By Tracy Lamperti,
Psychotherapist, Educator, Consultant
The Bobo doll experiment was a study conducted by Albert Bandura, known for his social learning theory, in the early 1960’s. It showed that people don’t just learn by being rewarded or punished, but they also learn by watching somebody else being rewarded or punished. From this study came many others that show the effects of what children learn by observing, which we can of course apply today to Sponge Bob and other violent and/or foolish media. All of this is very interesting and a full course of study on its own, but not really what this post is about.
“How should I handle my child’s anger?”
Parents know they can’t just squash the emotion but they also know they can’t allow their child to punch the wall or pull their hair out, or worse, their little sister’s hair.
Somehow, the lesson that seemed to come from “Bobo” was that it is ok to redirect children’s anger from a potentially dangerous or destructive act, to one where no one or nothing gets hurt or damaged; a pillow, a punching bag, a Bobo doll, even though this was not at all what the study was about.
While these are very sincerely motivated ideas, I do not believe they are the answer. When a child is very angry and we teach them to ball up their fist and throw some good punches at their pillow, how are they to do something different when they become angry at a child on the playground, or their sibling in the living room?
Think “Large Muscle Groups!”
Jumping jacks, jumping on a trampoline, jump rope and laps around the house are excellent choices. They serve to disrupt the child’s train of thought and alter their breathing and muscle sequence in a healthy manner. Also, teach children progressive muscle relaxation, in the least, to stiffen large muscles (like the thighs or even squeezing toes when shoes are on). Hold the squeeze for 6 seconds and then fully release, again and again until calm. Children can do this in their seat in class without anyone knowing, thus effectively problem-solving on their own.
-Always revisit the stress trigger after one of these techniques, either right away or later, depending on the urgency and who else was involved.
Think “Change Breathing Rhythm!” –
Blowing up balloons is an excellent for this as it is a breathing activity on its own. Counting to 10 works also,
as does learning to breathe in for a count of 4, hold briefly and release.
Martial Arts –
If you choose martial arts for your child be sure to interview the instructor or owner and ask for references. You are looking to be given spontaneous information with keywords like, “self-control,” “discipline,” “an art,” etc. You are not looking for a school that will train your child for combat or empower your child with the skill and mental attitude that they can “kick someone’s butt if they look at them the wrong way.”
Boxing and/or Weights –
Exactly the same as Martial Arts, self-control and discipline. If Dad or Uncle Geno is teaching your child in the basement, make sure their attitude is correct.
Draw It/Write It Out –
Many children respond VERY well to a directive to “get it down on paper.” You might keep an art caddy handy or a journal. With support and the idea offered, your child might surprise you with their ability to process their feelings on paper through drawing or writing.
Talk It Out –
If you see things escalating, ask your child“Is this something we can talk about and try to solve or would you like another suggestion? The way your behavior is headed right now just won’t work.”
Always revisit the trigger after one of these techniques, either right away or later, depending on the urgency and who else was involved.
Always, do your best to model your own self-control. Your children are always watching and listening and learning from you!
Intentionally choose your TV and video media
Finally, a healthy attitude about anger is very important. Many times over, working with children and emotions, children report that the “bad” emotion is anger. Anger isn’t bad, it is how we show it that can be bad. Our children need to understand that anger is normal and at times, necessary. Help them discern when anger is useful and the best ways to express anger. Help children understand when the anger is coming from more of a selfish place and being sparked by just wanting to get their own way, or not considering their friend or sibling’s point of view.
Children that can effectively handle negative emotions, particularly anger, are happier children, more self-assured and more compassionate and insightful.
Please see www.tracylamperti.com for more information about working with children and families.
If you would like more 1:1 assistance, please contact Tracy Lamperti for a consultation.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Psychotherapist, Educator, Consultant
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