Teaching Children to Manage Anger

Mormon mother and sonAnger can poison the spirit in a home and damage relationships. A family night lesson on how to deal with anger appropriately can prevent problems and strengthen communication skills within a family. Some material in this lesson is adapted from material found in a forthcoming book called “What We Need to Know and Do” by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen,

Learn how to have a family night.

Read the following story to your family or create your own story to meet the needs of your family. (Do not use a real person or situation.)

It was Erica’s turn to fix dinner for her family. She was just learning to cook and had worked very hard on the meal. A few things weren’t as good as they were when her mother made them, but she felt the meal had turned out fairly well. However, her brother made a joke about the appearance of some of the food and no one else commented on the meal at all. Erica was very upset. Her brother’s comments had hurt her feelings and she was angry with him. She was also upset that no one complimented the food or seemed to know how hard she had worked.

Tell your family Erica has several choices about how to handle the problem. She could yell at her family for the way she felt she had been treated. She could ignore the whole thing. She could cry. She could quietly explain to her family how she felt. Erica thought of each of these choices.

Display a poster with each of those choices. Go through each one and ask these questions:

  1. How would this choice affect her relationship with her family?
  2. How would this choice affect her?
  3. How would it affect others?
  4. Would Jesus choose this option?

After each option has been discussed, ask your family to decide which of the choices Erica ought to make. Share with them your own feelings on the subject.

Hand out slips of papers to family members containing scriptures and quotes. Invite them to take turns reading their slips and discussing them. Following are some choices:

  1. Psalms 37:8—Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
  2. Proverbs 15:18—A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.
  3. Proverbs 16:32He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
  4. There is too much trouble in our homes. There is too much anger, that corrosive, terrible thing called anger. I make a plea with you….Control your tongues. Walk out the door instead of shouting. Get control of yourselves. Love your children. Respect them. No good will come of beating them. It will only make them resentful. Treat them with love, kindness, and respect, and I do not hesitate to promise you that the day will come that you will get on your knees and thank the Lord for his blessings upon you and your family. (Anchorage Alaska Regional Conference, June 18, 1995.) (Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 25.)
  5. In the same way that aggressive, evil thoughts should not be offered a chair and invited to sit down, so anger should never be an overnight guest! (Neal A. Maxwell, If Thou Endure It Well [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 115.)

Help younger children practice appropriate ways to deal with anger. As a family, decide on some methods you consider acceptable for dealing with anger, such as going to another room to calm down and then talking about it, or talking to a doll before talking to the person you’re angry with. Once you’ve selected those methods, give each child a puppet to use for practice. (You can make simple puppets by giving the children small lunch size paper bags and having them decorate them.) Give them a box filled with situations on paper. Let them take turns drawing out papers and acting out the scene with the puppets, and then choosing an ending.

Examples:

Situation 1:

Puppet 1: I worked all day to build this beautiful block tower. I’m really proud of it and I can’t wait until Dad gets home from work so I can show it to him.

Puppet 2: Ha ha! I’m going to knock it over. Wow! That made a lot of noise when it fell.

Situation 2:

Puppet 1: Susan, I need you to stop playing and clean your room now.

Puppet 2: I don’t want to. I’m having fun.

Puppet 1: Grandma is coming soon, and your room needs to be clean. Please do it right now.

Puppet 2: No. I won’t do it.

Puppet 1: Then you’ll have to sit in the time out corner until you’re ready to clean.

Puppet 2: That’s not fair!!!!

For older children and teens, use the  handout found at the bottom of this page from the chapter this lesson is drawn from. Give a complex story to let them practice.

Example: Abigail asked permission to go to her friend’s home. She promised to be home in one hour to watch her younger siblings while her mother attended a craft club meeting. Abigail was not home one hour after her deadline. Her mother called the friend’s home, but got no answer. When Abigail walked through the door, Mother yelled at her. Abigail yelled back that her mother never trusted her and it was only a stupid club meeting anyway. She ran to her room and slammed the door, crying. Mother sank onto the sofa, still angry and upset.

Ask: Based on what you know so far, who was wrong? (The answers might be that Abigail was wrong for being late and not calling, but Mother was also wrong for yelling. Abigail was wrong for responding with anger.)

Continue the story: Mother and Abigail both felt bad about the fight and both prayed alone. After praying, Mother felt calmer and went to Abigail’s room. She explained that when Abigail didn’t come home and there was no answer at the friend’s home, she was frightened that something had happened to Abigail, and that had made her angrier than she might normally have been.

Which principles in the handout are being applied in this segment of the story?

