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Teaching Kids to Pause When Angry

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David A. Powlison’s book Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness suggests that all anger is rooted in selfishness.  Selfishness can simply be described by the saying, “I want what I want when I want it.”  Anger is born when we do not get what we want.  Anger can be both good and bad.  Powlison’s cure for bad anger is complex, but begins by always pausing before we react and asking ourselves the question, “What can I do to make this situation better?”

Helping your children grow into mature people that can ask themselves this question before reacting requires a number of skills.  Parents, YOU are responsible for teaching your children these skills from the time they are toddlers through adulthood.  Unfortunately, there are three mistakes parents often make that impede the development of these important life skills.

1.  Lack of understanding of age-appropriate behavior.  Take the time to search the internet for a list of what your child should be doing at specific ages.  I constantly see parents who are concerned for or overwhelmed by their child’s age-appropriate behavior.

2.  Use of electronics for parental comfort.  Your child needs to be looking outside the windows in the car, touching items in the grocery store, and learning to sit through dinner at a restaurant.  It is easy to hand your child a phone to keep them quiet, but you are impeding healthy development.  Choose your child’s growth over your own comfort. 

3. Giving them everything for nothing.  I think we can all agree that entitlement is a problem in our current culture.  Help your children set goals, meet them, and then reward them. 

Here are the three skills that all children need to master before they can learn the advanced skill of being able to pause when angry and ask, “What can I do to make this situation better?”

1.  Have them ask permission for everything. The skill of asking permission does not limit independence.  Instead, it helps children learn to pause and think before meeting their own needs.  Making them ask permission will prepare them for circumstances where they will be required to communicate with authority figures before taking action. 

2.  Teach them to do what they are told when they are told to do it.  If your children do not know how to follow directions, their success will be limited.  We teach this best through prompts and presence.  Tell your children to do something one time (prompt) and then physically help them do it (presence).  Do not repeat yourself, negotiate, argue, etc.  Helping them comply teaches them that they will not be able to escape the demand. 

3.  Help them to be okay with discomfort.  Have your children try to eat with their less dominant hand or wear their wristwatch on a different wrist.  Make them finish an activity they do not enjoy.  Teach them that they can survive doing hard things.

The practice of these three skills will teach your children to stop and think, respect others, and become aware of their own selfishness.  Rather than simply reacting to their anger, they will eventually be able to remain calm and ask themselves, “What can I do to make this situation better?”  As they mature, you will be surprised at their creative and insightful ways to resolve problems.

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Dr. Beth Long received her education in Counseling Psychology from Chapman University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Beth has worked in six unique clinical environments across the country and currently owns Works of Wonder Therapy in Montgomery. Beth utilizes the knowledge from a variety of different disciplines to give her patients the best care possible. To learn more visit www.worksofwondertherapy.com.

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