.  The ability to tune in to themselves and to their surroundings allows them to find a comfortable and safe place in both their physical and mental space where they can feel whatever they need to feel and to take whatever time they need to deal with it.  Essentially, kids should learn to meditate for the same reason that grown-ups should.  The difference, as a parent (or other caregiver), is that kids shouldn’t be pushed into our idea of what meditation should be.  Meditation with children needs to take into account their personality and level of maturity and activity–it might not be about sitting down.

We try to practice meditation on a regular basis.  The best time for us is after waking up in the mornings, before we sit down to eat breakfast (active meditation with stretching and yoga), or in the evening before bed time (as a reflective guided meditation).  Sometimes, its actually dancing or banging on a drum or with other improvised instruments, to get out the mad or the wiggles, or whatever other emotion needs to be processed.  I hope to get around to discussing the meditation aspect in more detail at some point in time, since its a bit broader of a topic than just meditations dealing with anger/frustrations.  In the mean time, if you need ideas, there are a number of meditation books with some good guided imagery things for kids–we have sort of mashed the “magic garden” and “worry tree” meditations from the kids guided meditation series by Maureen Garth into what we call “Imagination Story Time” before bed), plus there are some good books for parents on teaching meditation and working with your kids (The Mindful Child is one of my favorites). Chickadee also enjoys watching video from time to time: Sea Otter Cove (the video wouldn’t let me embed from youtube, but I highly recommend watching it, I also believe there is a book that goes with it, from the same author that does The Angry Octopus).

A regular meditation routine can also be coupled with a regular kiddo massage routine.  I had intended to link the post I could have sworn that I wrote on kiddo massage, which lots of parents discontinue once their child passes out of the infant stage (if they even practiced infant massage in the first place)–wriggling toddlers are not always the best massage recipients!  But, the few studies that are out there indicate that massage can help immensely with behavior, concentration and anxiety issues, with continued bonding between parents and children, with kinesthetic and body awareness and respect.  …I guess I have another post I’ll be writing, unless I can dig up where this one went to (or maybe I’m starting to go coocoo!  I’m a mom, its possible…)

Practicing Mad

We try to teach our kids to deal with their feelings before getting mad.  This is a bit of a three pronged approach–appropriate modeling, using positive media role models, and practicing dealing with anger and other feelings.

The first way that we can teach our kids to handle anger is to model appropriate coping skills when we, as parents get angry.  If we, as a parent, yell and scream, curse or stomp our feet, throw things or hit or slam doors, every time something goes wrong or annoys us…is it really any surprise if our children do it too?  It certainly shouldn’t be.  How do we handle disagreements with our spouse or significant other (or even other children) in front of our child/children?  If you and the child’s other parent aren’t together, how do you talk about that person and how do you deal with them in front of your child (or how do you talk about other adults in your child’s life in general?)?  How do you handle your misbehaving munchkin?  Are you quick to raise your voice when they aren’t listening or do you fly off the handle at a disagreement?    Your behavior teaches your child what their behavior ought to be.  When you are mad, try to stay calm and model handling your anger the way you would like your children to handle theirs.   And, most importantly, when you do lose your temper and do something outside of those parameters, apologize for being in the wrong–even if it means apologizing to your child* whom you feel has done something wrong that made you mad in the first place.

The second of the ways to do this is by to watch and discuss programs or by reading and discussing books where the charachters get angry and how they deal with their anger.  Chickadee’s favorite show, Ni Hao, Kai-lan has a couple episodes** that talk about handling anger and there are some wonderful children’s books that do as well (One of our favorites, The Angry Octopus, even has an iPhone app!).  Like many parents, we try to minimize TV time, but TV isn’t some great evil if its used well.  Positive media-based role models modeling positive socialization can be a great re-enforcer of what you are already doing and teaching, when TV is used as a tool instead of a child-minder.  The important part of this is to discuss the program in question–what is the “moral of the story”, how did the main character handle the situation, did they do a good job or a bad job, etc.

In our house, we call the third way to teach dealing with anger “Mad Drills”.  Basically, its a conversation about if _______ happens, and you get angry, what should you do?   We  talk about how to deal with people that make us angry–to ask them to stop when they are bothering us, to walk away if they continue and to ask for help if they still persist.  We talk about dealing with situations that make us angry, like when our brother takes a toy away or when we lose our favorite dress or when we spill something and make a big mess.  Its okay to feel mad, but does getting angry outloud, at another person or thing really help the situation?  And most importantly, we practice what we’ve talked about.  This is when having an appropriate meditation practice already in place can help, so they have a frame of reference for where to start (I’ll talk more about our specific meditation/drill for “getting out the mad” in part III).

*some people have the mistaken notion that they shouldn’t apologize to their kids or admit when they are wrong because it “undermines their authority”…really, having the ability to apologize to your children (or to admit when you are wrong) shows them that they deserve respect as a person an teaches them the importance of taking responsibility for their own actions

**Kai-lan episodes—-The Ladybug Festival, Season 1/Episode 1–about calming down; Kailan’s Playhouse, which is about using your words and not hitting (Season 2, Ep 15), and Beach Day, Season 1/Ep 13 discussing feeling calm.  All of Ni Hao, Kai-lan is available streaming or for download by purchase on Amazon.

(stay tuned for part II)