Help Your Child Manage Anger
Teach them the four choices (and outcomes!) of anger expression.
Posted March 19, 2022 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
- One of the most important decisions young people make each day has to do with how they handle feelings of anger.
- There are four basic choices in anger expression: aggression, passivity, passive aggression, and assertiveness.
- Assertiveness skills can be taught through regular role-play, discussion, and skill-rehearsal with young people.
Pack lunch or buy it? Headband or hair clip? Tell the truth or spare their feelings?
Every day, your child faces dozens of choices, from the ordinary to the complicated. One of the most important decisions they make each day has to do with how they handle feelings of anger.
Anger is a normal, natural emotion, usually triggered by frustration and experienced as an unpleasant state. It comes and goes in all of our lives and can be experienced as mild, medium, or intense. While anger is a universal of the human experience, its expression is diverse. Consider these four basic choices Emma can make to express her anger at being excluded:
Emma brings her jump rope outside during school recess. She invites a group of classmates to play. The kids quickly organize the order in which each person will jump. When play begins, Emma soon realizes that she is left out of the line and is stuck holding the rope the whole time. She is feeling cheated and angry.
Emma's first instinct is to act out her anger aggressively. In her head, she envisions grabbing the jump rope and storming away from her classmates, yelling, "Next time, I go first. It's my jump rope!"
Aggression is usually impulsive and unplanned. Whether physical (hitting, grabbing, kicking) or verbal (calling names, threatening), aggression is destructive to relationships.
On the other hand, Emma thinks to herself, "It's OK if I don't get to jump today. The kids will like me more if I just let them play and don't ask for a turn."
A passive person feels that their needs are not as important as the needs of others, so they behave in ways that allow their rights to be ignored or violated by others.
Emma also considers lifting the rope suddenly while Madison is jumping, causing Madison to trip and fall. When Madison asks, "What did you do that for?" Emma innocently shrugs and says, "Oh, sorry. It was an accident.”
Passive aggression is a deliberate but masked way of expressing feelings of anger (Long & Whitson, 2016). It involves a variety of behaviors designed to get back at another person without the person recognizing the hidden anger.
In the end, Emma explains to her classmates that she brought the jump rope so that she could play and she would be happy to continue sharing, as long as she is included in the game.
Assertiveness is a style that is used to express anger in a verbal, non-blaming, respectful way. It is an honest form of communication in which a person expresses their wants and needs without hurting or violating the rights of others.
You can help your child make constructive choices when it comes to anger expression by talking about everyday situations as they arise and role-playing various scenarios and outcomes. With regular practice, handling angry feelings effectively can become as routine for your kids as deciding on lunch menus and selecting hairstyles.
Whitson, S. (2022). How to Be Angry: Strategies to Help Kids Express Anger Constructively. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Long, N. & Whitson, S. (2016). The Angry Smile: Effective Strategies to Manage Passive Aggressive Behavior. Hagerstown, MD: The LSCI Institute.