Grief and Anger/ Anger Rules Poster

“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.

Materials:

1. A piece of large poster paper

2. Markers/crayons.

3. Stickers

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.

Worries/Create a Worry Box

Worry-box1

It is common for a child to have worries after a loss.  In the case of a parent’s death, the child may be concerned about the health of the surviving parent or guardian.  Your child may worry about doing well in school and about money issues.  In the case of a divorce, the child may worry about the new schedule and if their mom and dad will get back together again.

One technique to deal with anxiety is to make a worry box.  Find a shoe box or purchase a small wooden box at a craft store.  Your child can paint the box and decorate it with stickers and glitter. Place blank pieces of paper beside the box and explain to your child that he or she can write down a worry and place it in the box. The box will now have the worries and the child should feel free of the worries.  Children often internalize their feelings, so this is a helpful activity.  Keep the box in a place that is accessible to the child.

This is a strategy that the entire family can benefit from using.  We use this activity in our support group with our children.  They always enjoy creating their own boxes.  Each child has an opportunity to share what they wrote, but only if they are ready to share.  I have found that this activity gives children a way to control their worries.     

I like to read a children’s book about worrying before creating the worry boxes.  Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook addresses the problem of anxiety and offers children tools to deal with anxiety.  Worrying can cause a child to feel helpless.  This book will help children to feel more in control over their anxiety.

For a tip to the parent or guardian, please do not discuss money concerns around your child. The added stress of money issues can lead to increased anxiety.

If your child’s worrying is interfering with daily life activities (school/ friendships/ eating/ sleeping) then you should talk to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician might need to refer you to a child therapist.

Helping Your Child to Communicate Feelings

“Anything that’s human is mentionable and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.  When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.  The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

– Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)

How well does your child communicate his or her feelings to others?  Does your child arrive home from school and tell you every detail of his or her day?  Or is it a struggle to find out any information about your child’s school day?  I have a daughter that arrives home from school with detailed information about her day –  what she had for lunch, who she played with at recess, and how she performed on her math test.  On the other hand, I have to ask several questions to obtain information from my son.  

After a loss, a child may see family members upset and will not want to further upset them.  Consequently, the child will not discuss his or her feelings about the loss to their family members.  There are strategies that parents can implement to help children communicate.  The following strategies can be used at home:

1.   Ask open-ended questions.  

Do not ask questions that require one word responses; such as, “Did you have a good day?”   

The following statements are open-ended:  

“Who did you play with at recess today?”

“What do you miss the most about your dad?”

“What do you like/ dislike about your new school?”  

“Tell me about your new teacher…”

2.  Talk to your child during an activity.  

Some children will be more open to discuss their feelings when engaged in an activity.  For example, a good time to ask your child questions could be while shooting hoops, taking a walk, and playing a board game.   During dinner, have every family member share a “HIGH” and “LOW” for the day.  A “HIGH” is something positive and a “LOW” is something negative that occurred during the day.   You can make up your own names.  At my house, we say, “LEMON and LEMONADE.”  My kids love to begin dinner with our “Lemonades.”  President Obama and his family say  “ROSE and THORN.”  I would always  begin a support group with this activity and even the quiet children would always want to share.  

3.  Ask your child to draw how he or she is feeling.  One of my favorite activities is to paint with Kool-Aid.  

Mix packets of Kool-Aid in small amounts of water in paper cups.  Q-tips make great paint brushes.  The child is instructed to use different colors to show how he or she is feeling.  It smells great and is fun at the same time!   Make sure to place paper where the child will be painting because Kool-Aid can stain.  I have used this activity with my Safe Harbor support groups.   Before painting, I explain how colors can represent feelings and show a few paintings completed by different artists. We discuss what they imagine the artist was feeling when the picture was painted.  

4.  Journal writing for an older child.  

Encourage your child to write his or her feelings about the loss in the journal.  Do not read your child’s journal unless your child has asked you to read it.   

* On a final note,  you might consider contacting the school counselor at your child’s school.  The school counselor will have books on different types of losses and can be a source of support for your child.  The school counselor may offer support groups on loss in the school or will be familiar with bereavement centers that offer support groups in the area.