In an iconic sports movie and childhood favorite 1992 film, “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks plays the manager of a women’s baseball team. One memorable moment during the movie, a female player starts to cry after being criticized for her play. Hanks’ character aggressively yells at her, “Are you crying? There is no crying in baseball!” He subsequently gets thrown out of the game after his own outburst and angry tirade towards his players and the umpire.
I have a similar baseball memory from own childhood. When I was nine years old and playing on a little league team, I was up to bat and was hit in the kneecap by a rogue pitch. I instantly dropped to the ground and started to cry from the pain. I will always remember how my father, the coach, came out and with a look of embarrassment on his face told me that if I ever get hit by a pitch, I should get mad and cuss, rather than cry.
It is an interesting parallel to what we often see in society. Somewhere during the course of our lives (usually at a young age), we may learn that it is okay to yell and express anger. However, crying or talking about our feelings can be socially unacceptable or criticized. Unfortunately, the expression of anger can often lead to profanity, rage, destruction of property and aggression, which should be viewed in a far more negative light than crying.
Anger is a secondary emotion and often there is a primary emotion underneath anger, such as fear, sadness, embarrassment, frustration or hurt. As a mental health therapist, I believe it is imperative that our children learn to express their primary emotions rather than default to anger.
Here are some strategies to help our kids express underlying emotion
- Ask your child what they are really feeling underneath their anger.
- If your child has a hard time knowing what they are feeling, have him/her keep a daily journal about situations that trigger anger and then write about what thoughts and feelings they had. This can help them learn to identify what the underlying emotions might be.
- Try often to use your own I statements or encourage them to use I statements, such as, “I am feeling sad and hurt right now.”
When the anger is directed at you, as the parent, you have the ability to help end angry interactions by making statements such as, “I have heard what you are saying and I can’t agree. I am going to leave this conversation before we hurt our relationship. We can talk more about it when we take a break and we are both calm.”
When kids are upset and angry, they are usually in an emotional mindset and cannot think clearly or rationally. We need to provide them with skills and strategies to help them get back to a rational or “wise mind”. One of my favorite skills taught to kids and parents is the TIPP skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense exercise, Paced breathing and Progressive muscle relaxation
- Temperature can include placing a cold washcloth or an icepack on the face or chest or using cold water on the skin.
- Intense exercise can be anything that quickly brings muscle burn, such as a wall sit, pushups, jump rope, or running in under a minute.
- Paced breathing includes taking deep breaths while counting three to five seconds in and then counting three to five seconds out, pausing between breaths.
- Progressive muscle relaxation is done in conjunction with the breathing where kids flex and clench their muscles in the body while breathing in and then letting it all go and relaxing the muscles when they breathe out.
Encouraging your kids to use one or all of the TIPP skills can help them learn to calm down. After they are calm and back to a rational mindset, you can further process what they were feeling.
Co-occurring mental health issues such as ADHD, depression and anxiety can also contribute to anger control problems. If you child is struggling with anger control issues, please schedule them to see one of the experienced and trained mental health therapists at Families First Pediatrics. We can help them develop tools and strategies to better manage their anger and provide counseling for co-occurring diagnoses.