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Helping Kids Express Anger

When my daughter Jessica was little, we spent a lot of time naming emotions. There's a significant body of research that suggests that naming emotions helps kids build emotional intelligence.

Most of the time I had some good ideas for how to express the emotion once it was named. For sadness we might invite tears or draw a picture, for worry we would take a walk or name the worry and imagine it floating away in a hot air balloon.

Anger, however was a different story. I found myself uncomfortable with it, not sure what to do with it or how to express it appropriately.

As with any emotion, I knew anger should be acknowledged but I wasn't sure what healthy anger looked like. By watching Jessica I could tell that anger carried a lot of energy and I realized that energy needed to go somewhere. At the time, I bought a blow-up punching bag and anytime she was angry I invited her to use the energy she felt to kick, punch, hit the punching bag until the energy was exhausted. After a while, I found myself wanting to hit the punching bag when I was angry too so I did :).

Teaching kids to express emotions like anger, without inflicting hurt on themselves or others is a huge benefit of mindfulness. Over the years in my own family and with clients, I've used a variety of tools to make space for the physical expression of anger. Here are just a few:

  • Letting go of Anger cards (draw a card for an activity or visualization about anger expression).

  • Hitting a pillow (in our house, unless we're threatened, we avoid taking out anger on living things and try to direct it toward neutral objects).

  • Kicking the aforementioned punching bag.

  • Putting on the boxing gloves and hitting a real punching bag.

  • Jumping on bubble wrap.

  • Jumping on a trampoline.

  • Coloring an angry picture (imagine ground up crayons)

  • Tearing up paper

  • Screaming

A lot of times we just expect kids (and ourselves) to swallow or breath through anger. While I am a big fan of breathing to acknowledge the emotion, it's also important to recognize that sometimes the emotion needs physical, energetic expression. Creating safe and appropriate ways to express anger helps kids (and adults) learn to regulate emotion.


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