What Works?

We're having a big anger management problem around here. With Calvin and Henry, not me and David. In case you were wondering. Heh.

All along, I've been operating on the "it's a phase" answer to every parenting conundrum, and also with an understanding that kids need to be guided in how to control their emotions - they can't do it on their own.

I feel like David and I set a pretty good example of a loving, communicative relationship, and I've tried to give plenty of room for a good learning curve. They are, after all, little children.

I also totally understand that anger is not bad in itself, because it indicates problems or hurt or something that needs adjusted. I don't think it's healthy to completely stifle or ignore anger or make anyone feel bad for feeling angry sometimes.

But everyone needs to learn how to deal with anger in the right way. If kids are consistently lashing out in anger and not learning to control themselves right now, it can be terribly damaging to them and the people they love later in life.

How do you validate the anger without condoning the completely outrageous behavior?

What has made it especially bad lately is that I see Charlie mimicking behavior even when he is not angry, because he sees the big boys do it so often.

And it seems that the big boys have shorter and shorter fuses - the things that set them off happen so quickly and are sometimes so small, and would be completely resolvable if they would stop for one second.

I just can't find a way to get them to stop for that one second before they explode.

And my fuse is shorter and shorter, as well, because of the constant barrage. So I'm not sure I'm exactly an example of self-control. Though I try really hard.

I feel like we've run the whole gamut of tactics - from time-outs to (forewarned) spanks to just deciding that since I can't tell them anymore to stop before someone gets hurt, I'll just be here to apply band-aids or take them to the ER as needed. (OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but you know the feeling?)

I've tried to set an example of tolerance and patience until I feel like my own head is going to explode, trying to control myself.

Time-outs in a chair do not work - Henry and Calvin don't stay sitting. At all. Ever. Or if they do, they kick the wall by the chair or shove the table away from them. Or they scream the entire time they are sitting.

Time-outs in a room by themselves turn the room into a destruction zone.

Spanking doesn't sit well with me for this particular situation - trying to teach them that it's not OK to hit when they don't like the way another person is acting? Hmmm. Yeah, pretty senseless.

They don't listen when I'm telling them to stop stop stop, and they often turn on me when I intervene, and nobody is satisfied with the outcome then.

Trying to have a rational dialog often goes awry and I've started realizing that I really don't need to justify my position to a six-year-old. But he gets even more angry when he feels like I'm not listening.

They also haven't learned from hurting one another that it's not a good thing. (This experimental tactic actually happened by accident the other night when they decided to have a full-on cat fight in the back seat of the car while I was driving. By the time I could stop the car to deal with it, they had shocked and awed the baby and clawed each other's faces up pretty good. And I can't believe I just admitted that to anyone.)

What works in your house for diffusing tempers or redirecting frustration or stopping negative responses like hitting, screaming, throwing stuff and door slamming?

So many moms have said to me, "We just don't tolerate it in our home." Well, duh. But how do your kids know that? How did you nip it in the bud, or stop it once it had escalated? What works for you?

Really, I need to know. I've got to get this straightened out. Take the weekend and give me your best parenting tip.


Janelle said...

Oh I so feel your pain! We go through the same things!

One thing we have tried lately, and it seems to work (only when they have a long enough fuse not to go off the deep end first) is I tell them to take some time and "go gather yourself, put yourself together". I tell them they are not in trouble but that they need to calm down and think clearly before they lose their temper and are mean or hit-which is unacceptable in our house.

I tell them to go lay on their bed until they feel like they are in control of their body and their words. After a couple of minutes I call to them to ask if they are together yet or if they need a little more time. The time they need is up to them, and sometimes they just need to feel in control of something, I know I do!

I want them to be able to walk away from a tense situation and gain perspective before reacting. I don't want them to lash out in the heat of the moment. This is how I've thought of to teach it young.

The bonus is when they are gone it helps me to gather myself so I don't lash out since I am trying to be a good example.

I think this is a good alternative to time-outs for my 6 1/2 and 4 1/2year olds. In our house time outs were only effective when they were two to almost four, then not so much.

I also use the language "that is unacceptable behavior" and have since they were babies so they are very clear on what is acceptable or not. They know what they should and should not do so now I'm helping them (hopefully) have the tools to be able to make those choices with good results.

It's a long row to hoe, but they are so worth it aren't they?

MotherT said...

I agree with what Janelle posted. Our family went one step beyond that with "angry pictures". You will need lots of paper and an entire box of crayons for each child, plus toothpicks.

Have the calmed, but still angry child pick 3 bright colors and scribble their anger out on the paper. Then they must take a black or dark brown crayon and color over everything. (Forgiveness covers anger.) Then they take a toothpick and scratch away some of the black or brown to let the prettier colors show thru.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I have really been struggling with anger management with my 4 year old son lately. It has been TERRIBLE! (How old are your boys?) I am really interested to see what others give you. I like the coloring idea.

Here are a couple of things that kind of work in our home. First we use the cool off corner/room (I did a post about this awhile ago. Let me know if you need the link or just come to my blog and use the search tool and search cool off corner.) When his anger isn't too out of control, this tactic actually works like a charm.

