Yelling “I hate you” when TV time is up, playing a bit too rough with his sister, targeting a classmate during a dodge ball game. Any parent wonders what behaviors are normal for their 7-year-old, and wants to address those that aren’t. According to Michael Bloomquist, director of the Attention and Behavior Problems Clinic at the University of Minnesota, a well-functioning 7-year-old child most often thinks before he acts, and may get upset but can calm down. While feeling angry is normal, untamed anger routinely resulting in hurt body parts or feelings, requires intervention to avoid larger emotional and behavioral problems.
Find Underlying Cause
Bloomquist notes that if anger occurs only in certain situations or with certain family members, it may result from problems in disobedience or family functioning. Resolving these problems require different strategies from anger management. For disobedience, give effective commands and warnings, offer choices, allow the child to say no respectfully, use agreed-upon single words or signals for direction, withdraw privileges, focus on win-win solutions and find useful ways for the child to feel influential. To improve family functioning, strengthen the parent-child bond, improve family interactions, and develop family routines and rituals. If the child has angry outbursts that seem out of proportion to the situation in many settings, then the problem is truly anger.
Assess Readiness for Anger Management
Boomquist notes that children younger than age 8 will benefit first from learning to identify and express feelings. Increasing the child’s feelings vocabulary through discussion, role play and role modeling help him better understand and articulate those he experiences. Build discussion of feelings into daily activities using a feelings chart. If the child denies having an anger problem and resists, retracting and enlisting the cooperation of all family members to work on their anger promotes cooperation and progress.
Defining anger helps the child understand it. According to Bloomquist, anger is “a feeling of discomfort or pain that occurs in response to something not going as one would like it to.” Defining and discussing the range of anger--from mild frustration and irritation to rage—enables the child to identify and describe it when it occurs.
Teach Anger Signals And Relaxation
Body, thought and action cues warn the child that she needs to practice an anger-management strategy. Bloomquist suggests helping children identify physiological signals, such as flushing, clenched fists or sweating, thoughts such as "You're stupid," and actions like crying, threatening or fidgeting, that occur when angry. Deep breathing and visualizing a relaxing scene reduces physical tension associated with anger. Bloomquist also suggests the "robot/rag doll technique" for younger children: Instruct the child to tense up all muscles, visualizing himself as a robot, then after 15 seconds, releasing all the tension, becoming a rag doll. Effectively using these skills when angry requires extensive practice of them during non-stressful times.
Teach Helpful Self-Talk
Helpful self-talk involves developing thoughts that will help the child calm down when noticing body, thought or action signals. Examples include: “Take it easy,” “Stay cool,” “I’ll just try my hardest,” “Don’t let him bug me.” Bloomquist suggests role-playing situations using ineffective behaviors in response to the anger, then contrasting them with using helpful self-talk. Developing an individualized list of examples helps the child use them when needed.
Encourage Problem Solving
Help the child solve the original problem that caused the anger. Problem solving includes identifying the problem, determining its cause, speculating about the feelings and thoughts of those involved, and determining a plan of action. Examples include expressing feelings or needs, relaxing, distracting or asking for a hug. A 7-year-old may have difficulty with this step due to developmental limitations in abstract thinking, and may require more help or direct suggestions from an adult.