By Kathy Kuhl
Fireworks aren’t so pretty–when they happen at the kitchen table.
When my son was in school, some days he’d be so frustrated from trying to decode those dancing letters and not be distracted by his classmates, that he’d come home ready to explode.
We homeschooled him for grades 4-12, which helped. But it did not make his frustration or his temper disappear.
Perhaps you also have a child who struggles with his or her temper. How to help?
First, recognize anger can be a legitimate emotion.
“Stop, Kathy!” you say. “My child is destroying my sanity/my house/my furniture and you want to talk psychology? I need answers, not philosophy. “
Actually, you need psychology and philosophy to get good answers.
You can’t help your child deal with emotion if you don’t have the right goals in mind.
Some of us love peace and quiet so much (or have been on the receiving end of wild tempers so long) that we may want our kids to be like little Vulcans: emotionless stoical, chill no matter what.
It’s not going to happen. Anger is part of being human.
Besides, anger can be appropriate. Injustices like human trafficking, to name one I’ve been learning about, ought to make us mad. Bible readers may recall Jesus got angry—and acted on it appropriately—when he saw the court of the Temple in Jerusalem, the national center for holy worship, had been degraded and turned into a marketplace.
If we want our kids to grow up to be good citizens, we want them to be able to feel anger appropriately. Anger can be fuel to work for good. Wilberforce didn’t work all his life to abolish the slave trade out of an emotionless, blasé attitude.
But you’re reading this because a child you love is expressing anger unproductively, painfully, badly.
We’ve got to help our kids resist another incorrect view of emotion: one that says any expression of any emotion is valid.
Some people still preach that expressing anger is always healthy. A friend of mine once punched a wall. It was cinder block. Want to talk to her about that?
Sure, continually suppressing anger and leaving it unresolved is bad for your physical and mental health. But being angry isn’t a license to say and do what you like.
If your child’s anger is out of control, how to you help them restrain their fury?
To begin, help your child recognize and talk about emotion. “That must have been frustrating.” “I’m so sorry that happened. How did you feel when he said that?” “You told me you were mad that she lied to you. Were you sad, too?”
We can help our kids understand they can feel multiple emotions. I loved my little brother and I also sometimes was annoyed with him.
Some of us have children who have great difficulty with this, including some with children on the autism spectrum. Experts have recommended to me books such as Jed Baker’s and Elizabeth Crary’s Dealing with Feelings series.
Think of an infant. His sorrow, pain, anger, or even joy, is all consuming. Infants don’t yet distinguish themselves from the world around them so “Laugh and the world laughs with you,” but “Cry because the whole world is sad, if I’m sad” describes their state.
It helps any child to train him or her in naming emotions. Putting it into words is the first step to controlling emotion, and not letting it overwhelm. John Gottman’s book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which I reviewed here, deals with this extensively and very well.
Next time, we’ll talk about a few more ways to help your child manage anger.
I welcome your comments and suggestions below.