This is the final post in a series of Monday posts describing The Language of Sunflower. In previous weeks, we talked about expressing Feelings, Modeling Empathy, modeling Respect and Praise.

“All loving parents get angry at their kids; the goal is to express it without hurting or insulting them.”  — Nancy Samalin, author

At Sunflower, children learn that their feelings are important. Many kinds of feelings: joy, excitement, sorrow, disappointment and anger are all taken seriously and acknowledged. Adults help children find appropriate ways to express themselves… and adults are learning better ways to express their emotions, too.

Dealing with anger can seem challenging at first, since an angry child (or sometimes a parent) may want to lash out, to express herself physically or with hurtful words. As with all other feelings that we deal with at Sunflower and throughout our lives, we learn that it’s okay to be angry. But what does that mean?

How do children express their anger?

It’s mine! I want it back!
Olive grabs a shovel away from Max, and now both are angry, facing off over the ditch Max was digging. Max raises his hand… maybe to grab the shovel back or maybe to hit Olive. “She can’t have it! It’s mine!” An adult swoops in to prevent anyone from getting physically hurt, and to acknowledge that Max is already hurting.

“What’s going on, guys? Max, you look really angry,” she says.

Olive is still holding fast to the shovel, while Max stomps his feet and yells, “She took my shovel!”

“And you were still using it,” says the adult, who turns to Olive: “It sounds like Max really wants his shovel back. I know you really wanted that shovel, but it’s not OK to grab from Max. Ask him if you can use it. Say, ‘Max, can I use this shovel?'”

Olive asks, but Max says he wants the shovel back. As Olive reluctantly hands it back, Max drops it on the ground and heads for the swings. All that yelling, and he didn’t want the shovel? Max wanted someone to hear his voice, to acknowledge that Olive had interrupted his work, which made him furious! Now that the air has been cleared, he’s free to move on to something else.

Parents get angry, too
How can we, as parents, help our children to deal with their anger?

It can be hard for us (both children and adults) to deal with a heated situation while we are in the moment; it’s much easier to act on impulse, even when we know that our action is mistaken.

One thing parents can do is to talk with children, in a quiet moment, about being angry. Talk with your child about what types of things make her angry (he took my toy!) and ask how that makes her feel, both physically and emotionally (hot, tense, shaky). Maybe your child’s body is sending her a warning that she’s about to hit or scream. If she can learn to recognize these warning signs, she can try to react in a different way.

These techniques are great for parents, too. We have impulsive reactions, just as our children do, and sometimes we need to take a deep breath. We can tell our children how we are feeling, by saying something like, “I am feeling so angry right now that I need to take some quiet time by myself (or go run around the block or go scream in the bathroom) to help me calm down and cool off. We’ll talk about this later.” Walking away when we’re angry with our children can help keep us from being physically or verbally abusive.

In doing that, in taking a literal step back and doing something to actively release the strong feelings, we model the healthy release of our feelings. Then, we can come back with calm, focused attention to solve the problem together. We don’t need to squelch our anger, because feeling anger is healthy. Rather, we need to get distance from our emotion and to figure out a more constructive way of dealing with whatever has upset us.

What techniques have you used to help your children or yourself express anger in a safer, more constructive way? Share your ideas in a comment.

Jaime, Jennifer, Susan and Victoria contributed to this post.

© Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011
Photos © Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011