My name is Angelica Bellman, and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor at Birmingham Anxiety and Trauma Therapy. For the last seven years, I have worked in various types of programs; outpatient programs; residential treatment programs; in-home counseling; in-school counseling; etc. In my experience as a therapist, I have seen children and adolescents struggle with how to handle their anger which can lead to trouble in various spaces. Sometimes, acting out is more visible than other mental health diagnoses and is often misinterpreted as attention-seeking behavior versus being a symptom of underlying issues.
Think about an iceberg; the part that is above the water, is only a small part of the whole object. In many cases, anger is the tip of an iceberg; the part that sticks out of the water is visible to others. However underneath the surface there are other emotions, thoughts, and feelings that are contributing to the anger. At times anger appears simple, but in most cases, there is an underlying factor that has led to anger. When a child throws a temper tantrum in the store because they cannot have a toy, are they angry? Yes, but they can also be disappointed (that they cannot have it), jealous (that the other kid in line has one), and possibly tired (because they need a nap) at the same time. So, as you can see, several emotions can lie under the surface of anger. For a wonderful illustration of the various emotions that precede anger, please see attached link: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/anger-iceberg.pdf. It is important to know that when your child becomes angry; you should address not just the anger, but the underlying feelings as well.
In conclusion, the first step to helping your child manage his or her anger is giving them a safe space to talk about how they are feeling. For your child to feel safe coming to you, it is important to foster an environment of trust and safety. There is nothing wrong with punishing negative behavior, it teaches your child that his or her choices have consequences. Constantly punishing your child without listening to your child will make it difficult to discover the underlying problem. The second step is understanding that anger is a normal human emotion. Parents must do a better job of reassuring their children that it is okay to be angry, while also demonstrating and teaching them appropriate coping methods. So, what are acceptable ways to handle anger in your family? Coping skills that can used are exercise, punching pillows, ripping blank paper, listening to music, calmly talking, drawing pictures, etc. and have supplies on hand for your child to redirect their anger. The next time your child is throwing a temper tantrum try to think to yourself, “What is underneath the anger?” and “How can I help them handle this in a healthy way?” Teaching children and teenagers how to understand and express their emotions in healthy ways can lead to them becoming well-adjusted adults who can manage their emotions appropriately.