Working with Anger

Child screaming

Anger often gets a bad rap. When left unchecked, it can cause arguments, meltdowns, and mayhem. But just like other emotions, anger can help us if we listen to it. It can help us figure out how to respond to a situation, protect ourselves, seek safety, and/or be more creative. It may take some patience and practice, but you and your family can learn to work with anger constructively.

How can you get started? First, when working with anger, it helps to take an accepting stance. Letting go of conscious or subconscious beliefs that anger is “bad” may be difficult at first. It may help to remember that how you and your child express or deal with anger is different than feeling your anger. While acting out and hurting others is not okay, feeling anger rise up in your body is useful.

What Does Anger Feel Like?

Getting to know what anger feels like in your bodies will help you and your child recognize anger more quickly when it shows up again, and respond more effectively. Practice feeling and acknowledging the physical sensations you feel in your bodies when you are feeling angry. 

Take a few minutes to sit or lie down in a quiet place, notice what’s there, and just for the moment, allow it to be there. Get really curious about what you feel. Make room for the sensations you feel, instead of resisting them or pushing them away. If you are inclined, draw out what you feel. This will help externalize the feelings and sensations inside, so you can get some distance from them. Working with anger can be fun!

What’s Underneath Your Child’s Anger?

Did you know? Anger is often a “secondary emotion.” It sometimes arises in response to a primary emotion, such as shame, hurt, jealousy, embarrassment, disappointment, guilt, or anxiety. One of the tricks to understanding how to work with anger is to figure out what other emotions lie beneath it. After children and parents address these ‘emotions in hiding’, the anger on the surface tends to resolve.  

You can explain to your child that sometimes other emotions lie underneath anger and ask your child what they think is underneath their anger. Using a visual, like a feelings wheel or a chart with faces depicting different emotions, can help younger children find words for what they are feeling inside and work through their anger.

Walking Away to Cool Off

Walking away to cool off during an argument may be seen by some as rude, but it can actually be a helpful strategy that both parents and kids can use to prevent arguments from escalating. When you need to walk away, let the other person know that you need some time to calm down. If you can, set a time when you’ll regroup and talk together after everyone has cooled off. Ensure the situation is addressed, and not forgotten about. If it is hard for you and your child to feel heard when you talk to each other, consider trying “active listening”. Read on for instructions…

Active Listening

1) Sit side by side with a partner, facing in opposite directions. (You may choose to close your eyes).
2) Speaker number one talks for designated amount of time (perhaps 2-3 minutes).
3) Listener listens carefully without any comments.
4) After the designated amount of time, the listener says: “ What I heard you say was….”
4) After the listener finishes their reflection, they say: “Did I get that right? Is there anything else you would like to add?”
5) Speaker number one says a reply.
6) Partners thank each other, and then switch roles. 

You and your family can learn to work with anger effectively. At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.

Written by: Debby Urken, LMSW

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