Stand Up ND: Anger Management for Kids
Anger is an emotion that can lead to aggression and bullying if it isn’t addressed.In the past kids who acted out in class used to be removed and punished. Now many educators are teaching kids how to manage their anger so they don’t end up in the principal’s office. Meg Luther Lindholm with the Stand Up ND project has this report.
The list of what makes kids angry is long. There’s frustration, feeling powerless, needing attention, feeling made fun of, being punished…and the list goes on. Sometimes, when the child is very young it’s not always clear why he or she is angry.
Here’s my daughter Lucia reading me a bedtime story. She’s a bright, energetic 4 year old. She has big blue eyes that make people swoon. But the feeling isn’t always mutual. She can be adoring one minute and aggressive the next. At school she’s been known to hit other kids for no apparent reason.
KS: I think being in a group setting, it was very difficult for Lucia.
Kathy Schlicht was Lucia’s preschool teacher in downtown Fargo.
KS: The transitions seemed to be the most difficult part for her. Or, just sitting when there’s a little bit of idle time, she would just shove someone for no reason.
Kathy knew that Lucia needed more attention than she could give in a room of 14 kids. She also knew she had to do something when Lucia acted out. Kathy and many other teachers follow an approach called Nurtured Heart, which means praising good behavior and not reacting severely to mean behavior. Which doesn’t mean not addressing it. It means finding ways to help children calm down so they can rejoin the group.
KS: She was in her glory if she could help you clean and wipe the tables. So if that was a job she liked to do, we let her do it.
After she had calmed down she was able to do what her teachers asked.
Across town at Jefferson Elementary, counselor Laura Sokolofsky also spends a lot of time helping kids calm down. She has a toolbox that she calls her calm down box with lots of things in it.
LS: …like play doh, or a stress ball or a puzzle or a book or coloring books.
Other tools in her box are conversational. She’ll ask what makes them happy or what they want to do in the future. The point is to defuse the emotional static in their brains.
LS: ...and stop stewing on that mad TV and clicking it back to glad TV. And that they can be in charge. And that kind of works on the cognitive, behavioral pieces of things. What they think will affect how they feel, which will in turn affect how they behave.
The next step is to help kids figure out how to fix what’s causing their anger so that it doesn’t take root and blow up into something worse like repeated conflict or bullying. Bullying is defined as aggression that is habitual and that involves a power imbalance.
LS: So for example, in Phy Ed there could be conflict over a game. You know people are not following the rules, people are cheating.
When these conflicts happen kids often feel stuck. And they often want adults to get them unstuck. Sokolofsky says kids can come up with their own solutions.
LS: …so that they can start to be more empowered, that they can choose something different. So they can choose to take a break; they can choose to calm down; they can choose to be assertive; they can choose the words that they would say to the person. But it needs to be in a calm tone of voice.
Not so easy when tempers are through the roof.
[Sound of child shouting in anger]
But returning to parents who are often on the front lines of their children’s anger. What should they do when their kids are melting down? Many parents resort to consequences for misbehavior. Not a bad thing, Sokolofsky says, if it’s done in moderation. But the key thing that often gets lost, she says, is empathy.
LS: You’ll be fine. That’s enough. Stop it. Get over it… When you use that kind of language, you’re completely dismissing your child’s feelings. And over time, if they don’t feel like their feelings matter or listened to or are cared about, they don’t care about anyone else’s either. And that’s where we see more and more mean behavior happening.
Sokolofsky teaches anger management classes through Fargo’s Parenting Resource Center. And there are other Parenting Resource Centers throughout North Dakota. You can find more information on the NDSU Extension Service website and on the Facebook page for Stand Up ND.