“In the days that follow, I discover that anger is easier to handle than grief.”
~ Emily Griffin, Heart of the Matter
” Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”
– Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)
I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Counseling in 1998 and was eager to begin my first job as a school counselor in an elementary school. It was an exciting time in my life- my first real job and my own apartment! I anticipated using all of the skills I learned in graduate school. I quickly realized that my new job was not for a “twenty something” out of school. But, for some reason, they hired me and thought I was up for the challenge. I recall the school psychologist saying to me, “Trial by fire!” I did not understand what she meant until the first few days into my new job.
One particular morning, I was called to a second grade classroom to help a student. I will call him “Bobby” instead of using his real name. The second grade boy had flipped over his desk and chair in anger. I was able to calm Bobby down and he walked with me to my office. After getting to know his life, I realized that this anger was just a symptom of another issue. A deep sadness. Multiple losses. This was a child hurting and he did not know how to deal with the losses in his life. Bobby did not have anyone to help him deal with his pain.
There were other children like “Bobby” in the school. Sometimes I would arrive at my office in the morning to have several kids waiting to speak to me. Often they would just walk up to me in the hallway and begin talking about issues going on in their lives. They just needed an adult to listen. I could not change their circumstances in their lives, but I could listen.
After a loss, you may observe a child displaying anger at school and home. The child may take out anger on close family members. Anger is a normal reaction after a loss and is considered one of the 5 stages of grief, according to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler- Ross. She was a Swiss American psychiatrist that wrote a ground breaking book on death and dying.
*If you are concerned about your child hurting himself or another person, then you need to contact the school counselor or pediatrician. The school counselor or pediatrician will guide you in seeking the right services.
I want to share an activity that I have used with individual students and support groups. A parent or guardian could also use this activity at home. It involves creating an Anger Rules Poster for the child to display in his or her room.
1. A piece of large poster paper
Steps: The parent or guardian may need to write for the younger child. The child or parent writes on the top:
The Anger Rules
1. Do not hurt others
2. Do not hurt yourself
3. Do not destroy property
4. DO Talk About It!
Have a discussion what each rule means and have the child list a few people that he or she can talk to about the angry feelings. It is important to explain that it is OKAY to feel angry and that everyone feels angry sometimes. It is how you handle the anger that matters! The child can then decorate the poster and draw pictures of safe ways to deal with anger. After the poster is created, hang the poster up in the child’s room.
In addition, have your child think of a plan at home when the angry feelings arise. For example, pick a place in the house to be the “cool down zone.” Place a few things in this area that will help the child cool down. Ask your child to make a plan. Some common objects that children often choose are paper, markers, jump ropes, stress balls to squeeze, and pillows to punch. Everyone in the house can participate.
I often use the balloon analogy to explain the process of anger to children. The balloon is the child’s angry feelings. I ask the child, “What are some things that make you angry?” Then, I blow up a balloon a little bit at a time until it is ready to pop. Next I ask, “What happens when you bottle up all of your anger and you are keeping it all inside?” I then pop the balloon and explain that eventually a person might explode; such as, yell at a friend or family member, hit, or throw something. To conclude I ask, “Now tell me what you can do so the balloon does not explode?” (Talk to an adult, take deep breaths, squeeze a stress ball, etc…)
At Safe Harbor, we have a Volcano Room for the children to use during the group time. It is a favorite activity and each child never passes on going into the Volcano Room. At home, try to provide a physical outlet a few times a week.