Parents, kids, and anger: Emotions are a message, not a problem

One thing anger is not designed to do is determine our actions, yet people frequently let anger dictate their behavior. We need to give our children better emotional habits. Photo: Daniel Hughes

WASHINGTON January 8, 2013 - People who counsel adults know how crucial it is for children to have good role models for managing emotions. Unfortunately, many problematic emotional habits get handed down from one generation to the next, especially where anger is concerned.   

Looking at this issue has nothing to do with assigning blame for learned bad habits. Parents can, however, make an effort to be better emotional management teachers than those farther down their family tree. 

Our anger is a message. It lets us know important things like someone just hurt our feelings, or treated us like dirt, or that we think someone hurt, or trampled on us. One thing anger is not designed to do is determine our actions, yet people frequently let anger dictate their behavior. 

An important thing to realize about anger is that it’s similar to an aftershock. It follows other emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, or disappointment; feelings that make us feel vulnerable. Anger makes us feel powerful, so many of us prefer covering our vulnerability with anger. Although this is understandable, it wreaks havoc on relationships. 

There is nothing wrong with anger. Anger alerts us that something is amiss, needs our attention, and requires resolution, or understanding. Like adults, children become angry for a reason. It is likely kids do not understand the reason well enough to express it rationally, particularly if anger is not something usually discussed in the home. 

Five Tips Concerning Emotions  

1. We have no control over the way others feel, including our children. Like adults, children react to the world through the filters of their experience, beliefs, and perceptions. They are not designed to react to situations as their parents do. A child’s emotions give them information about themselves. 

2. If someone is throwing a tantrum or is enraged, meeting their anger with your own is the same as dumping gasoline on a bonfire in a dry forest. Unless there is an issue of safety involved, you do not have to fix anyone’s meltdown, including a child’s. All tantrums burn themselves out. 

3. It is damaging for a child to think anger is bad, or that getting angry is not OK. Their anger may be misplaced, or there might be a reason for it that you are unaware of. Either way, emotions are meant to flow and be felt. Until they are accepted we cannot learn how to manage them. 

Kids need to be accountable for their behavior when feeling angry, but not for feeling angry. It is normal for children to get pissed off. Consequences should never punish the feeling. Children have to learn how to express anger effectively. They may be doing the best they can for their stage of development but must also acquire better ways of handling emotion. 

4. Trying to have a rational conversation with an angry person, large or small, is like trying to light a match in a strong wind. You will only get frustrated. 

Emotions are not rational nor are they meant to be. We can easily lie to ourselves with our rational mind, but our spontaneous emotions always tell us something true about our current experience. Trying to put that emotional experience into words while we are upset is for most of us an impossible task.  

5. Maybe one of the most difficult things on earth is not taking someone else’s emotional reaction personally. This is especially true for parents. It may seem that if a child respects you they would not get angry, but that is a fallacy in our world of imperfect beings. Your child’s anger is about them. 

The most helpful thing you can do when your child is upset, is to acknowledge what they are feeling without pronouncing it right, wrong, good, or bad. Feelings and emotions are rather like having personal radar, or GPS, that gives each of us individual readings. There is nothing right or wrong about the readings; they are what they are.  

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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


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