Teaching kids to identify their body alarms and learn healthy ways to control anger
“I tried to stay calm, but it was too late!”
“I wish I could tell when I’m about to explode.”
“Don’t keep telling me I’m going to lose all my friends because of my temper. I can’t help it.”
Your child may be more excitable or passionate by nature, but some times this emotional temperament can get out of control.
Though you can’t change your kid’s basic personality, you can teach him some strategies and skills to help him get along and handle intense feelings. And there are important reasons to do so.
Let’s face it, hot tempers can cause serious damage in health, relationships, school, life, as well as ruin your kid’s reputation. Unless kids learn ways to recognize their own unique danger signs of control their anger, problems are inevitable. After all, hot-tempered kids are no fun to be around.
There’s another important reason why we need to teach our kids “cool down techniques”: studies show that hot-tempered kids are also more likely to be bullied or be a bully.
All the reasons to work on this issue problem A.S.A.P. And what better time than now? Here are ways.
Part 1: Help Your Child Tune Into Body Alarms
Explain Body Temper Alarms
Go over the way you use your child act when she’s starting to get mad. “You always make that little hissing noise and grind your teeth. Sometimes you stamp your feet. Those are your danger signs that big trouble might be on the way.”
HINT: Each child (as well as you) has their own physiological signs. Those signs materialize whenever we’re under stress and have a fight or flight response. The trick is to help your child identify her unique signs before she loses her temper.
Don’t expect instant recognition: it may take a week or two or more before she can identify her signs. Keep working on helping your child identify her own unique body signs. Point signs out in others: “Look at that little boy. See his fists? I bet he’s going to have a temper tantrum in a minute!” “I know Grandpa gets angry quickly. But watch him closer. He always used to take his glasses off right before he got really mad. I remember him doing it as a kid.”
Talk to your child about what’s causing her temper to flare so quickly.
“You don’t seem like the same kid lately. Anything you want to talk about?”
“You seem so tense and quick-tempered with your friends. What’s going on?”
“I know the move was really tough. Do you think that’s at the bottom of your bad temper lately?”
Point Out Negative Effects of Uncontrolled Anger
Take time to discuss the negative effects of inappropriate anger displays. Here is a sample dialogue, but personalize it to fit your child and the anger issues:
“Anger can really hurt you. You could lose a friend, get a bad reputation, lose a job, get suspended from school, get hurt. If you don’t control your temper you could be headed for danger and lose your friends.”
Pinpoint the specific negative effects your child’s outbursts have. Doing so often helps the child gain that inner strength to want to change.
Brainstorm Temper Triggers
Help your child recognize the things that bug him the most so he can handle the situation better when he’s with his friends.
“I noticed that whenever George starts exaggerating you hit the roof.”
“What is about the way Lori criticizes your hair I can see your blood pressure rising.”
Help your kid identify that certain look, unfairness, not sharing, interrupting, telling secrets behind your back, put-downs and other things that make his blood boil so he can avoid setting off his temper.
Part 2: Help Child Learn Unique Temper Alarms
It may be a great revelation when you to tell your child that her body actually sends out warning signs when a hot-temper attack is approaching. Tell her how it happens to you.
“My face gets flushed. My hearts starts beating faster. It’s harder for me to breath. My voice gets louder and I can’t think straight. Body temper alarms like these happen to everyone when they get angry and begin to lose their temper. But good news! You can stop yourself before the volcano erupts.”
Then teach your child these four important steps of anger management. The best way to teach any new skill is to SHOW the skill, not TELL. So be the model! Repetition, repetition, repetition is how kids acquire the skill so they can use it on their own.
Four Steps to Anger Management
Step 1. Hear the bells going off. Listen!
Whenever things are getting rough, pay very close attention to changes in your body. Everyone is different but usually alarms go off in your body that warn you that if you’re starting to lose control. So be on the alert for any familiar body signs that you might be losing your temper.
Step 2. Hit the snooze control. Stop!
Even a few seconds to pause are enough to stop your temper from exploding or doing something you may regret later on.
Find what works for you. Some kids pull a big stop sign in front of your eyes or yell, “Stop” inside their heads. It will help you put the brakes on your temper.
Some kids say to themselves: “Chill out.” Or “I can keep my cool.”
Step 3. Turn down the volume. Breathe!
Once you’ve told yourself to keep under control you have to take a slow deep breath. You can slow down your heart rate and get yourself back in control by taking slow, deep breaths.
Step 4. Get back into tune. Separate!
Back off from whatever is about to blow up in your face. You could count to 10 (or to 100); hum a few bars of the Star Spangled Banner, think of a pepperoni pizza or gaze up in the sky or whatever it takes to regain your sense of calm.
Do not expect overnight success! Teaching a child to calm a hot temper and learn to identify his unique body temper alarms will take 3 Cs: Consistency, Commitment and Calmness. Aim for gradual diminishment of the temper. If temper outbursts continue or escalate despite your efforts, then it’s time to seek professional help. Meanwhile, don’t forget to use those four steps yourself: Listen. Stop. Breathe. Separate!
I am an educational psychologist, former special education teacher and Today Show Contributor on parenting. This blog was adapted from my book, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them under the chapter, “Hot Temper.”
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