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When my son was 5 sometimes it felt like his temper was in charge of our household. Frustration would cause him to scream and get overwhelmed and destructive. This in turn would spur my own temper. It felt like one or both of us were angry all the time.
I knew we needed more tools to help us handle frustration, but trying to implement those tools when we were angry never worked. I realized after reading The Whole Brain Child that doing this training while calm is the only way we’ll really make progress and be able to use these skills in moments of frustration.
3 Skills to Teach While Calm
My “unpeaceful” child was who inspired me to learn about handling anger better, but ALL of us can benefit from these skills.
Learn your child’s peace language
We did an exercise where we talked about what peace looks, feels, smells, sounds and tastes like. You can do this too.
- Make a list of what helps each person feel peaceful so they have something to refer to when they’re angry or out of sorts. (Draw pictures for younger kids.)
- Hang the list somewhere they can easily see it.
We learned that in our house, peace tastes like delicious cake. To one of my boys peace looks like his fish swimming around the tank and feels like being under a blanket when it’s raining. To my eldest boy peace feels like being alone – I didn’t know that about him. I don’t think I would have encouraged him to hide out on his bed, but now I know that when he says he wants to have time alone, he is being proactive about finding peace for himself.
Once I learned more about my kids “peace languages” I could better understand their needs and what resonates for them for calming down.
Breathing and Meditation
Practice breathing and meditation before difficulties strike and you will ALL be better prepared to deal with anger and upheaval. These are the sorts of skills your child can take out into the world and use when they are confronted with frustration at school or with friends.
A few ways to teach breathing and meditation:
- Do a Kids Yoga Video or book together.
- Teach how to count to ten when you feel like exploding. Demonstrate this yourself when angry.
- Practice taking deep breaths together, again demonstrate yourself when angry.
- Meditation Jar – Make your own sparkly calm down jar to watch and tell your child they can get it whenever they want to relax.
- Put up your fingers and ask your child to “Blow out the birthday candles!”
- Teach how to blow bubbles to get calm with a bubble wand or straw in water with a bit of dish soap.
A good laugh helps us ALL calm down. In our conversations about peaceful breathing my boys told me they like to “breathe in and think of delicious cake and fart out the anger.” “Pbbbttttt” they do a raspberry with their lips to demonstrate. Of course.
So we practiced, “I am thinking of delicious cake.” ::big breath in:: “Pbbttttt, bye bye angry feelings!”
Model ways to deal with frustration
We get plenty of moments to model how to react to anger or frustration, we can use these daily moments to talk out what we’re thinking while we move from frustration to action.
- You might say, “Oh shoot! That’s not what I wanted to happen!” or “Bummer, I was really looking forward to that!”
- Let them see you move into solution mode “Ok, guess I have to change plans”
- Let them see you settle yourself and re-start your task.
If we never verbalize what’s going on in the small-but-annoying moments, our kids may get the idea that frustration only happens for adults in those BIG, super frustrating moments when we can’t help ourselves from “modeling how we deal with frustration.” Instead we can give examples more regularly, and for smaller upsets too, so that our children can see how to hit an obstacle and then keep going.
Give tools for calming down and then let them practice.
Practice lots while calm, yes, but another critical piece of learning to handle anger and frustration is letting kids have chances to be frustrated. Allowing them to feel disappointment and frustration over little things and acknowledging that it is a part of life but you have confidence that they can handle it, gives them practice for the bigger obstacles they will confront. This way they build resilience and an ability to problem solve when they make mistakes.
It all takes a lot of practice and we’re far from perfect, but ultimately I’m glad I’ve had the experience of dealing with a child who has such strong emotions. I don’t think I could have a stronger motivator for learning to handle my own emotions better, and each step I take in handling things well is a step that increases connection in my whole family.
Find lots more on dealing with the powerful emotion of anger here:
What helps you or your kids deal with frustration? Do you practice while you’re calm?