One other thing that we do is restraint. He and I both sit on the ground and I gently, but firmly, fold in and hold his legs and arms. Normally this is to help him "practice" to keep his hands and feet to himself ... not using them to bug siblings, kick things, etc.

I pray for inspiration for both of us!


An Ordinary Mom said...

One other thing that works, although it takes A LOT more patience and work and diligence on my part ... is to praise my son a lot. Thank you so much for being a gentleman and holding the elevator door for me. Thank you for picking up your cars and making the floor so shiny. He seems to light up and want to do even more to please me when I show him sincere love.

Yeah, I should show it more often so he isn't so starved for it :) !!

A couple of other things. I also try and be really specific about requests. If I need him to help clean up I ask him to pick up the blocks, not just the toys. Or if he is being too hyper inside, I ask him to use quiet feet while walking. It takes a lot of creativity which is why I don't use it as often because I have been too tired lately.

And one last thing ... sorry this comment is getting too long ... we have a listening sticker chart. He can earn stickers whenever he listens ... or for whatever we are working on. Brushing his teeth NICELY, getting dressed without fighting it, picking up his toys, etc. When he fills it up, he gets to earn a small prize ... normally a few coins or a hot wheel car. (There are 80 spaces on his chart.)

Jenny P. said...

My oldest is a bit of a hothead... I wil tell you though, at almost eight, he's grown out of a lot of his overreactions... I can tell he's gotten better at managing his anger. I think he's a bit older than your oldest, so at least take encouragement in that.

With him, we just constantly reminded him what his tools were... what he could do to handle the anger. We talked about it a lot, and eventually, it clicked. I think it coincided with him getting a bit older and gaining a bit more impulse control.

Just be patient, and be consistent, and know that results won't come overnight.

Good luck!

Real said...

I need to email you.

Kiwi said...

Hi, Traci:

I wasn't sure how to get a hold of you and remembered that I had your blog address. Congratulations on the pregnancy. We'd love to hear from you--

Kylee and Jon

Blog O' Beth said...

My son is 3 and we have this problem as well. He hits and throws - his two favorite types of expression. We use the "cool-off" corner as well. I put him in his room and tell him when he's ready to be nice he can come out. Sometimes I'll check on him and let him know that I love him, but hitting is not allowed. I ALWAYS make him say he's sorry to his sister. Also, get your husband involved. When it gets really bad I find a couple well placed punishments from daddy can go a Looong way in fixing this issue.

LeesOnTheGo said...

Hi Code Yellow Mom,
I am a frequent follower of your blog. I found you via a search for other Foreign Service family blogs and am really enjoying reading your posts. I've never officially introduced myself. My name is Naoma. We're in the FS in Macedonia and currently preparing for our next post.

I have zero tid-bits to add to your recent blog conversation about little boy anger management. Just want to say that we're in the crux of it too and always looking for tips on how to help our little boys grow into great men. Thanks for letting me eavesdrop on all of the great ideas that have been flowing. And thanks for such "real" real-life blogs. Always encouraging as well as entertaining. :)

Nice to meet you,
Naoma Lee

Z. Marie said...

I think everyone's suggestions have been good, and I don't really have any personal insights to share. (Not that my now 8-year-old doesn't get angry, I just wouldn't recommend dealing with it the way I've been known to do.)
Have you heard of the Love and Logic program? I know there are books, and our international school brings their people in to do seminars. I don't know enough about it to know whether it's in line with gospel principles. But I do know non-church friends with difficult preschoolers/elementary-age kids have said it helped them.

Nobody said...

Okay, I didn't read any of the advice because I wanted to post my unadulterated thoughts. But the truth is, I have no idea what to say. One of the particularly frustrating things for me in parenting is, I have to use something different for every kid. And I forget and use the wrong tactic with the wrong kid and it turns into full fledged child abuse, or a complete waste of my time. Effective things for my first born, who I think carries some similarities with yours.
Charts, self-checks, good long talks/explanations. Those seem to get him under control best. He HATES being away from the "party" so sending to his room has always been effective.
Completely useless on #2. In fact, the only thing that works on her is the threat of me being mad, but even that is sort of backfiring right now. But I recently decided I would use the loss of a privilege (um, tv? She's addicted) as her discipline. Honestly, I'm a big believer in charts to monitor behaviors and loss of privileges. My personal opinion is, if the kid is one who likes to see progress and "earn" a chart is perfect. And I think losing something important or that they are obsessed with, the mere reminder of the loss of that thing will keep them in check. It does have to hurt to be effective though.

I've been the spanking route and my personal opinion is, it is 100% ineffective. 110% ineffective. Probably even %128. I know you aren't a spanker, so I'm not like, trying to advise you not to---I'm just sharing my experience of learning how entirely ineffective and even backwards it has worked. For Bo, he just started being more physical and violent. Avee gets this tragic and defiant look on her face and says, "Didn't hurt!" I feel like I'm 2 inches tall.

And I totally wrote uneffective the first time.

Good luck. I hate these parenting deep ends where you feel like there is no answer.