child-abuse_tcm7-132692

Everyone feels angry. EVERYONE does because it is in our DNA. If we did not have anger, we would have fewer physical resources for moving sandbags to protect our homes from floods. We would have fewer resources to scare the raccoon taking over our trash can. We’d have a hard time standing up to injustice.

What varies is how angry, for how long, and just how it shows.  The weird thing is that if you want angry feelings to be less intense and more manageable, acknowledge to yourself how irritated, annoyed, frustrated, angry, or enraged you feel. Just notice, for awhile. Then, and only then, describe to yourself why you are frustrated. Maybe, that feeling you just described is how you want to feel. Maybe, it is not. Doesn’t really matter. It is how, at that moment, you feel. So, here is the hard part: can you make sense of how angry you feel? When we do that we are empowered to make choices about how express and manage that anger.

Most of my working life I spend as a therapist and a teacher. I spend a lot of my day helping kids and adults make sense of feelings they do not want to have. Once we can make identify and make sense of feelings, we can find a way to make things better. In my opinion (and according to research) this is one of the most powerful gifts a parent has to offer their child:  genuine recognition and value for that unique child’s view of the world. When we hear someone say to us, “I understand why you feel angry, we can figure something out even if you don’t get this right now,” things feel better. We feel heard. Children feel empowered to make a choice this time and ideally next time, when you are not there to help.

Pamela Cole and her research team at Penn State University studied a sample of typical children growing up in families who were above the poverty line but below the middle income of the country. These toddlers were not from wealthy nor highly educated families. The children and their mothers came to the lab and the researchers gave these young children a wrapped gift.  Then, the researchers asked the children to wait to open the gift. The kids were very creative. The ones who suffered the least in the wait and who were least likely to have a melt down while they waited used words. The kids with more advanced language skills asked their mother to hurry. They counted out loud to pass the time. They made up stories and imagined out loud what was in the box to make themselves feel better. These children felt better and did better at a challenge. You can read more at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121220080445.htm.  

What if all children had someone help them think of games and strategies for coping? What if, instead of growling at our children with animal faces to still down and WAIT, we said, I have an idea let’s play a game until we get to have what we want. When my daughter was young and we were in the car for too long we played a work came. I said a letter and she thought of an animal that started with that letter. Then, we would think of something to do (a verb) that starts with the same letter. When she was older, we thought of work that described how you do so something. It was fun!

Geckos go gladly when parents play practically.

Teach for Life, ACT-Raising Safe Kids