Definition of anger
Anger is an emotional state that results when a person experiences frustration or injury. Anger is an emotional, physiological and cognitive state, and is separate from any behavior it may cause. Anger is not necessarily a bad emotion, since in certain occasions it may have beneficial effects. For example, a child that did not get the toy he/she wanted because of poor grades may feel angry and then use this anger to motivate him/herself to study more to improve his/her grades and get the desired toy.
Anger is different from aggression
It is important to realize that anger and aggression are two different things. Anger, as stated above, is an emotion. Aggression refers to behavior that is often aimed at hurting somebody or destroying property.
Elements of anger
The first element of anger is the fact that it is an emotion that produces physiological arousal. Anger is typically uncomfortable for anyone experiencing it and motivates individuals to do something to get rid of the tension. A second element refers to how a child expresses anger (e.g. crying, talking to an adult, using physical aggression, etc.). The third element of anger is the degree to which the child is able to understand his/her feelings.
Children’s understanding of anger
The ability for children to understand anger is related to the development of certain cognitive skills such as memory, language, impulse control, and ability to take responsibility for his/her actions. It is therefore a process that develops gradually as the child matures both physically and mentally. This indicates that the younger the child is the more limited his/her capacity is to understand anger. Thus, younger children will need more help and assistance from parents in understanding and managing their feelings of anger.
Situations that can cause anger in childhood
According to Fabes and Einsenberg (1992) the following situations are capable of eliciting anger in children: conflict over their possessions, physical aggression by another child, verbal conflict with a peer, rejection from peers, and any situation that involves asking the child to do something he/she does not want to do (e.g. picking up their toys before being allowed to go out and play).
Important issues to consider when teaching anger management skills
Parents should be aware of four important considerations when teaching their children anger management skills:
Make sure that the skill is appropriate for the child’s age.
Evaluate the nature of the anger management problem.
Identify the specific skill to be learned, as well as alternative behaviors.
Evaluate if you are in need of additional help or training on this issue.
Helping your child develop anger management skills
Aggressive young children can benefit from ongoing encouragement for replacing aggressive behaviors with more socially acceptable alternatives. The following activities can help parents accomplish this goal:
Teach children to verbalize and label their feelings, both positive and negative, and those of others.
Model for children how anger can be managed in productive ways. Take responsibility for your angry feelings and demonstrate anger in non-aggressive ways.
Show children different ways of resolving conflicts.
Teach children to seek assistance and guidance from adults when necessary.
Help children evaluate the consequences of their aggressive behavior, and the impact of their actions on the well-being of others.
Use strategies at home and at school that promote cooperation rather than competition.
Children in today’s world are subjected to a great deal of pressure. Just by watching television they are aware of dangers such as war, hunger, and disease. All of these stressors can easily create frustration in children, which can be manifested as anger, fear or withdrawal. A stress management technique to deal with these symptoms is learning to relax. Bear in mind that for this method to be effective, it requires practice. The following steps describe how you can teach your child to relax:
You and your child should learn how to recognize a stress reaction. Very frequently children experience a combination of physical and emotional symptoms as a reaction to stress. These may include headaches, nausea, temper outbursts, sleep problems, low frustration tolerance, etc. (Make sure that any persistent physical symptoms have been checked by your pediatrician to rule out any potential illness).
Teach your child to understand his/her stress reaction by labeling his/her feelings and figuring out the cause of the stress.
Explore different ways to see if the source of the stress can be eliminated.
Teach relaxation skills to help with controlling the physical arousal anger produces.
Cooperation is the ability to willfully collaborate with others in the accomplishment of a task or a goal. It is different from compliance, which implies obedience to rules or authority. Cooperation has its roots in very early social interactions. Children who learn to be cooperative are able to attend to the needs of others while also being able to stand up for their rights. They are developing positive social skills. They are more likely to be socially successful and develop mutually satisfying friendships.
Assertive behavior is defined as the capacity the child has to protect his/her own rights. It allows the child to defend him/herself against the aggression of other children. It can be seen as a reflection of the child’s developing competence and autonomy. It is important for parents to understand that children need to have the opportunity to express anger and self-assertion without guilt or fear of retaliation. Having this opportunity is conducive to a healthy psychological functioning. Parents can help their children become assertive by practicing the following steps:
- Accept that children experience negative feelings as part of their normal development
- Provide outlets for emotional expression, that is, allowing children to verbally express their anger
- Provide reasonable limits to children’s expression of negative feelings
- Help children evaluate the consequences of their aggressive behavior and the impact of their actions on the well-being of others
- Use strategies at home and at school that promote cooperation, rather than competition