Anger: the tip of the iceberg
Issues with anger is one of the main reasons children are referred to therapy.
With anger a good starting point is to focus on bodily sensation - what anger feels and looks like, and where and how it is felt. Working in this way helps in the identification of warning signs. Building on this awareness will enable the child to interrupt the acting out behaviour so that they themselves can put the brakes on. An awareness of the physical symptoms of anger helps empower the child to feel more in control of their responses.
Angry feelings are attention grabbing - they often necessarily require and often receive immediate response but this may only offer the child temporary release as the underlying emotions remain unmet. A lot of anger is caused by a build up of frustration at communication and if these other feelings remain unvoiced the cycle will simply start again.
Often our own experiences of anger can trigger unhelpful responses. We need to make clear that it is the child's behaviour that is unacceptable and not the child themselves. Never leave a child in tantrum - they are in overwhelm and they need help to self regulate.
If we model the ability to remain calm and cope with difficult feelings this will enable children to internalise their own coping mechanisms and their own self soothing techniques. If a child's feelings are well met with empathy and understanding it will help them develop these skills for themselves.
It is only when the angry response is calmed in this way that work on the rest of the iceberg can truly begin.
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About Tania Freeman
Tania Freeman MBACP
child counselling diploma and certificate in the therapeutic arts.
Specialise in creative art therapy working with children.
Working freelance in schools and private practice.