If there is one thing that is a constant within the walls of my therapy office it’s that emotions are not to be escaped. You can stuff your feelings down as much as you want, but they will always come back to you in one way or another. Until you choose to confront and process those feelings, you are simply filing unfinished business away for a later date.
That proverbial snowball that people love to reference almost always begins as something small. It’s the stuffing and stifling that causes it to gain momentum.
Feelings are meant to be processed. Feelings are meant to be confronted.
And yet, well-meaning parents everywhere teach their children to stuff their feelings almost every day.
Often, it’s done in an attempt to fix something, to save a child from anger or sadness, or to avoid a dreaded temper tantrum.
It’s ok; I can fix it.
It’s no big deal.
We do it to protect them. We do it to protect us. We do it for a lot of reasons, most of them good.
But we need to stop doing it.
Children need to learn healthy ways to express their emotions.
Young children experience a range of emotions each day, and often they seem to jump from one to the next with little warning. While all emotions are healthy and equally important, anger is the one that seems to be the most upsetting. No one wants their child to feel angry, particularly when the triggers seem meaningless. But it does exist and it is perfectly normal, it’s what kids choose to do with it that matters the most.
Hitting, yelling at others, and pushing are not healthy ways to express anger. Healthier options exist; we just have to model them.
Below are some tips for helping your kids “get their mads out” (Riley):
1. Let your cries out: Temper tantrums are exhausting, frustrating, and almost always happen at the worst possible time. But they are so very necessary for little ones. A temper tantrum, or meltdown (a rose by any other name), is merely a child’s way of expressing all of those pent up emotions. It’s a child’s way of saying, “I’ve had enough!” In our house we have a saying: When the going gets tough you just have to let your cries out. And that’s always ok, even if it’s in the middle of Target.
2. Get Physical: With pent up anger comes pent up tension. Have you ever noticed how kids stiffen up when they’re not getting their way and are ready to blow? They are holding their tension in and need to let it out. Try one of these: A round of applause. The act of clapping their hands together relieves tension while getting some energy out. Stomp your feet. Kids love to stomp their feet, but it’s rarely considered appropriate. Have them stomp their feet around the room and jump up and down. Pound on clay or Play Doh. If you like to bake, you already know how good it feels do knead dough or roll out cookies. Anger often gets caught in our hands, as we clench our fists and tighten our arm muscles. Pounding on or kneading clay or Play Doh can help kids relieve that tension while shifting their attention.
3. Color it: You know what’s fun, even for adults? Scribbling. Just taking a red, angry marker and scribbling without care. Give your child a red marker and a white piece of paper and ask her to make the reddest, angriest picture she can make. Cheer her on as she lets that red out, and ask her to identify what made her feel so angry while she scribbles it out.
4. Yell it out: Taking your anger out on someone else by yelling is not healthy or appropriate, but yelling is not such a bad thing. Yelling gets those angry feelings out and relieves some tension along the way. Yelling, when done in a healthy way, can be a good thing. Have your child yell into a pillow or set a timer and give him one minute to yell as loud as possible in the bathroom. Encourage your child to yell out his feelings in a safe place instead of yelling at someone else.
5. The Paper Towel Game: There’s no rule that states that processing anger has to be an angry experience. Try this little game and watch your child let her anger out while enjoying the process. Note: Riley and Liam were not actually angry during the making of this video. Riley really, really wanted you to know that. They did, however, enjoy the game and agreed that it’s worth trying the next time they are upset.
When you find a strategy that works for you, help your child identify her triggers while she lets her feelings out. It won’t be long before she will be able to let her feelings out independently.
How do you encourage healthy expression of anger?