If you have an intense, strong-minded child, you might need help in teaching them tools for anger management. I use the metaphor of boiling water to help kids become aware of their angry or frustrated feelings and how to manage them. It goes like this.
Show your child a pot of water on a stove and notice how the water looks when the dial is at zero; calm and still. Ask them what they look and feel like when they are at zero emotionally: calm, relaxed, patient, open. When you turn the dial up to 4, the water starts getting hot and it begins to bubble, but as soon as you turn it back to zero it quickly cools down. Then ask your daughter what they look like when they are beginning to “bubble”. They will describe feeling tense or tight in their hands or jaw or body along with frustrated or angry thoughts. If they remove themselves and use a self-quieting tool, it doesn’t take long for them to cool off.
When you turn the dial up to 7-8, the water gets steamy, bubbles, and then starts to boil. When you bring the dial back to zero, it takes longer for the water to return to its quiet state. The same goes for their behavior. At a 7-8, kids might start yelling, stomping around, or arguing. It then takes them longer to calm themselves down. Finally, when you turn the burner up to a 10, the water bubbles, and eventually boils over the top of the pot making a mess. The same goes for their behavior. Kids will yell, say hurtful things they don’t really mean, break things, slam doors, or hit people. Some kids might require 30-60 minutes of time to settle down.
Here’s the key: kids need to learn to notice when they are first starting to bubble, and to be willing to remove themselves from the situation and use a technique to quiet themselves down. Their bodies are a wonderful signal flag for letting them know when they are starting to go up the ladder of emotions: tightening body, clenching teeth, becoming agitated. So, body awareness is a crucial first step to preventing full-blown tantrums. Ask permission to come and tell them that you are noticing that they are beginning to bubble and to have them check in to where they are feeling it in their bodies. Then encourage them to have some alone time to quiet themselves down.
The following are tools that help kids and adults to self-calm: coloring, drawing, writing thoughts and feelings in a journal, playing an instrument, reading, writing stories or poems about your feelings, spending time in nature, and repeating a positive mantra. These are healthy ways to express and channel emotions before they build up to overwhelm. It helps if kids and their parents practice these tools on a regular basis, not just at crisis times.
Kids feel empowered by having an awareness of when they are starting down the path of anger or frustration, and to have tools that work for them to get calm. They are no longer at the mercy of their emotions, and any moments of anger become short-lived and manageable.