One of my children’s favorite books is I Was So Mad by Mercer Mayer. In the story, Little Critter wants to do a number of mischievous things but is repeatedly told, “No.” As a result, he replies over and over again, “I was so mad!”
However, his mother does not shout when he wants to keep his frogs in the bathtub. His grandpa does not lose his cool when Little Critter wants to decorate the house. Other than a scowl on their faces, the author never leads on that voices raise or tempers flare by the grown-ups.
Unfortunately, we don’t always stay so calm when our children are upset. There are times when their anger triggers ours, creating a domino effect through the whole family. The old adage is often true, “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
A few weeks ago I was at wit’s end with my daughter’s fits of rage and anger, and the resultant feeling it was creating in our home. All it took was for someone to look at her wrong or a simple request from mom or dad, and she would clench her fists, furrow her brow, purse her lips, and stiffen her body. It was often accompanied by an internal scream.
For some reason her feelings of anger became more frequent and flared at times when things were relatively peaceful, disturbing the calm feeling in our home. After a few weeks I’d had enough! I decided to set out on a mission to teach our family how to channel their anger and deal with it properly.
I am not an expert in child behavior, but I know my children better than anyone and feel qualified to teach them such things. Here is how we worked with the anger problem:
Everyone gets angry. By teaching my children that everyone gets mad sometimes, I helped them realize it was normal feeling. Anger is part of life, but by teaching them it’s how we deal with that anger, I could help them learn to channel their feelings.
Recognize their triggers. Each human being is different and deals with life in their own way. What makes one person angry may not be upsetting to another. In my daughter’s situation, I noticed she does not like being interrupted from what she is doing without being eased into it. By using a gentle delivery, with a question or comment, when asking her to complete a task, she responds much better.
Keep yourself in check. One of my biggest struggles was that when my daughter was angry, it caused me to feel angry and not deal with the situation in a calm way. When I get angry in response to her behavior, I find it creates a domino effect: she is angry, I get frustrated, I am short on patience with my other children, and they end up quarreling and feeling unhappy. I learned that when I stay calm, even if it requires a quick mental time out or to even walk away for a moment, I am able to deal with the situation in a more loving manner.
Provide an outlet. As a family, we sat down and talked about our anger, the ways we currently deal with it, and what some better solutions might be. We divided a paper into two columns and listed things we were currently doing when we feel mad (like screaming or crying) on one side and things we can do instead (like taking two deep breaths, counting to ten, walking away, and resting on your bed) on the other. That list now hangs on our refrigerator so we can go back to it if we need a reminder.
Have a plan. When I see one of my children begin to fume, I instantly remind myself to stay calm. This is key to avoiding a blow-up. Instead of insisting they calm down and stop, I ask instead, “Do you need to take a deep breath?” or say, “How about you count to 10?” By asking in a calm tone they rarely turn down the invitation.
This has not cured us from ever feeling angry again, but it has given us a few simple and effective ways to deal with it. Now my kids know that is it okay to feel mad, that I am not going to get mad in return, and that there are safe and positive ways to deal with strong emotions.
QUESTION: Does a family member’s anger set off a domino effect in your house? How does your family currently deal with this? What responses and behaviors could be more productive?
CHALLENGE: Try one of the steps from this article, such as a family meeting or analyzing your own triggers, as a starting point to teach your family how to deal with anger. Not every home is the same; how could you customize these steps to suit your own family?
Image from Microsoft Office Images with graphics by Julie.