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
By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution
Children resort to aggressive behaviors because of a lack of wisdom and self-control. It is not a sign that a child is hateful or mean. Kids are human beings and human beings will get angry, we can’t prevent that. What we can do is teach our children how to handle their frustration and anger in appropriate ways. If your child uses these physical acts to express her feelings, use some of the following tips to change her behavior.
Intercede before it happens
Watch your child during playtime. When you see her becoming frustrated or angry - intervene. Coach her through the issue. Teach her what to do, or model what to say to her friend. Or if she seems too upset to learn, redirect her attention to another activity until her emotions level out.
Teach and explain
It’s one thing to tell a child what not to do or to step into an argument and solve it yourself. It’s another thing entirely to teach her what to do in advance of the next problem. This can be done through role-play, discussion, and reading a few children’s books about angry emotions.
Examine hidden causes
Is your child hungry, tired, sick, jealous, frustrated, bored or scared? If you can identify any feelings driving your child’s actions you can address those along with the aggressive behavior.
Give more attention to the injured party.
Often the child who hits gets so much attention that the action becomes a way of gaining the spotlight. Instead, give more attention to the child who was hurt. After a brief statement, “No hitting!” turn and give attention to the child who was wronged, “Come here and Mommy will give you a hug and read you a book.”
Teach positive physical touches.
Show your child how to hold hands during a walk or how to give a back rub or foot massage. Teach a few physical games, like tag or cat’s cradle. Under direct supervision, children who are more physical can gain a positive outlet for their physical energy.
Teach the clapping method
Tell a child to clap his hands whenever he feels an urge to hit. This gives him an immediate outlet for his emotions and helps him learn to keep his hands to himself. An alternate is to teach him to put his hands in his pockets when he feels like hitting. Reward with praise anytime you see he’s successful.
Give your child a time out
To use Time Out when a child acts out aggressively, immediately and gently take the child by the shoulders, look him in the eye and say, “No hurting others, time out.” Guide the child to a chair and tell him, “You may get up when you can play without hitting.” By telling him that he can get up when he’s ready, you let him know that he is responsible for
controlling his own behavior. If the child gets up and hits again, say, “You are not ready to get up yet,” and direct him back to time out.
Avoid play hitting and wrestling
Young children who roughhouse with a parent or sibling during play time might then use these same actions during non-wrestling times. It can be hard for them to draw the line between the two. If you have a child who has trouble controlling his physical acts then avoid this kind of play.
Don’t lose control
When you see your child hurting another child it’s easy to get angry. This won’t teach your child what she needs to learn: how to control her emotions when others are making her mad. You are mad at her, so she’ll be watching how you handle your anger.
Don’t let your child watch violent TV
Children can become immune to the impact of violence, and they may copy what they see depicted on television. Avoid viewing shows that portray aggression as an appropriate way of handling anger.
Don’t assume your child can figure it out
If your child comes to you about a difficult situation, don’t send him away for tattling. But don’t step in and handle it for him, either. View his call for help as an invitation to teach him important social skills.
Don’t focus on punishment
More than anything your child needs instructions on how to treat other human beings, particularly during moments of anger or frustration.
Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill 2007) http://www.nocrysolution.com
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