Anger: A Secondary Emotion

When was the last time your child or teen (or you) got angry? Maybe it was a blowup about getting off the X Box last night or an incident over chores last weekend. How did the situation resolve? Behaviors stemming from anger can create genuine issues at home and a further problem at school. In a school setting, negative behaviors can greatly impact learning and social development. So how can we help our children learn to be more patient when they feel angry?

In helping your child or teen deal with his or her anger, one concept to understand is that anger is always a secondary emotion. When we feel vulnerable or defensive, our instinct is to adopt an emotion that makes us feel strong, intimidating, and powerful; it becomes a defense mechanism. Anger is a secondary emotion stemming from sadness, embarrassment, jealousy, hurt, fear, or worry. You can help your teen or child deal with his or her anger by targeting the primary emotion in a situation and confronting the root issue. 

More importantly, teach your children to do it on their own. When they get angry over a difficult homework assignment, help them recognize that they are really feeling confused, frustrated, disappointed, and anxious. Trouble with anger at bedtime? Look for emotions such as jealousy, frustration, unhappiness; all are emotions that leave them feeling vulnerable and lead to anger. But they aren’t powerless to confront those primary emotions. With help, they can learn to creatively zero in on a solution to the situation. An added benefit to recognizing source emotions is being able to communicate them to other people. In effectively communicating what they are feeling, children and teens can have their needs met. At other times, a discussion of why certain rules are necessary may result. A conversation about curfew won’t happen if they’ve already stormed away.  

Sounds simple, right? But emotions are complicated, and recognizing what you’re feeling under your anger can be challenging. Even more difficult can be learning to control that anger. Parents can be a great example of dealing with emotions in a safe and appropriate way. Practicing and changing your response to stressful situations will show your kids that it’s an important technique to learn and a valuable life skill.

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