The key to managing anger is to catch it early.This is easier said than done. I have spoken in previous blog posts how about important it is for children to be able to recognise the physical cues of emotions so that they are able to understand what the emotion is and have a plan of how to manage the emotion. But how do we teach children that there are 'levels' of an emotion? That each level of intensity has a different consequence and a different way to problem solve?
So often I have had children replay stories to me where something triggered their anger. This may have been something really insignificant (although not for them) such as not being able to have their favourite cereal for breakfast. Or it could be something more obvious like being teased by another child. Either way this trigger starts them on the path of annoyed, frustrated, angry, enraged and totally out of control.
Children aren't able to think logically about consequences when they are in an emotional state. Well neither are adults, but adults have had more practice in experiencing the consequences which makes this a little easier. For children, it is important that at a time when they are calm that we talk them through what some alternatives may have been. Have them think of alternative scenarios if they had been able to manage their anger earlier. In doing this they are preparing themselves to see that they have some control, they don't have to be completely led by the emotion.
One technique is to use the Anger Snowball
1. try and work backwards
No doubt you will have the end story already. You will already know about the fight or things thrown or whatever the end result was. What you want to do is go right back to the beginning. What was the initial trigger? What set them off on this path?
Be curious. Make sure you keep asking "did anything else happen before that?" Eventually you will get to the trigger
2. Then what happened?
Keep asking what happened next. Make sure they don't just skip over the stages of the anger to the final outcome. We want to know each detail that built the anger to the explosion at the end.
3. How could it be different
Make sure you point out how the anger built up. Be empathetic, nobody likes being angry. The child didn't want to be out of control, they just didn't know how or when to stop.
Start by saying "what if we were able to stop the snowball before it got too big?" "what if we put a rock in to stop it from rolling?"
This time start from the bottom up. Draw a rock at each snowball and discuss what would have happened if they were able to stop there. Work out what would be different? how would others around them be different?
4. How could we stop it?
Now work out the different ways they would need to manage that level of anger at each rock. Strategies you would use when the snowball is small are going to be different to when the snowball is huge. Try and think of realistic strategies for the situation. Trampolines might be great to help calm, but if you are at school this may not be possible. You can also add some helpful thoughts that they could have used at each stage. The repetition of strategies and thoughts will eventually make it easier for the child to choose these even when they are in the middle of an emotional storm.
The important information that we want to pass on to our kids it that they do have choices, they have alternatives and they are capable of making changes. In doing this exercise with children they learn to identify the stages of their anger and problem-solve alternatives at every stage.