It wasn’t until I was well past my 30th birthday that I was confronted with the fact that I didn’t know how to be angry. Well, I certainly knew how to feel angry, but I didn’t know how to express it in a healthy way.
I remember when someone asked me if I ever got angry and I replied, “Of course I do.” And then she said, “How do you express it?” And the silence stretched on for far too long. I think I blinked a lot trying desperately to spin my brain into finding an answer. It wasn’t even that I was looking to find the “right” answer, I was just looking for any answer. Finally I had to admit, “I have no idea.”
And thus began the research phase into how one expresses anger in a healthy manner. I learned about removing myself from the situation. I learned about counting to 10. I learned about screaming into a pillow or punching a cushion. I learned about writing out my anger. I learned about endorphins and exercise. I learned about expressing my anger without the aid of a projectile.
And as I was doing this research, I realized that these were lessons I not only needed to internalize, but I could teach my kids as well. Having a six-year-old and two four-year-olds means I am living in the valley of tantrums. They’re great kids, but their emotions are overwhelming and they don’t know how to handle them all the time. They want what they want when they want it which is now. So, what better time to teach a child how to be angry?
No surprise, I was able to share my newly-learned lessons almost immediately. My six-year-old decided she was unhappy at receiving the Minnie Mouse bowl for dessert when she really wanted the Daisy Duck bowl. Yes, it apparently does make a difference. So, her solution to expressing her displeasure was to throw a ceramic spoon across the floor shattering it into bits.
Now, I have to add that my children are not typically throwers. But apparently she felt this case warranted it. We had her clean up the spoon, throw it away and then I sent her to her room to calm down. After five minutes or so, which allowed me to calm down as well, I went into her room and we had a little chat.
I asked her whether she thought her behavior was appropriate. She said no. I asked her whether she could’ve handled it differently. She said yes. And then we discussed different ways to handle situations like this where we don’t get our way. I then went on to talk about being angry and told her that it was perfectly fine for her to be angry and that she can certainly be angry at me as well. But then I added that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to express that anger.
So, we talked about everything I had just learned and came up with a good list of options.
Going to her room for some quiet time to get some separation.
Counting to 10 or 20.
Stomping around in her room and saying “I am angry!”
Screaming into a pillow.
Punching the couch cushion.
Writing or drawing her anger.
I even got to demonstrate stomping and yelling, which she found quite amusing.
On another occasion, a certain four-year-old in our house took some food without asking and when I removed it from her, I got a front-row seat for a delightfully epic meltdown. I remained calm and sent her to her room for some quite time.
When I came in a few minutes later, I went through the same discussion I had with my six-year-old. We discussed what was appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior. We discussed other ways she could have handled it. And then we went through our new list of appropriate ways to be angry.
By the end of it she was curled up on the bed in hysterical giggles over my demonstrations of stomping and yelling. I have no idea why my stomping around yelling “I am angry!” is so hilarious. But at least it helped to defuse the situation.
This isn’t to say that all of these lessons have now been embraced and will be utilized 100% going forward - by any of us. But, I think this could help us all learn that anger is a real, sometimes everyday, emotion that we all have. And it’s okay to feel angry and it’s okay to express anger, in appropriate ways.
This parenting gig is hard. So, any little tips and tricks that can help ease the pain, helps all of us. Now apparently I need to go practice my stomping techniques to make them less hilarious..