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Written by Shannon Henderson

Getting out the Angries

11/07/2016 11:41:36 AM | 0 comments |
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Helen Edwards, Clinical Coordinator, Early Psychosis Intervention program
Advice from an expert on helping your child to get a handle on their emotions.

Helen Edwards is a clinical coordinator with Fraser Health who has more than a decade of experience working specifically with anxious children and youths. Professionally trained as a family therapist and personally experienced as a parent of two young children, she recently shared her insights on anger management with Healthier You.  
 
Q: Are boys more susceptible to expressing anger than girls? 

Both boys and girls are susceptible to extreme emotions. When it comes to gender socialization, the trend for the past century has been to teach the sexes to deal with their emotions differently; boys have been taught to ‘let it out’, whereas girls have been encouraged to ‘talk it out.’ 
 
Both ways have their positives. Once boys have released their anger, they gain the satisfaction of having dealt with the issue and are able to move on. The downside is that during these episodes of extreme emotions, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels spike. Higher cortisol levels lower their ability to fight off disease and infection and their bones can become thinner. Stress also interferes with learning, memory and other aspects of physical and mental health. These expressions of anger are often classified as behaviour issues, which can lead to treatment of the behaviour itself rather than the underlying problem. 

Girls, on the other hand, are encouraged to talk and feel their way through issues. While this type of behaviour may be easier to manage than the aggression that comes with anger, girls can harbour anger longer than boys, which can lead to resentment and sadness. 

Q: Isn’t anger a normal feeling that should be given room to be expressed? 

Anger is a reactive surface emotion that masks big, deep questions of self-worth, safety, fear and shame. When you feel that your personal identity is being attacked, your primal urge is to self-protect. 
Getting angry is a great way to say, ‘This is your problem, not mine.’ It means I don’t have to look inside myself to deal with what’s really wrong. What we need to do is encourage kids to take a moment to think, ‘What is it?’, ‘Why do I feel this way?’

Anger is also a way to communicate needs that are not being met. Emotions develop before language regardless of all else. We see that in babies who cry when they’re hungry or tired. We all learn to express emotion to get our needs met. A child who is unable to get their needs met will quickly learn to step up their game if they don’t get their desired response. 

Q: What’s wrong with time-outs? 

Based on the fact that anger is seen as threat to self-worth, time-outs are not always effective – a time-out sends a message that your child is a bad person. This not only lowers his self-esteem, it creates bad behaviour, because people who feel bad about themselves behave badly. Fortunately, more parents and schools are becoming aware of the need for ways kids can even out their emotions. They are now encouraging regular physical activity throughout the day to help kids feel more grounded in their bodies. 

Q: What happens if we don’t address anger problems at an early age? 

Anger is a normal human emotion, but when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems – at work, in relationships, and in the overall quality of life. And it can make you feel constantly at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion. 

When you pay attention to negative behaviour, it only cements a child’s feeling that the squeaky wheel gets the grease  – ‘If I can’t be noticed when I’m nice, then I’ll make a big noise to get what I want.’ This can lead to an increase in behaviour issues, including bullying. Teaching your child to self-regulate his emotions and safely express his frustration will stop anger from pushing him around. 
 

Help your kid get the angries out  

  • Cut it off at the pass. If you see him getting cranked up with a problem, interrupting him can help put distance between him and the issue and calm down. Make light of the situation with some humour, or take a music break or a walk, or kick a soccer ball to help physically discharge his frustration.
  • Slow it down together. Have him count to five with you or do a deep breathing exercise, like ‘blow out the candles’. Here’s how: hold up your hand. Ask him to take a deep breath, hold it for two seconds (count out loud), then release the breath by ‘blowing out’ your fingers one-by-one. Repeat three more times. 
  • Help him label his true feelings. Kids benefit from learning a variety of words to express their emotions like jealous, afraid, excited, etc. because those who don’t have the vocabulary to communicate their emotions may instead act out these emotions in physical and inappropriate ways. Preschoolers can be taught basic feeling words such as happy, mad, sad and scared. Older kids can benefit from learning more complex feeling words such as frustrated, disappointed and nervous. For example, “I can see you feel really mad right now that you can’t have that toy you want.” 
  • Teach him to use his words to get what he wants. Rather than give in to temper tantrums, give him the words he needs to ask for what he wants. For example, “If you want to stay longer at the park, you can say ‘Can I please have more play time?’”

Resources


This article was originally published in the Healthier You Summer 2016 magazine. Check out the issue here (best viewed in a Google Chrome or Firefox browser) or download the PDF magazine

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