When Case Western Reserve University psychologist Diane Tice asked 400 people about how they manage their moods, she discovered that they had the most trouble with anger (Goleman, 1997).
Anger in both children and adults comes from a feeling of being in danger—either physical or emotional. When you’re insulted, treated unfairly, or thwarted in reaching an important goal, your self-esteem or dignity feels threatened (Goleman, 1997), and the body’s first response is to gear up for fight or flight. Then, thanks to the adrenocortical system, the body remains in a state of arousal, ready to convert any new offense into more anger. Even mulling over the original provocative incident—for instance, thinking “That makes me so mad!”—has the effect of escalating anger (Goleman, 1997; Novaco, 1975). This is why venting anger or hitting a pillow doesn’t calm a child down or teach her to regulate her feelings. On the contrary, it can actually increase aggression (Bandura, 1973; Berkowitz, 1993; Mallick and McCandless, 1966).
The world of a child with challenging behavior seems to be filled with threats and potential sources of anger. Because she can’t process social information correctly, she misunderstands others’ actions, and she is frequently rejected by her peers, excluded from activities, or frustrated by the task at hand. When she has a math problem that’s too difficult, she will probably get angry—angry at her parents for making her go to school, angry at the teacher for giving her such a hard problem, angry at her classmates for being able to solve it. To keep this anger from blowing up, it’s important to intervene early in the anger cycle, while it’s still possible to interrupt it. That is precisely what anger management programs teach children to do.
The best time for children to learn is when they’re calm. They aren’t listening when they’re in the middle of an angry outburst; and talking may actually add to their frustration and anger. Instead, map out a strategy ahead of time for situations where tempers flare, such as when a child doesn’t get what she wants; a child is frustrated, hurt, or called a name; or another child takes away a toy.
© ______ 2007, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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