Behaviour

Anger management techniques in children and adolescents

Written by Aprajita Dixit
Published: July 5, 2022
A Counselling Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist who specialises in child's psychology and child's development. Double RCI licensed (MA Clinical Psy & ADCGC(RCI) and MPhil in Clinical Psychology(RCI)) & a gold medal winner with more than 5 years of work experience.

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Amidst the bizarre range of human emotions, one that aims to project tension and hostility is anger. A prominent concern in human development is the portrayal of aggressive behaviour towards others or the environment.

Anger, to an extent, can sometimes manifest positive results. It can be used to express negative emotions, help motivate individuals to find solutions to problems, etc. However, excessive anger tends to induce various problems. Physiologically speaking, it increases one’s blood pressure, hormones such as adrenaline enter the bloodstream and cause other physical changes that make it difficult to think straight when someone is angry. This has a grave impact on not only physical health but mental health as well. 

Anger, therefore, is a very vibrant emotion that can be seen in a spectrum of ways among young children and adolescents. There are sporadic times when children have tantrums, meltdowns, and show frustration, i.e., anger as a mechanism of lashing out or expressing dissatisfaction towards something. But when such behaviour is repeatedly portrayed over a long duration or if there is no control over it, it might denote anger management issues in the child. Violent behaviours in children occur on a continuum ranging from bullying and verbal abuse to many others.

Present-day culture is brimming with intricacy, particularly for youths, since this stage is tempestuous yet urgent. Adolescents likewise experience massive changes in their capacity to evaluate and appreciate complex circumstances and data and their longing to become free and remarkable people. Simultaneously, teenagers are seen as dynamic members who need to be responsible for their own environmental elements. 

A large portion of the exploration zeroed in the fact that seeing viciousness in the media makes the kids and teens more violent. Watching vicious substances results in violent conduct through impersonation. Anderson et al.,(2003); Bushman and Huesman,(2006); Huesman,(2007); Huesman and Kirwet al.,(2007) led a few investigations which counted that watching brutal T.V shows, motion pictures, playing vicious computer games increased the forceful way of behaving among teens. Many cross-sectional investigations found that teenagers who have consistently experienced more fierce media have an expanded likelihood of acting all the more forcefully, in actuality. Anderson et al. (2008) additionally upheld the above proof.

As adolescents, one goes through fundamental physical and psychological changes. It is a crucial stage of development where the adolescent must cope with a higher number of biopsychosocial changes as compared to children. As we’ve seen in the above case, this stage of life can make it difficult to manage emotions and behaviour, primarily because adolescents do not have sufficient levels of effective coping experience (Blakemore; Hills, 2014; Holder; Blaustein, 2014). 

An important aspect of reducing the long-term consequences of poor anger management is ‘early intervention.’ Such practices are notably important for children and adolescents displaying antisocial behaviours. Gresham (2002) says that individuals characterized by a pattern of aggression, hostility, and violation of social norms tend to be ‘highly resistant’ to intervention. Walker, Colvin, Ramsey; 2015 believe that to maximize the effectiveness of an intervention, it must happen relatively early in a child’s educational career. 

Anger behaviours in children can also vary based on the culture and environment a child was raised in. It is culturally normalized in many countries for boys to show aggression because such an expression of anger equates to physical force and strength in men. Being raised in such a culture could easily encourage aggressive behaviours in boys (Sharkin, 1993; Balkaya, 2001). On the other hand, it was also determined that girls who were raised in a culture where it was inappropriate for women to have uncontrolled anger showed less aggressive behaviours (Sharkin, 1993; Evers et al., 2005; Zhu et al., 2017; Fehmi et al., 2018). 

Even though anger is a normal emotional response to an adverse situation, it is best not to let it out and regret later. At the same time, it can be helpful to learn how to manage emotions when they’re passionate enough for action!

Aggressive behaviours in children and adolescents can be managed with a pool of anger management techniques. While one may work for someone, it may become counterproductive for others. 

1. Drain The Brain 

This technique focuses on mentally challenging oneself before reacting to a situation aggressively by asking the following questions :

WHAT is the source of my irritation?
WHAT is the degree of my anger?
WHAT is the other person’s actual role in the situation?

Asking how one would want to be treated if the tables turned and if the other person felt as angry as they do. This exercise of insight will help regain control of the overwhelming emotions before they burst out and cause external damage. 

2. Walk It Off

As the aggressive tendencies, the familiar rage, and the anger begins to rumble, excuse yourself and take a quick walk outside, be it in a hallway or outdoors. A fast-paced 5-10 minute stroll will release some tension and help with the irritation. This is the fight-or-flight strategy where a person practices potential spacing conflict and is a popular and useful anger management technique. Walk out of the situation for as long as they need, minutes or hours, before coming back to an issue that may trigger an aggressive response.

