From the time they are toddlers, children are often coaxed by adults to hide their feelings of anger behind a social smile.  Worse yet, kids hear the explicit message, “Don’t be angry,” and are actively encouraged to deny this most basic of human emotions.  When they act out—either through the tantrums of their earliest years or the rebellion of their teenage ones—they are reprimanded for all of the behaviors that adults do not want them to use.


Rather that hammering away at all of the things kids should not do when it comes to expressing their anger, parents and caregivers can effect lasting change in their kids anger-inspired behaviors by teaching them specific skills for how to be angry effectively, using assertive behaviors to confront and manage real-life situations.



What is Assertiveness, Anyway?


Assertiveness is a communication style that is used to express anger in words, in a direct and respectful way.  Assertive behavior sets limits on what a person is willing or not willing to do in a situation.  It is an honest form of communication in which a person expresses their wants and needs without hurting or violating the rights of others.


For kids, assertive anger expression means the difference between telling a parent in words when he is feeling angry rather than showing it through tantrums, rebellion, and/or self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse and academic failure.


Can Assertiveness be Taught?


Though anger is among the most basic and natural of human emotions, many people struggle with expressing it effectively.  Assertiveness is not, for most, an inborn skill, but rather a style developed over time, and based on specific behaviors.  Parents can role-model assertive behaviors for their kids, providing a real-life example of direct, emotionally honest communication.  What’s more, they can help their kids develop specific skills for assertive anger expression, including good eye contact, even tone of voice, and the use of I-Messages.


Are There Risks?


In a perfect world, honest and respectful expression of normal, natural feelings of anger would be perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, many people are even more uncomfortable being on the receiving end of anger than they are in expressing it.  As you are teaching your child skills for assertive anger expression, it is important to simultaneously explain that just because they communicate with respectful candor doesn’t mean they will always get an immediate, welcoming response.  No matter.


Short-term gratitude from the recipient is not nearly as important as your child’s long-term ability to confidently and effectively put words to his feelings and express himself honestly and directly.  In the long-run, teaching your child the skills of assertive emotional expression will enable him to foster healthier interpersonal relationships and forge more fulfilling bonds with others.



This article features excerpts from  How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens.   

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