Teaching Assertive Anger Expression to Kids

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From the cries of infancy, to the tantrums of toddlerhood, and hopefully the self-control of school-age years, developing the delicate art of anger expression is a process for children. Some little ones seem to be born with a cool head while others show their hot-tempers right from birth. No matter what your child’s temperament, all people have choices when it comes to handling angry feelings. Parents play the crucial role in helping their children make healthy choices when it comes to anger expression. Consider this scenario followed by these four basic options Ty has for expressing his anger to his teacher.

Ty brings his Nintendo DSi to school for the “Game Day” that is scheduled to begin after lunch.  While fumbling through his backpack for his math book, he sets the DSi on his desk so that it is out of his way. Jason takes the it and starts playing. Before Ty even notices, Mr. Carpenter walks over to Jason, takes the DSe.  He then announces that since handheld video games are not permitted in school, he will be holding on to it for the rest of the week. Ty tries to explain what happened and that the DSi belongs to him, but Mr. Carpenter refuses to listen.

Passive

Ty is the kind of kid who doesn’t like to make waves—especially in front of a class of his peers. At first, he thinks to himself, “It’s okay if I don’t get to play today. I shouldn’t have put the Dsi on my desk. If I blame Jason for taking it, he won’t want to be my friend and the other kids might call me a tattletale.”

A passive person believes that his needs are not as important as the needs of others.  Therefore, he behaves in ways that allow his rights to be ignored or violated by others.

Aggressive

Ty’s next instinct is to raise his voice and make Mr. Carpenter listen. In his head, Ty envisions shouting, “That’s my DSi and I’m allowed to have it for Game Day.  Give it back to me now!” For good measure, Ty even shoves his desk toward Mr. Carpenter.

Aggressive acts are most often impulsive and unplanned. Whether physical (hitting, grabbing, kicking) or verbal (calling names, threatening), aggression seeks to hurt or destroy and is destructive to relationships.

Passive Aggressive

Ty calculates that in the moment, there is nothing he can do about his Dsi, but starts planning how he can get back at both Jason and Mr. Carpenter. He imagines that when class is over, he’ll “accidentally” knock Mr. Carpenter’s computer to the floor. He schemes about using MySpace to spread a rumor about Jason around the school.

Passive aggressive behavior is a deliberate and masked way of expressing feelings of anger. It involves a variety of behaviors designed to get back at another person without the person recognizing the hidden anger.

Assertive

When all the anger-fueled instincts are waited out, Ty is able to let his cool head prevail and choose an assertive response to the situation. When Math is over, he approaches Mr. Carpenter, saying, “I’m sorry for the confusion in class. I set my DSi on my desk while I was looking for my math book and Jason grabbed it without my knowing. I brought the it for Game Day. May I please have it back?”

Even more importantly, Ty will need to use assertive behaviors to establish boundaries with Jason.  For most kids, choosing assertiveness with peers is even more of a challenge than controlling their angry feelings with adults. Ty says, “It made me mad when you took my DSi, because you didn’t ask for it.  I ended up losing my game. Next time, I want you to ask me before you take anything off my desk. I don’t want you to touch my stuff without asking.”

Assertive communication is used to express anger in a verbal, non-blaming, respectful way. It is an honest form of communication in which a person expresses their wants and needs without hurting or violating the rights of others.

Though Ty cannot fully control the outcome of the situation, he can influence it through his measured responses to Mr. Carpenter and Jason. By choosing to be assertive, rather than passive, aggressive, or passive aggressive, Ty demonstrates control over his emotions. At the same time, he establishes that he is not one to be walked all over, to fly off the handle, or to seek revenge.

Kids experience angry feelings every day, both in school, with their peers, and at home. By talking through the various scenarios and possible outcomes and by role-playing effective word choices, parents can help their kids make a habit of constructive choices when it comes to anger expression.

By Signe Whitson, LSW.  Signe brings sound, uncomplicated advice to parents in dealing with complicated situations.  Her advice and blog on passive aggressive behavior is a great resource.  She is brought to you by one of our partner,  My Baby Clothes Boutique.  Check them out next time you have to find a baby gift or simply shop for your baby.  You won't be disappointed in their selection of baby clothes and baby accessories.
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