If your child resorts to physical actions to express anger, he/she may benefit from structured physical activities. Make a basket of old magazines, scratch paper, or junk mail for the child to tear apart, crush and throw away when angry. Make sure there is a clean up process in place to help the child understand that life moves on even if we are angry. Alternately, offer a set of bean bags for the child to throw into a large cardboard box. Designate a special pillow or blanket that the child can kick, hit or punch. A gentle reminder that is never okay to hit people or animals is a good idea, but avoid a lecture. The goal is for the child to recognize his angry feelings and to choose to act them out safely.
It is important to also help a child learn to identify the buildup of angry feelings. Sensory activities can teach him/her to manage the buildup independently. For older kids, a worry stone may be helpful; they can find a stone or other small object to carry with them that they touch, rub, or pinch when they feel upset. Play-doh can also be squeezed, smashed, poked and pinched to relieve anger. Some children find finger-painting soothing. For younger kids, a fuzzy blanket may provide sensory stimulation as they rub, hold or scratch it to calm down.
Children also need to learn how to communicate authentically while respecting others. Model for them specific words and phrases to use when angry, such as, “I feel angry right now. I think I am angry because…” and “This makes me feel…” Give children a chance to experience successful verbalizations by practicing with a puppet or role-playing with them. Then help them find opportunities to verbalize.
Once children can successfully identify and express anger, focus on releasing residual anger. Sometimes stress hormones linger in the body that need to be expelled. Have them drink a big glass of water, and then let them know that urinating, crying, or sweating will help his stress return to normal levels. Alternately, teach him or her how to slow breathing and guide the child through a relaxation exercise by asking the child to consciously release tense muscles and visualize letting the angry feelings out.
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