Saturday, April 5, 2014

Learning to Manage His Mad

I was recently astounded to hear of a child in kindergarten being sent to an alternative school for two weeks. It was hard to imagine what a five year old child could do that would result in an in-school suspension. I still don't know all the details, and don't need to, but I love how his grandmother described the issue: "He needs to learn to manage his mad."

One of the gifts we need to give our children is to teach them to "manage their mad".  Ideally, we will teach our children to handle their anger in a healthy way. Unfortunately, it's another one of those tricky lessons that we may not have fully mastered ourselves before we become parents. It's hard to know where anger is healthy, and where it is destructive.Many of us grew up in homes where anger was unacceptable. We learned from an early age to stuff it down deep inside and never give in to it. Others of us grew up in homes where unbridled anger was the norm; self-indulgent rage was tolerated, and contagious. How was anger handled in your family when you were young?

At some point on my journey I stored away a bit of Biblical advice: "In your anger, do not sin." This wise saying is found in Ephesians, right beside the better known "Do not let the sun go down on your anger." What a great way to measure how you manage your mad!  Anger that causes you to do harm to another or turn away from God is probably unhealthy. Jesus models anger as a healthy response to injustice and lets his anger spur him to act well: healing, helping, bringing about change.

So how do you teach your child to manage the mad? Here are a few useful ideas:
  1. Teach your children to name their emotions. Children who can differentiate between angry, frustrated and scared are well on their way to managing their mad. 
  2. Teach them acceptable behaviors to use when they are angry: stepping away, writing about their anger, or working the anger out on a tetherball or punching bag are all acceptable ways to discharge anger. Hitting your brother or sister is not.
  3. Help them channel righteous anger. Don't dismiss what they are angry about or teach them to distract themselves. If they think it's terrible that someone is bullying another child, help them find a way to help. Channel their energy, talents and innate sense of justice.
  4. Model appropriate angry behavior. Don't hit, rage, or stuff your feelings when you're angry. Model what you'd like to see your children do. (And don't provoke your child's anger for your own entertainment. That's another whole post.)
  5. Establish consequences for mismanaged anger: doing the chores of the sibling he hit, paying for the item she broke, losing privileges. That can also mean rewarding good anger management, perhaps a word of praise or some one-on-one time when you see your child walk away from a fight.
Anger management is an important life skill. Mismanaged anger will harm your child's relationships with others or will head down a self-destructive path. Well managed anger will bring about positive change in the world. Like many other important life skills it is best taught intentionally, not in reaction to something that has already happened. May you have success on this important voyage.


Cheryl said...

I have no difficulty imagining it because I have seen young children repeatedly attempt to destroy everything and everyone in their paths. This violent behavior and lack of impulse control always stemmed from frustration at not being able to do or have what they wanted, and could escalate exponentially without warning. These episodes not only disrupted the learning environment, but, understandably, terrified other children. Their teachers used all the skills and resources available to prevent such outbursts and keep everyone safe when they inevitably occurred, but these children needed psychological help their parents would not allow. If only their parents had read your articles when they were born...

Julie Huke Klock said...

It is tragic that kids don't get help! I can't imagine a parent who wouldn't - but I know lots of parents who couldn't because help is beyond their reach financially. Still, social stigmas are very frightening in some circles and some parents really don't spend enough time with their own kid in the company of others to even know their behavior is out of line. So many situations. Bless the teachers, bloggers, coaches, and other advocates for children!

I am happy to report that the child who set me to thinking about this is making progress and his parents took this event seriously and learned a lot from it.