In a previous post, I discussed anger and how it interacts with the brain. If kids are not tuned in to anger, its cause, and their choices, then anger can come out sideways. This is what happens when kids “flip their lid” or allow the reptilian brain to take charge over the more modern brain. Two common responses when the reptilian brain is in charge are:
Seeking revenge: This is the response when kids think someone else should pay the price for their anger.
- She made me look ridiculous in front of the class. I’m going to embarrass her next time.
- He made me miss my shot during the game. I’m going to give him a hard time at practice.
Blaming others: This is the response when kids deliberately make someone else angry so they can experience some relief from their own anger:
- It’s her fault that I’m in trouble: I’m going to spread rumors about her to her friends.
- It’s not my fault we lost the game. I’m going to point out all the mistakes that he made during the game, so everyone blames him.
Let it Go or Solve the Problem?
Teaching kids healthy and appropriate ways to handle anger is key. How we decide to handle anger differs from person to person and situation to situation. A child who has experienced lots of challenging and threatening situations, may develop a tough angry demeanor as a signal to others to stay away and as a personal signal that they always need to be on guard. Another child with a similar history, may avoid confrontation and take a victim role.
Anytime someone is angry they have two choices.
- Choice #1: They can decide that the situation does not warrant the energy for additional involvement and let it go. In other words, it is not necessary to participate in every conflict that they are invited to.
- Choice #2: An alternative choice is that the situation warrants taking the time to understand or solve the problem. This may mean talking it over with someone. It may mean confronting someone about something that is unfair or intrusive.
Obviously, a child must have some maturity and some distance from the immediate response of anger to even consider the outcome of various approaches, but I think this is where strategies such as counting to ten and relaxation/breathing techniques can provide some sense of calm. Once a child has calmed down, time can be devoted to deciding whether they should let it go or take time to solve the problem. This is not an easy choice. There are no doubt advantages and disadvantages of either. In addition, for some of us, letting it go is easy but confronting someone else is hard. For other individuals, confronting someone is easy… but letting go of something can be hard. There is not one perfect solution that fits every situation.
Here are some good questions to ask to clarify the best response:
How much control do I have over the situation?
What is the attitude or approach of the other people involved?
How much time and energy will I need to invest in solving the problem?
What are the likely consequences of letting it go?
What are the likely consequences of taking a more proactive and involved approach?
What is the right thing to do?
What is the wise thing to do?
What would I like to see happen?
What could I do that would help?
What can I feel good about doing, especially when I look back on this situation in the future?
What does my heart tell me to do?
Identifying the root of an angry response and clarifying the best response is a process that takes time. But the benefits of teaching kids these skills are that they will have resources for handling anger and other negative emotions all throughout their lives.