Managing Children's Anger About Divorce or Separation (page 2)

By — National Association of Social Workers
Updated on May 7, 2014

Encourage Feeling Expression Without Words

Children often do not know the words to attach to the feelings they are experiencing. Use words that help them identify feelings are: sad, frustrated, upset, scared, mad. Sometimes, using drawings or illustrations of facial expressions of feelings will help. Make sure they have lots of opportunities for physical activity. This can release tension and help them better able to handle stressful situations. Art activities that do not require a specific product are very effective ways to express emotion. This means that coloring books or a craft project that is supposed to look a certain way, while they may be fun, will not produce expression. Using clay or glue with small, odd pieces of wood, paint and drawing with markers on blank paper will do a better job. Finger painting, with special paints or with pudding on a cookie sheet is fun and releases feelings as well. While parents may be tempted to ask the child what the object they have created is, it is better to discuss the feelings that when into the project or what the project may represent. Many children will simply make something up in order to have an answer for you. You might comment, “Tell me about your drawing. It looks like you worked hard on it.” Some of these methods can be used to handle angry, unacceptable behavior.

Limit Out of Bounds Angry Behavior

None of this is meant to excuse behavior that is out of bounds. Swearing, biting, hitting, breaking things, screaming are not acceptable. Parents can say, “I understand you’re angry, but this is not behavior I will tolerate. I want to talk to you about how you’re feeling, but you need to go to your room to cool off until you can talk more calmly.” Then make sure to seek him out to ask if he wants to talk about the problem afterwards. Even if he doesn’t, the door is open for future discussions and validated that his feelings are important.

Avoid the Blame Trap

It is commonplace for the child to act up for the parent with whom he feels most secure. Usually, this translates into good behavior with the parent who is gone, since he may not be sure it is safe to show negative feelings to someone who could leave him so easily. The sense of blame that may result only serves to distract the parent from the real problem of helping the child cope with change. In talking with the other parent about the child’s anger problems, develop a plan that both will follow to help the child express and manage the feelings in appropriate ways.

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