One of the most common concerns I hear from parents is how do I teach my child about anger, what it is, and how to manage it. I speak from experience, it can be challenging to know how to respond when your child is feeling angry, especially if their anger seems to come out of nowhere or if it leads to tantrums or other challenging behavior.
To start, it’s important to understand that anger is a normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Children, especially young children, may have a hard time expressing their feelings in words, and may use angry behavior as a way to communicate their frustration or disappointment.
I like to explain anger using metaphors. Needing a metaphor for your kids, to explain anger? Here are my favorite 4 that I use!
- Think of the cycle of anger like a storm. When we feel triggered, it’s like a little cloud appears on the horizon. As we start to feel angrier, the cloud gets bigger and bigger, until it becomes a big thunderstorm. During the escalation stage, it’s like a thunderstorm is raging, with lots of lightning and thunder. We might feel like we’re caught in the middle of the storm, with all of our angry thoughts and feelings swirling around us. When we reach the peak of our anger, it’s like the storm is at its strongest point. We might feel like we’re in the eye of the hurricane, with all of our emotions swirling around us and making it hard to see clearly. Finally, during the resolution stage, it’s like the storm starts to calm down. The lightning and thunder stop, and we can see the sun starting to peek out from behind the clouds. We might start to feel calmer and like we can think more clearly, just like how the air feels fresher and clearer after a storm has passed. Remember, just like how storms pass and the sun eventually comes out, our angry feelings will also pass. It’s important to learn how to ride out the storm of our emotions and use coping skills to help us feel better.
- Using the ocean theme, another related metaphor is using waves. Sometimes when we get angry, it’s like a big wave in the ocean. The wave starts out small, like when we first start to feel upset. But then it gets bigger and bigger until it crashes down, like when we reach the peak of our anger and might yell or hit something. But just like waves in the ocean, our anger eventually starts to calm down. The water becomes still again, just like we start to feel calmer after we’ve been angry for a while. And just like we can ride a wave in the ocean, we can learn to ride our anger and use strategies like deep breathing or talking to someone we trust to help us stay safe and calm.
- One more approach is to use a thermometer. Use a “feelings thermometer” to help your child identify and label their emotions. You can draw a simple thermometer with different colors or words that correspond to different feelings, such as happy, frustrated, angry, or sad. When your child is feeling upset, you can ask them to point to the spot on the thermometer that matches how they’re feeling, and then work together to come up with a plan to manage their emotions.
- Another option is similar to a balloon
Here’s how the conversation goes. Have you ever felt really angry before? When we get angry, it can feel like we’re in a cycle that keeps going round and round, kind of like a merry-go-round at a playground. The cycle of anger usually starts with something called a trigger. A trigger is something that happens that makes us feel upset or frustrated, like when someone takes a toy we were playing with or when we have to stop doing something fun. When we feel triggered, we start to feel angry. Next comes the escalation stage. This is when our anger starts to get bigger and bigger, kind of like blowing up a balloon. We might start to feel really hot and like we want to yell or hit something. Sometimes our hearts might start to beat really fast or we might feel like we can’t breathe very well. After the escalation stage, we reach the peak of our anger. This is when we feel the angriest and might do or say things we don’t really mean. It’s like the balloon has gotten so big that it’s about to burst. Finally, we reach the resolution stage. This is when our anger starts to go down, like letting the air out of a balloon. We might start to feel calmer and like we can think more clearly. This is a good time to take deep breaths, talk to someone we trust, or use other coping skills to help us feel better.
It’s important for parents to remember that it’s okay to feel angry sometimes and that children need support and guidance to learn how to express their feelings in a healthy way. By using metaphors or other tools to help explain anger to your child, you can open up a dialogue and work together to find strategies that work for your family, which can lead to a happier and healthier family dynamic. Explaining anger requires a combination of normalization, emotional regulation, identifying triggers, and encouraging communication. At the end of the day, we want our kids to remember, it’s okay to feel angry sometimes, but it’s important to learn how to manage our anger so we don’t hurt ourselves or others.