Learning to manage his temper.
Ep. 45 – Reid, Age 5: Gets angry at classmates
Think About It Questions
- Think of a recent time that you felt angry with another kid. What happened? How did you handle it?
- What are some reasons why it’s not a good idea to act rough when you’re angry? (Hint: How are other people likely to react? How would you feel about yourself?)
- Why do you think crossing your arms and taking two steps back are the first steps for emergency coping with anger? (Hint: what might that prevent?)
- Dr. Friendtastic lists a bunch of possible distraction strategies to use for emergency coping with anger, including saying the alphabet in your mind, counting by even numbers, doing math, or remembering the words to a song. Which of these would you like to try, or do you have a different idea for distracting yourself when you’re mad?
- The coping thoughts that Dr. Friendtastic mentions, such as “I don’t like this, but I can handle it,” recognize that the situation is hard AND that you can cope with it. What coping statements do you think might be useful for you to think about when you start to feel angry?
Hi, there! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.
Here’s today’s question:
My name is Reid. I'm 5 years old, and I recently get angry at school sometimes. So how do I stop it, Mrs. Dr. Friendtastic?
Hi, Reid. Thank you for sending in your question! This is something a lot of kids wonder about!
Everyone feels angry sometimes. The important question is, how do we handle those angry feelings?
You may have heard that you have to “let your anger out” by yelling or punching pillows. That’s simply NOT true. Practicing acting in angry ways makes us feel more angry, more often.
I want to talk first about why it’s important to deal with angry feelings in healthy ways. At a very practical level, how do you think other people are likely to respond if you yell at them or act rough and hit or push them? Not good, right?
There is no way that another kid is going to think, “Ahhh, now that he’s hit me, I’m going to be extra kind to him!” In fact, the other kid might hit you back or tell on you to get you in trouble. Plus that kid probably wouldn’t want to hang out with you after being hit.
And what about other kids, who just see what happened? Those kids might feel uncomfortable and not want to hang out with you, either, because they’d worry you might yell at or hit them.
And what about grown-ups? Well, yelling or hitting pretty much guarantees you’re not going to get what you want. So, acting rough is just not a smart strategy.
Also, my guess is that you wouldn’t feel good about yourself after acting rough.
The fact that you asked this question tells me that you’re really a kind kid, and you want to do the right thing, even when you’re mad. So, let’s talk about how to do that.
There are two levels we have to address in coping with anger. The first is the emergency level. That’s when you’re already furious.
So, here’s what you do:
- Cross your arms in front of you and give yourself a little hug, because whatever is happening must be very upsetting, so you could use a hug.
- Next, take two steps back, so you’re not near anyone. That’s to make sure no rough stuff happens.
- Then, try to distract yourself for just a couple minutes, to slow things down and let yourself settle. You could try saying the alphabet a few times in your mind, as fast as you can, abcdefghijklmnop... You could silently count up by even numbers, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 12... For older kids, I recommend doing math facts: What’s 100 minus 7? 93. Minus 7? 86? Minus 7? 79. And so forth. You could also try thinking about the words to a favorite song.
- Finally, when you’re ready, let a deep breath out, like a sigh, then think about how you want to handle things. Maybe the best idea is to walk away from the upsetting situation. Maybe you could ask the other kid nicely for what you want. Or, maybe you need to talk to a grown-up to figure things out.
The second level for coping with anger is prevention. This works way better than emergency coping. Here the trick is to change how you’re thinking about the situation when you’re just starting to feel a little angry.
If you’re telling yourself things like: “This is terrible! I can’t stand it! It’s so unfair! Nothing good ever happens to me! It’s ruining my whole life!” Well, that’s going to make you feel more and more upset.
The opposite of that isn’t to grit your teeth and think: “This is great! I love it when I don’t get my way!” Lying to yourself isn’t going to help.
What you can do is recognize that the situation is hard AND that you can cope. So, you might think, “I don’t like this, but I can handle it.” “I’ve dealt with hard things before, so I can deal with this.” “It won’t last forever; I’ll get through it” or, my favorite, “I’m strong enough to handle this.” Thoughts like these will help you stay calm enough to either let things slide or figure out something useful to do.
Dealing with anger is not easy. It takes effort and lots and lots of practice. Even grown-ups sometimes have trouble managing their tempers. But I know you can develop the skills you need to cope with anger, and I’m so proud of you for trying!
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.
And be sure to check out my funny and practical books for kids about friendship: Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, and my new book, Growing Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Dealing with Emotions About Friends and Other Kids. They’re available through your library or wherever you buy books.