3. Breathing Techniques

As the anger boils up, tell your kids to count to 20 before saying a word. They can start the relaxation efforts by taking several slow and deep breaths in a row, each time taking care of exhaling twice as long as inhaling. Count slowly to four while breathing in, then breathe out slowly and count to eight. Simultaneously, notice where the air is going in the lungs. Breathe deeply across the lung’s entire range. The breath should enter the belly first, followed by the chest, and then finally the upper chest (just below the shoulders). As the lungs expand, they should feel the ribs expand with them. Make sure they are mindful of how the ribs return to the original position while exhaling the air.

This is one of the most effective anger management exercises and should be practiced continuously till there is a calm feeling, but kids should stop immediately if they start to

feel out of breath.

4. Journaling 

Writing in a diary can be a cathartic experience for many. It is a healthy way to let the negative feelings out of the system in order to process what is going on in life. Writing about problems helps an individual see them from a different perspective, introducing new solutions they couldn’t have thought of earlier. A diary or a journal also records life in a way where a person can return to it and realise how far they’ve come; and how far they still have left to go. 

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5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This technique focuses on letting the tension flow out of the muscles that tighten when kids get angry. Ask your kids to settle in and get comfortable in a chair, keep their eyes closed and focus on breathing (follow the breathing technique above). Guide them to clench their fists tightly and hold that tension for a few seconds. Then, slowly relax the fist and let the fingers unfold as the hand completely relaxes. Repetition is recommended, thinking about how the tension leaves the hands through the fingertips. There is a noticeable difference between tension and complete relaxation. Now, help them to move to the arms, and curl them as a bicep curl: tense the fists, the forearms, and the biceps. Let them hold the tension for a few seconds, and then release. Unfold the arms and hands, and let them float back to the thighs feeling the tension drain out of the arms. Repeat the steps and replace them with deep muscle relaxation. They can repeat it twice with every body part so the muscles relax, and the tension is released. 

6. The A-B-C-D Model 

This is a model consistent with the way people may conceptualise anger management. 

A (Activating Event) – This is a red flag event that induces an aggressive response.

B (Beliefs regarding the activating event) – The event itself does not produce anger; it is our beliefs and interpretation of the event.

C (Emotional consequences) – This refers to the feelings an individual experiences as a result of the interpretations and beliefs regarding the event. 

D (Dispute) – This focuses on identifying ANY maladaptive beliefs that may exist and disputing them with ration and realistic thinking. This primarily aims to replace those interpretations that elicit an angry response with a more logical and accurate representation of the event.

7. Thought Stopping

This approach bases the exercise on controlling anger through a conscious effort of commanding oneself to stop thinking of the thing that is making them angry. Instead of disputing the thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations as explained in the A-B-C-D model, the the main aim is to put an end to the thoughts making the person angry before they escalate and they lose control.

8. Child-Directed CBT Approaches

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy aims to regulate emotions and problem-solving skills in a social setting when linked to aggressive behaviour (Dodge, 2003). ‘Cognitive-Behavioural’ interventions refer to those conducted with the child and have an emphasis on learning principles and using structured strategies to produce changes in thinking, feeling, and behaviour (Kendall, 2006). Some common techniques used in CBT are problem-solving, cognitive restructuring techniques, identifying the antecedents and consequences of aggressive behaviour, learning strategies for recognizing and regulating anger expression, and modelling & rehearsing socially appropriate behaviours that can replace the aggressive reactions. 

CBT, when conducted with the child, has multiple roles for parents in the treatment plan. Parents are responsible for making sure the child comes for therapy, providing information about the child’s aggression, and also helping create an environment that is conducive for the child to practice CBT skills. Another aspect that can help the child feel motivated during CBT is the parents’ recognition of the child’s effort (by praising the child and rewarding them) to improve by applying emotion-regulation and problem-solving skills when provoked. 

Parents can also encourage classical art forms like music, drama, dance, painting, writing, and sculpture as a part of anger management for kids.

Anger transforms into an issue when it is experienced intensely, frequently, or portrayed inappropriately by the individual. Therefore, early identification of anger outbursts in children need to be addressed. Paying attention to the child’s requirement for moral support from peers and family while growing up and its prevalence act as a warm boundary of safe space. This space broadens its horizon as the child enters adolescence, paving their path towards the extremes of the world – multiple variables affecting life. Experiencing anger in any form in children and adolescents needs to be catered to, and resolved.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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