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From WORKING MOTHER
Teach Your Child Temper Control
Mastering anger is important to every kid’s future
The last time Kathy Hrenko’s five-year-old son lost his temper, he was rollerblading. Adam was trying to copy older kids who could turn and do fancy jumps with ease. But each time Adam tried a stunt, he fell.
‘I could see him getting angrier and angrier,’ says Hrenko, a Rockaway, N.J., art therapist. Finally, Adam gave in to a full-scale tantrum: crying, flinging off his scates.
Whether four or 40, we all get angry at times. But the person who doesn’t learn to manage his temper marches through life shattering relationships, hurting friends, losing promotions or worse.
‘Angry outbursts are a way of expressing feelings,’ says Alicia Tisdale, a family therapist in West Bloomfield, Mich., ‘but they aren’t very productive. Even little children know they don’t feel good about themselves when they lose control. So we need to teach children that they can choose not to have a tantrum, that they can talk about why they are mad’.
Kathy Hrenko and her husband, George, devised ways to help Adam recognize when he is about to lose control, calm himself down, figure out what he is really upset about and then act appropriately. They know that helping Adam learn this sort of control will be a gradual process, built on setbacks and small victories alike.
Similarly, once you understand why your child is angry, you can help him master his feelings. Here are the most important factors that contribute to anger in children:
An intense child can get angry over things that an easygoing buddy would shrug off. You’ll need to spend more time helping him learn alternatives to flying off the handle.
Whether a child makes a joke to defuse a potentially explosive situation or throws his brother’s backpack – or his brother – across the room depends, to some extent, on his family’s anger pattern. This is especially apparent in families where anger leads to shouting or aggressive behavior such as door-slamming. In more repressed families, a different pattern exists: because family members are uncomfortable with emotions, getting angry is a crime. ‘Children model what they see lived around them’, says Tisdale.
Since age plays a part in how children respond to events and people, here are some insights on how to teach kids to control their anger at various stages of development:
Toddlers with Tantrums. Babies rage when their physical needs are not met immediately. Likewise, a young child who is overtired, hungry, thirsty, hurt, scared or frustrated flails about, cries and screams.
Some children need to be held firmly and gently to help calm them, even if they resist at first. You can also help by talking in a soothing voice. Other children need to be distracted with a new activity. Still others may need a nap. ‘Most important is for a parent not to rage back’, Tisdale says. “That’s scary for the child. He thinks, ‘If Mommy or Daddy can’t hold it together, how can I’?”
Never give babies or toddlers a ‘timeout’ for having a tantrum. According to Dr. Greenspan, isolating an angry infant or toddler can make him think of anger as ‘something that makes Mom disappear’. Instead of learning that he can be happy again after being angry, the child links anger with abandonment and despair.
Frustrated Preschoolers. Francess Lantz of Santa Barbara, Calif., was walking on the beach with her four-year-old son, Preston, and a friend with a son the same age. When the other child picked up a stick, Preston wanted it. ‘I had to physically restrain Preston, who was screaming,’ Lantz recalls.
Wanting what another kid has will often frustrate and then anger a preschooler. Also on the ‘trigger’ list: hunger, exhaustion, fear, lacking motor skills, not having the right words to express feelings, and having an adult take over when the child wants to ‘do it myself’.
When a child this age is angry, parents should use ‘active listening’. This means sympathizing with the child. ‘I can see you’re having a difficult day. You seem angry. Will you tell me about it?’ This gives the child a chance to understand herself better.
Parents should tell their child that while it’s okay to be angry, it is not okay to hurt other people or their property. Lead the child from the triggering situation and try to distract her. ‘I know you want Tyler’s truck, but we don’t grab or hit. Let’s see what this other truck can do!’
If, after this interaction, the child has a tantrum, Eastman advises ignoring her for a few minutes. Stay nearby, but don’t engage; this lets your child know you can’t be controlled by her rage. After three minutes, say, ‘It’s time to control yourself now. By the time I count to ten, I want you to calm down’. If the tantrum continues, give a consequence, like cancelling a visit to the park.
Aggressive Grade-Schoolers. Children between six and 12 want to be accepted by their peers. A child’s anger is often a response to feeling left out of the group.
Since all children this age want to be perceived as self-confident and able, they may get the mistaken idea that they must win every conflict. This may lead to verbal battering that can be astonishingly cruel. ‘You have a stupid-looking nose,’ one angry child shouts. ‘You’re the worst one on the team and everybody knows it!’ the other says.
Parents must make it clear that even if children are angry, they still have a choice of how to respond. Losing control, physical aggression or hateful words are unacceptable. Acknowledge the anger but halt inappropriate behavior with timeouts, loss of privileges or added chores.
You also can teach your child to release tension in a physical way that isn’t violent. Shoot baskets. Play fetch with the dog. Draw a picture showing how angry you are.
Angry Adolescents. A lot of teen anger centers on the parents’ need to protect kids by slowing down their drive toward independence. It’s more important than ever for kids this age to fit in with peers, and now sexual attractiveness is part of fitting in. Whatever thwarts the fitting in – from your saying no to a revealing sweater, to imposing a curfew – fuels the inferno.
Eastman advises parents to have a sense of humor, give up the urge for total control and establish consequences – such as loss of allowance – for violations of house rules. These rules should include courtesy and respect for one another; no shouting, no violence and no insults tolerated.
Helping children learn to control their anger is not easy, but the rewards do come. Since Kathy and George Hrenko started talking with Adam about his feelings, he’s made real progress. “Now when Adam is exhausted and feels a ‘meltdown’ coming on, he’ll say ‘I need to rest’,” Kathy says.
‘We’ve also learned that humor helps’, she says. ‘When I say to him, If at first you don’t succeed…’, Adam finishes, ‘…just give up!’
Notes on the text:
buddy – (inf.) a friend;
to shrug off – to treat smth as unimportant and not worry about it;
to defuse – to improve a difficult or dangerous situation, (for ex.) by making people less angry or by dealing with the causes of a problem;
to flail about – to wave your arms and legs in an uncontrolled way; to beat smb or smth violently, usually with a stick;
to take over – to take control of smth;
to thwart – to prevent smb from doing what they are trying to do;
the inferno – (literary) an extremely large and dangerous fire.
Paraphrase the following:
1) to fly off the handle
2) to take a big jump in physical development
3) to halt inappropriate behavior with smth.
4) to feel a meltdown
Use Longman’s ‘Activator’, find synonyms and learn definitions of all the words:
1) to be prone to
4) to mask
5) to link
Expand on the following:
Support or challenge the following:
Mastering anger is important to every kid’s future.
Discuss the key problems the text states.
Recommended vocabulary list:
words: defuse, tantrum, toddler, interaction;
word combinations: to fly off the handle; to be prone to; anger trigger; to handle the anger; to flail about; to lead the child from the triggering situation; to give a consequence; verbal battering; to halt behavior with timeouts; to slow down their drive toward independence; to fit in with peers; to give up the urge for total control.