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Classes Teach Kids How to Cope with Anger



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Your 8-year-old constantly goes off like a kettle of boiling water. And you've tried everything from timeout to talk-it-out. But nothing seems to work.

How about classes in anger management? It's never too early to teach kids how to deal with being mad. The South Orange County Family Resource Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., offers children 6 to 11 years old and their parents a chance to learn in four weekly sessions.

"Managing anger is very basic, yet it's not taught as part of the body of knowledge handed from parent to child," said Alexa Foster, clinical psychologist, who leads the class with business partner Lynn Gaylord, a marriage and family therapist.

The classes were developed precisely because the community was asking for them, said Terry Shearman, director of the resource center. They were an offshoot of the demand for anger-management classes for parents and teens. The first offering for kids sold out quickly and was one of the most popular classes for the center, Shearman said. The next group of classes begins in March, but enrollment opened this month.

Parents attend all of the 1 1/2-hour sessions, while the kids attend the second and fourth sessions. "We're teaching parents the techniques so they can reinforce what the kids learn," Foster said. "The parents are the primary educators on anger management."

During the classes, it's not uncommon for parents to find themselves evaluating their own ways of coping with stress and when they display anger.

"The parents, especially the dads, seem to learn a lot about themselves," Foster said. "They say, 'My kids are imitating me and how I handle my stress.' "

One of the most valuable lessons parents can learn is that children observe and listen, even when they appear not to be paying attention or to be affected.

The classes borrow concepts from driver's ed for teaching coping skills, Gaylord said. "We teach them that they need to check for three lights when they're in a situation that could make them angry. First is the red light, which means stop, check your engine. We teach them relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. We show them that when we're about to get angry, the engine is runing too fast, so we need to slow down and stop.

"At the yellow light, they think about their choices on reacting and feeling. Then there's the green light; they go and do the best with their choice."

At the end of the fourth session, they receive their "license" in a graduation ceremony.

Here, Foster and Gaylord share some tips on how to help kids manage anger:

-Learn to manage your own stress and nurture yourself. Think of instructions to use oxygen during an emergency on a plane. You need to give yourself oxygen first before you can help your child.

-Model anger management. Use situations in which you've controlled your anger as teaching moments.

-Avoid charging a negative situation with too much energy. Yelling, screaming, devoting energy and intensity to a situation in which a child is acting out magnifies that situation. Address your child in a matter-of-fact tone. Keep timeouts boring and brief.

-Conversely, be vigilant toward and reward good behavior. When a child is behaving properly or exerting effort not to be angry, praise that behavior. Reward even small actions because reinforcing these will lead to bigger actions.

-Talk with your children about how to handle emotions. Be their coach. Everyone gets mad, but it's the way one handles it that's different. Encourage them to express their feelings. Help them find out what it is about a situation that makes them angry. Share with them how you've coped when you've been faced with a situation that made you angry.

-Take a break when the situation is explosive. Wait until your child has calmed down or wait for another opportunity when they're not upset to talk things over.

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(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@ocregister.com.)

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(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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