Tools for Parenting - Anger Management for Families (Part 1)

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I was blessed with the opportunity to teach a class for my community on "What do you do with the mad that you feel?" This is a curriculum designed by Mister Rogers Neighborhood (the classic children's program). I know what your thinking.... Mr. Rogers? People like to make fun of him but have you ever seen him angry? I thought not.

The material is excellent and I included some of my personal anger management research and seminar notes from other talks to spice it up. The result was that the class went great!

The basic premise of the Anger Management for Families include:

1. Anger is a natural human emotion. It is O.K. for children and parents to feel angry. It is not O.K. to use it to hurt your self or others. Knowing how to control anger is not natural and must be taught by significant adults in our life's.

2. Children must learn how to control self before they can control anger. Self control can be learned by simple children's activities (i.e., play). These activities must be developmentally appropriate and fit the age of the child.

3. In order to help children cope with their anger, adults must become aware of how anger affects their life's. They also must be a model of appropriate anger management.

4. Adults must intervene when anger becomes explosive and use appropriate methods to cope with angry children.

Because of the amount of information that comes with these basic premises, let's look at two of the basic underlying issues:

* Anger is a natural human emotion *

A common myth of anger management in our society is that anger is bad and therefore it must be eliminated. Take for example the parent who tells their child to go to their room when they get angry or the parent who doesn't allow anger feelings to be expressed in the home. This is due to the parents feeling of discomfort with anger and not the child. And it probably stems from the parents own childhood experiences with anger with their parents.

The reality is that anger cannot be eliminated no matter how you try. If you succeed in suppressing it, it will only come out some other way. One parent stated that when she hold hers anger in she will start to cry. Push it in one side and it comes out another.

A more common example is the parent who comes home from a particularly tough day at work and yells at the children. Although the children might have been misbehaving, the reality is that the parents is reacting from the earlier days events more than the immediate situation.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Anger is never without a purpose, but seldom a good one." The meaning behind this is that while anger is a natural emotion, we seldom use is constructively. That is because we misunderstand the meaning of emotion and its significance in our and our children's lives.

* Anger is a signal *

The significance of anger is to act as a signal that something in out lives needs to change. It is not a tool to control others or a weapon to blast family and friends, although that is the most common use for anger. The justification for its destructive use (for parents and children) is that other people are to blame for my problems.

When we blame others, we are absolved of all anger management responsibility. Listen to children talk about why they got angry and hit another child. It will almost always be because the other person "made them" do it because they took their toy or hit them first or said something mean. Blame the other person and they are required to change, not you. You didn't do anything wrong, right? Wrong! The only thing we have absolute, 100% control over is ourselves. The other person -- maybe 10% at best.

So, if anger is a signal of a need to change, what do we change and how? I'll save that for next time.....As Mr. Rogers would say, "We all get angry sometimes. What's important is that we learn how to deal with our anger. And it feels good to be able to stop when we want to and find new ways to solve a problem."
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