Continue: Abigail hadn’t realized her mother was frightened. This helped her to understand her mother’s reaction, and to see why it was important to call. But Abigail had her own explanation. When she got to her friend’s home, her friend was crying. She had just learned her parents were getting a divorce. Both parents had gone to work, and Abigail was alone. The girls went for a long walk so the friend could talk. Abigail had been so focused on her friend, she had forgotten her promise.

Now that both of them understood the other person’s feelings and experiences, they weren’t angry anymore. Both of them apologized, and then Abigail promised to call right away if she found herself in a situation where she might be late and also to call if she was going someplace other than where she said she’s be. Mother promised to ask for information at the beginning in the future. Then they worked together on ways they could help the friend.

Ask your family to find all the principles applied from the handout and to show how a bad situation had been resolved. How could each have behaved in the beginning so the argument would have been prevented? What should Mother have said when Abigail first came home? How could Abigail have responded differently to her mother’s anger?

The authors of this chapter suggest placing reminders in the home that can help family members avoid anger or respond appropriately. Invite family members to make some reminders and choose locations to display them.

Handout:

1.  Understanding and communication often dispel anger

  • Get the facts—Take time to get the facts before acting. Strength of character is the ability to hold off until all the facts are in.
  • Seek perspective—Look at things first from a higher perspective, from multiple points of view—like the Savior Jesus Christ would do, or like a general would do in the heat of battle. Such behavior is an admirable display of leadership.
  • Talk understanding—If you feel you are on the verge of anger, use language such as “Let me see if I understand what you are saying (doing).” “Can you help me to understand your position on this?” “Do I understand correctly? Are you saying….?” Often such an approach will dispel misperception and save you from acting foolishly.
  • Cultivate empathy—True communication involves empathy. You share others’ feelings, emotions, and thoughts. This brings understanding, which then can dispel anger because you understand.
  • Be quick to forgive—“Oh dear, they weren’t at their best.” “They didn’t see me or I’m sure they wouldn’t have done that.” “ I’m so sorry for them. They must not have understood.”
  • Anger is your problem—We seek to blame others for our response to the situation.

 

2.  Control your environment and you control your anger.

  • Find a better moment—Anger often occurs when we are tired, frustrated, or have had negative experiences. Wait for a better moment to raise issues with loved ones and associates.
  • Take time—The old adage of counting to ten can often diffuse the situation.
  • Pray—Pray for strength to overcome your expressions of contention and anger in the environments that often affect you—athletic contests, competitive situations, driving your car, and the like.
  • Reminders—Use little signs or special things that remind you to be slow to anger and—even better—that remind you to choose not to be angry at all.
  • Cultivate humor—We all admire those who can diffuse a tense situation through the skillful use of humor, which often brings disagreeing parties together long enough to gain needed perspective. “Humor is laughing in spite of it all.” —Wilhelm Busch 

 

3. Anger may have survival roots, but it is the wrong form of expression.

  • Survival reflex—It is good to respond when we discover that our survival is at risk, that the innocent are being abused, or that wholesome principles are being violated. However, there is correct way to respond—devoid of anger and abuse.
  • The choice is ours—If we sense anger within ourselves, we know that we face a choice of how to express our concerns—whether through physical violence or moral leadership, retribution or peace-making, instant retaliation or the search for long-term solutions. Anger is the tripwire for taking charge in purposeful ways.
  • Maximum good—Anger is more often to be observed in selfish people. Therefore, seek solutions that lead to the maximum good for the most people.

 

4.  There are rewards for controlling anger.

  • Balance—Anger is an expression of imbalance. Learning to control anger will promote greater well-being and balance—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Understanding that anger is a cause of physical malaise, and has an adverse effect on your physical health, is motivation enough to find a better way.
  • Unity—To control your anger will promote togetherness, unity, teamwork, and family solidarity.
  • Appeal—To control your anger will make you more attractive to others and promote your leadership.

 

5. If you recognize you have a lingering problem dealing with anger, there are special things you can do to overcome it.

  • Recognition—Just recognizing the problem almost always shows positive results. Once you recognize it, there are always ways to overcome your feelings or expressions of anger.
  • Put in a “good” word—In expressing anger, you could use the statement: “I feel (upset, frustrated, angry, offended, etc.) concerning the situation.” This brings anger to a “feeling” level to be resolved, rather than being left as an explosive verbal or physical reaction.
  • Get informed—Additional useful information is available from books, tapes, colleagues, and the Internet.
  • Seek counseling—If the anger persists, seek professional guidance.
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