What's anger got to do with it?
It is important to help children understand that they can control the way they feel, says Subha Parthasarthy
My eight-year-old daughter came home crying one day. She said she was feeling very sad because her friend did not want to play with her. I acknowledged her feeling and said, “You are feeling sad, I agree.” She nodded and said, “Yes, because of ‘X’. I told her, “X refused to play with you and you are choosing to be sad.” She shot me a look with daggers, and asserted, “No, she is making me sad.”
The thought that came to my mind was, “How can I help my daughter become aware that she is feeling what she is feeling?”
I have been in the same situation numerous times in the past and I have come out of them feeling powerful by being in control of what I thought and did, having choices and being able to choose a better option and being able to express my feelings. So why would I not want this for my child?
One way for my child to understand this would be by modelling it myself. When I start using the language of taking responsibility, my child would also be able to grasp it. Would this be enough? Maybe not! I might have to make some extra effort to get there.
Let’s explore a few situations where children let us know that they are feeling something because of an external stimulus.
- A child at the mall says to the parent: “I am angry because you did not buy me the toy I wanted.”
- A teenager tells his parents: “I hate you for not allowing me to go out with my friends.”
nThe child’s friends have celebrated their birthdays at MacDonalds, and he wishes to follow suit: “You don’t care about me. You don’t want me to be happy. I want to celebrate my birthday at MacDonalds.”
Normally, my response would be to justify my standpoint (“we just bought a new one yesterday/ you don’t know what is good for you”). Or, I would feel guilty and end up doing what the child wanted to do. At other times, I would try to prove to the child that he/she is loved by giving him/her an alternative).
Let’s take the situations above and see how we can respond to it.
- “I am angry because you did not buy me the toy I wanted.”
Response: “It must be hard for you to understand the reason for not buying the toy and you are choosing to be angry about it.” Here, we are trying to go behind the outburst, trying to understand the child by acknowledging his/her feelings and also making the young one aware that it is his/her choice to be angry.
- “I hate you for not allowing me to go out with my friends!”
Response: “It must be disappointing for you to be at home while your friends are out enjoying themselves. Right now, you have decided to be angry about it.”
- “You don’t care about me. You don’t want me to be happy. I want to celebrate my birthday at MacDonalds.”
Response: “You were expecting to celebrate your birthday party at MacDonalds and the thought of not having it there makes you want to feel depressed and also wonder whether you are cared for or not.”
Some other ways of responding to the child would be to say to the child:
- “Things are not going the way you thought it would and you are choosing to be upset about it.”
- “I can hear that you are annoyed right now, would you like to talk about it?”
If the child becomes aware that he/she is responsible for a choice of feeling, it will allow him/her to have more choices. Having choices is better than having no choice at all. Here are some options that go beyond use of language:
- Put up a chart in a central place at home where every day in the morning, all members of the family write down this — “I choose to feel ______ this morning.” This is a reminder for everyone to realise that each one is responsible for his/her feeling.
- Have small flashcards of feelings which children can use to improve their vocabulary
nHave a small postbox of feelings and every time anyone feels something, one can write it on a paper along with the reason behind the feeling and put it in the box. Later, during family time, the situations can be discussed to understand if the family member took responsibility for the feeling or gave the control to others.
When you listen, acknowledge, validate and make the child aware of his/her feelings, this will help him/her realise that he/she is capable of handling or finding ways to manage emotions. What the child learns is to face his/her feelings, work with the discomfort and move forward from there. To become aware of our feelings and taking onus for the feelings, is a step towards emotional development.