Angry feelings are natural for kids for all kinds of reasons. It’s healthy for parents to give the impression that emotions are normal and everyone has them. To do this early on it’s helpful to teach young kids feeling language like happy, sad, angry, and glad. Then as they grow older we give them the nuances of anger such as irritated, frustrated, disappointed, annoyed, hurt, livid, heated, enraged.
This gives them the opportunity to express themselves in words not actions when they are upset. It’s then our job as parents to listen carefully without arguing the point at first, to really try and understand what is distressing our child or teen. If the child feels the parent is willing to listen to such emotions, they can experience these feelings without being fearful of themselves for having them or be fearful of their parents reactions when they are expressed.
Listening to angry feelings is difficult especially if they are directed at you! No one like to feel someone is mad at them. But the overriding issue to keep in mind is that because we love and care for our youngsters we do want to know what upsets them so we can discover whatever is problematic and hopefully reach some resolutions.
It’s important for parents to be able to tolerate such feelings, so the child doesn’t feel his mother or father is afraid of these feelings or judges them harshly and thus judges him or her as bad. It’s an important lesson for kids to know that having and expressing feelings don’t make them a bad person.
It’s also important for kids to know their anger doesn’t make them too powerful for their parents to hear and endure. If parents can allow for such distress, then their child or teen knows they can trust their parent with their feelings and be helped to work them out.
Sometimes anger is an overreaction to something that’s gone awry, but it’s best not to tell your child or teen this right off. Then they will shut down and you won’t be able to help them through the maze of these emotions. Listening carefully instead to the underlying issues, then permits a discussion of different perspectives about the situation at hand. Hearing your child’s points of view before you express your own which may be similar or different, allows the youngster to feel heard and everyone will understand his situation further.
A simple tip is to ask your child or teen to tell you more about the situation and how they feel about it. We want to stretch their capacity to express themselves and articulate their emotions before we rush in with our vantage points. The more parents and kids have such discussions, the more able the child or teen will be able to control and regulate their emotions by articulating them not only at home, but in the world outside of our protection.
Children and teens also can learn that they can tell us their angry feelings openly but it’s not always a good idea in the outside world to be so forthcoming. They need to learn to regard other’s feelings and make sound decisions about what they say when and where and to whom. The astute parent shares this wisdom with their son or daughter so they know how to socialize confidently and reasonably.
Psychologists talk about regulating emotions. This is especially important when it comes to angry feelings. It means that the child can contain his anger and delay expressing it until it will be reasonably well-received. This means the child can wait, delay, and suspend their expressions of anger using sound judgment. If they learn about this idea at home, it will help them with their peers and other adults.
In the long run, these lessons become internalized by a child if their parent also follows these basic tenets of self-regulation. If parents too impulsively express their anger at home or outside the home when their kids are present, they won’t set the example that we are aiming for. When a child sees their parents have cause for anger, but they delay expressing it until they assess their options for articulating it, the child observes keenly how to do this for themselves.
A few don’ts may be of assistance. Don’t yell at a yelling child. Don’t walk away abruptly from an angry child. Don’t curse in your child’s presence. And if you slip up, which of course we all do, point out your regret to the child and let them know how you wished you’d handled the situation. Everyone loses some control sometimes and everyone makes mistakes. This, too, is a lesson worth teaching and remembering for all concerned.
Dr. Hollman is writing a new book, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anger in Children and Teens: A Parental Intelligence Approach.