Friday, August 15, 2008

Angry Kids - Angry Schools: What Can Be Done?

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How to Help Kids Resolve Anger

As I write this, I am putting the finishing touches on a new program: "Anger Solutions for Kids", which will be launched in Port Colborne this fall.

Why? Because over the last 12 months or so, I have been moved and troubled by the rash of schoolyard violence taking place in playgrounds across Ontario, Canada, and indeed, the world. Take for example, the story from last winter of the 12 year old girl who puched an 11 year old boy in the chest after he defended his "girlfriend" to her. The boy, suffering from a congenital heart disease, died from the blow. With simple conflict/anger resolution skills in place for both children, this tragedy might have been avoided.

Over recent days, I have noticed several articles addressing the issue of anger in children. In this article, I'd like to share snippets of these pieces, and add the Anger Solutions philosophy into the mix. James Lehman, famed MSW and author of the Total Transformation Program writes, "The next time your child acts out, instead of asking him why he did it, try saying, “Let’s look at what you do when you get angry.” That way, you’re teaching him that he’s angry and getting him to look at what he’s doing with the anger. The primary goal of behavioral change is to get people to do something different when they’re upset, angry or afraid. The next step is to ask, “The next time this happens, what can you do differently?” Don’t try to tell him, “You shouldn’t feel this way,” or “Those feelings aren’t valid.” Just say, “The next time you feel this way, what can you do differently?” It’s a very different process than the one that begins with “Why do you feel that way?” or “Why did you do that?” When you ask those questions, you’re going to get all the excuses and justifications which are so detrimental to actual problem-solving."

I must agree with James in this respect. Too often children are grounded to their rooms by well-meaning parents, with the instructions to "think about what they have done." Rather, it would be much more effective and educational for the child to be asked to "think about what they could have done differently." Children need to be taught how to resolve their emotions - all emotions, positive and negative. Parents and Educators must begin to make the distinction between emotion and behaviour. Children can be taught that it is ok to feel angry, but their choices of how to express it may sometimes be poor ones. We can then teach them how to make better choices. The Anger Solutions program offers simple, practical ways to work through decision making - so simple a child as young as 6 can understand it.

Another anonymous writer on the web has some intersting but faulty concepts about childhood anger. He writes, "As early as birth and infancy, children use their frustration or anger (by screaming or crying) to get the proper attention from adults since they can not speak. Thus we deduce that it is an emotion that comes naturally to everybody. The key however, is to learn to control and manage it right from the beginning. Even though the emotion comes naturally, the ability to manage it well is really an art and is learnt through a very long time.If you notice, only children around an year display the ability to pretend emotions like fear, happiness, sadness. Meaning that they are not really feeling them but only pretending them as in a game. Which shows that it is fruitful to teach anger management only once the child is an year old and not before that."

I have to say that this does not make much sense. If emotion comes naturally, then how is it that one-year-olds can only pretend emotions? When an infant cries, that is because crying is the only tool the child has with which to communicate! It is true that emotions come naturally, but to say that a child uses frustration and anger is misleading. The child uses the only voice he has to express himself.

Now - if we follow that notion through early development, if the only voice the child uses is screaming and crying - AND that is the only voice that is rewarded, the child will continue to use that mode of communication. However, we know that children will learn how to communicate using language, body-talk, tone of voice, etc. from the examples around them. I do not believe it is possible to teach a one-year old "anger management". However, I do believe that we as parents can begin instilling proper values and concepts into a child as s/he develops so that when s/he is ready for learning emotionality (or for developing emotional intelligence), s/he will be prepared to incorporate appropriate problem solving and anger resolution behaviours.

This writer also mentions that, "When a toddler learns to walk, he wants to explore the whole world and we adults keep him from doing this. It could be the first example of frustrating the child and it is from right here that we need to teach him to control his anger and learn to behave in a good manner instead of throwing a fit." Here again I must disagree. Parenting is not designed to "frustrate" a child, nor is setting boundaries for a child's safety. Firm but loving parenting can and will be perceived as such, and should not be blamed for unruly behaviour in children. My second point of contention here is the notion that we must teach children to control their anger - I do not believe in anger control, anymore than I believe in "happiness control", or "love control". The notion is ridiculous! Anger as an emotion is just that - an emotion. Teaching children to make right choices about how to express anger is, in my opinion, the only way to go.

Anger Solutions for Kids will begin running in Port Colborne the first week of October. Children aged 9-12 are welcome to attend. There is a minimal fee associated with this program.

If you would like to learn more about Anger Solutions for Kids, please visit for details.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Interview on Blog Talk Radio!

View Julie Christiansen's profile on LinkedIn Listen to Julie's Interview with Cathy Holloway Hill, Host of Living by Design - Visit to hear the archived interview, or tune in tonight at 6:00 p.m. (EST) to hear the interview LIVE!