by Elizabeth Campbell, MS, LPC
One of the most beautiful aspects of parenting is your relationship with your child. In this relationship, you are an attachment figure, and are responsible for shaping a child’s life in many ways. Attachment influences identity, self-esteem, future relationships, and emotional regulation. In other words, your child learns from their relationship with you how to calm themselves down when they feel intense emotions. Often adults immediately go to behavioral means to manage troubling behaviors that come with anger, and although structure is imperative for a child’s development, the parent-child relationship is the foundation for change.
One of the ways that children develop so rapidly in their early years is through modeling. They utilize mirror neurons within the attachment relationship as a means to grow. Awareness of these mirror neurons in parenting can be extremely helpful. The phrase, “actions speak louder than words,” is very accurate in parenting! Modeling is the most effective way for your child to learn from you. Therefore, if you use self-care by going to the gym, meditating, spending time with friends, baking, etc., you are providing an excellent model for a child to learn how to regulate themselves. Controlling anger is not just in the moment, it is a practice of regulating stress overall. The opposite is also true. If you are struggling with taking care of yourself and juggling the demands of family, your child sees that and learns from it. In prioritizing your own self-care, you are also prioritizing your child’s emotional health. This can be done as an activity to also foster attachment and your relationship with your child. Self-care can be a family activity such as a family nature walk or sharing a hobby with your child.
Mindfulness is another great skill to teach your child for general emotional regulation and anger management. This can take many forms. This may be creating a “comfort corner” in which various senses are stimulated. For instance, there may be a comfy blanket, a book, calming music, a scented lotion, or a stuffed animal. A child can visit this corner not just when upset, but frequently to again lower their overall stress level. Another option is a mindful scavenger hunt, where a child notices things via their senses around them. A final mindful tool that is very effective with anger management is deep breathing. Children can learn to take deep belly breaths by putting a stuffed animal on their stomach while laying down, then making it move up and down with their inhales and exhales. There are also fun breaths such as balloon breath, where a child “blows up” like a balloon with their inhale then exhales like a balloon letting go of its air.
Another important part of teaching our children anger management is our response to their anger. Garry Landreth’s Child Parent Relational Training advocates that parents act as a thermostat rather than a thermometer. You set the temperature rather than reacting to them. When adults react to anger with anger, the emotionality of the situation increases exponentially. If you respond calmly and set consistent limits, the child begins to learn parameters and how to regulate themselves.
By interacting with your child in a ways that demonstrate effective means of regulating your own emotions, modeling self-care, and teaching skills in fun ways, you can set your child up to independently regulate themselves. Your relationship and your interactions with your child are building blocks for change.