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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