I once observed this interaction between 2 children both of whom had just turned 3. I am paraphrasing it here:
Child 1- I want the baby bear.
Child 2- I am using it.
Child 1 responds by grabbing the baby bear.
Child 2 responds to that by grabbing Child 1's head and hitting it on both sides. I step in (actually, I am intervening the whole time, but they are fast). I make sure Child 1 is OK and then get the children to talk to out.
Child 2- I am sorry. I just wanted the bear and you took it from me. I should have asked for it back.
He knew exactly what to say and do even better than some adults, but in the moment of anger at having his toy taken from him, he could not control himself enough to use that knowledge. There are several biological reasons for that, but the bottom line is that at 3 he has not developed enough impulse control to manage strong emotions. But he will . . . with time
When adults see these types of interactions we tend to respond in fear and anger, because anger scares people, at least, in our culture. We see anger as being bad. But, in fact, anger is a normal and healthy emotion that motivates us to fix problems. Although, even when you know that watching your child go from a sweet angel to an angry demon ready to destroy everything in its path is one of the most challenging things parent and teachers cope with.
But you can turn those outbursts into learning opportunities (maybe not right in the moment) with conversations about ways to handle anger. Books offer great non-judgmental, objective ways to begin these conversations. A common theme in all of these books is accepting your anger and taking the time alone to calm down.
When Katies gets angry she acts in ways that can be hurtful and scary to both herself and others. In her house, they call this bombaloo in Sometimes I'm Bombaloo by Rachel Vail and Yumi Heo. With the help of a little calming down time, she returns to herself. After reading this, make a book with your child about the things that make them angry.
Anger turns Sophie into a volcano in When Sophie was Gets Angry- -Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang. She runs away and eventually calms herself down. Sometimes we need a little escape to get over our anger. Encourage your child to add ideas for how to handle the things that make them to their homemade books.
Anh gets very angry when his Grandfather tells him is it time to stop playing and come eat dinner in Anh's Anger by Gail Silver and Christiane Kromer. Anh's only becomes angrier so this Grandfather sends him to his room to "sit with his anger." Once in his room, he sits with his anger and eventually befriends it. A wonderful book about accepting our emotions and learning how to gain control over them.
Grump, Groan, Growl by Chris Raschka tells of an angry child who can't seem to escape their feelings. He comes to realize that the best way to get rid of a bad, angry mood is to just accept it. Create a space for your child where they can sit with their anger and calm down. Don't use this spot as a punishment, but rather let them choose to go there when they need.
Learning how to handle situations that make us angry is a central task of childhood. Is It Right to Fight? A First Look At Anger by Pat Thomas offers suggestions and ideas for ways to solve problems. This would be a great book to read and then brainstorm with your child solutions to any problems they are having with other children.
Finally, if you are finding yourself getting upset frequently or intensely read "Don't Get So Upset!": Help Young Children Manage Their Feelings by Understanding Your Own by Tamar Jacobson PhD because even adults need help handling their anger sometimes. Designed for child care professionals, it is equally appropriate and helpful to parents.
As always, I hope you enjoy these recommendations. Feel free to share with credit to Words Reflected and Kim Bogren Owen on Facebook, your website, or in your newsletter.
Please add your favorite book or activity about anger in the comments!
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