Every day in April, I’ll be posting a video about one of the questions in my guide, (Over) 100 Questions to ask your Kids About Sexuality. The guide is free and if you don’t have it, you can get it by clicking here. Today's question is one to ask your children: "How can you let someone know you're angry with them?"
Learning to express anger, sadness, upset with others in appropriate ways is a really important foundational relationship skill. For children, it’s something that will serve them in their relationships with friends, family and their community. Later on, it’s a skill they can bring into any romantic or sexual relationships they might have.
To ire is human
In our society, we’re often encouraged to repress, rather than express our anger. Sometimes boys get a little more leeway with anger than kids of other genders - but overall, we spend a lot of time encouraging kids to be nice and get along. Which is understandable. Humans are social creatures. Most of us need to be around other people, at least some of the time, and things usually work out best when things are peaceful, agreeable and harmonious. But the reality is that we don’t always get along. We don’t all love or even like each other. Nor are we always happy with the people that we do like and love. At some point, all of us will feel anger, frustration, irritation or impatience with our fellow person. We all need strategies for expressing that don’t involve abuse or destruction - kids included.
There are several things kids can do when they’re feeling angry emotions. They can state their feelings in a tone of voice that matches the intensity of their emotions (e.g. “I’M REALLY ANGRY!”) The can name the source and the reason for their anger (e.g. I’m SO MAD AT MY BROTHER! He KNOCKED OVER MY LEGO!”) We can remind our kids that while it’s okay to say you’re mad at someone, calling names or hurling insults is not cool.
A lot of people cry when they’re angry. As adults, it can be so painful to see our kiddos in tears, that we want to put an immediate stop to it, but tears are really helpful. Crying helps our bodies resolve the stress cycle that gets triggered when we’re pissed off. You know how some folks are fond of telling us to “let it go”, when we’re worked up? Well crying actually helps relieve us of unpleasant emotions. So the next time your angry kid tears up, encourage them to let it flow, so they can let it go.
Kids can also express anger in physical ways. They can cross their arms. They can stomp their feet. They can target someone with some withering stank face. Kids who are more physical can run, bike, jump, even hit something as long it’s not fragile, dangerous or...you know...alive.
It takes time...and practice
It’s great if we can review and practice these anger-expression strategies with our kids in times of calm. Don’t worry if they forget to put things into practice when they actually get mad. Because of the way children’s brains develop, younger kids tend not to have great rational thinking/impulse control even at the best of times and the stress of being upset just makes it all the harder for them to remember what you’ve taught them.
When our kids start lashing out in inappropriate ways, we can steer them back to their constructive angry strategies. It may take a few months or depending on your child, a few years before they’re able to implement it on their own, but most kids will eventually learn how over time.