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February 17, 2020 Monday 04:33:54 PM IST

Cool Down! Anger Under Control


Anger is a basic human emotion and natural adaptive response to frustrations, hurt, disappointment, threats etc. Anger varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. The instinctive natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. In humans, expression of anger usually begins after one year of age and before that, the language of communication and expression is cry. By 2 years of age, outbursts reach its peak and after that, it takes a fall in the graph.

It's usual for a child below 4 years to have few tantrums per week, which are expressed  in the form of crying, kicking, biting, hitting, rolling on the ground and pushing. This may last up to 5-10 minutes. Most children outgrow this behaviour by 4 years but few continue it as they get older and become something that is not developmentally appropriate, causing problems with friends, family or at school.


Is anger healthy?

Anger has its merits if used constructively for life saving purposes, to be optimistic, as a motivating force and to gain insight about one's own flaws. However it becomes problematic, when the frequency or severity of anger interferes with relationships, work performance, legal standing, or mental health.


Children and adults are prone to anger from time to time. Here are some of the causes of anger in children.

Limitations related to age : Young children have a lot to be angry about. They're little and they start knowing the world from the age of one. Everything is new to them and the ignorance makes them more curious. They try to experiment every new things they come across which won’t be possible most of the time. They aren't allowed to do everything they want. They fail at many of the things they try. Their language ability is at the lowest level which make it quite difficult to express themselves and understanding what elders say and they overcome these limitations as they grow up.

Health Issues : Presence of mental health issues like autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, difficult temperament ,specific learning disorders etc are thought to play a role in anger/aggression.

Masking: Using anger as a mask to cover up other emotions like fearfulness, anxiety and sadness.

Environmental causes- Trauma, disrupted family, non congenial home atmosphere.

Parenting Style: Certain parenting styles (such as harsh and inconsistent parenting) also.

Learning from others : Behaviour learned from others, past experiences, lack of problem solving ability and lastly, genetics and other biological factors.

Causes of Adult Anger

  • Stress
  • Personality patterns like big egos, self value rising on the back of others, impulsive and emotionally unstable nature and low frustration tolerance levels.
  • Using anger as a “cover” emotion, like in children.
  • Substance use
  • Underlying mental health issues like mood, anxiety and other disorders.
  • Anger is the road to:

    • Strained relationships at home, school, work place
    • Failure at work.
    • Poor judgment and errors
    • Depression and anxiety
    • Aggressive Driving
    • Shortened Lifespan
    • Danger to self and others
    • Heart diseases, hypertension, alcoholism and other stress related disorders
    • Destruction of trust and intimacy eventually leads to contempt, disgust, detachment
    What happens to our body and brain while furious ?

    When you are angry, a series of changes takes place in your brain and body. Certain neuronal pathways are activated which results in release of neurotransmitters/stress hormones from the glands which results in changes in various parts of the body.


Anger Management for Children

Understand the child : Outbursts may be a mode of communication the child adopts to express his distress. Remember that your little one doesn't have the skill to manage his feelings and express them in a more mature way. He may lack language, or impulse control, or problem solving abilities. Once the problem is identified, it is possible to provide help, possibly through improving communication skills, explaining how things work and guiding them  through social skills.


Check yourself : Parental emotions have a great influence on children. If you're in the habit of shouting at your kids, know that you are modeling behavior that your child will certainly copy. Be a good role model. Stay calm while handling a raging child. When you shout, you have less chance of pacifying him. Instead, you will only be making him more aggressive and defiant.


Spot out the triggers:  Many a times you notice that the outbursts of your child is triggered by certain situations which is avoidable and preventable. What causes it? What happened before it ? Who were the people involved ? The trigger is usually when they are asked to do something they don't like, or to stop doing something they do like. Fight between siblings for toys , watching tv over time, difficulty  in accepting “NO” and restrictions laid by parents are  examples. Avoid all possible triggers. For unavoidable triggers, think and anticipate how the child would react  and discuss with him well in advance what is expected out of him. Time warnings and limit settings can be the solutions. They may test the limits you establish for them, but they need those limits to grow into responsible adults. Some rules might include:  no TV until homework is done, and no hitting, name-calling, or hurtful teasing allowed.


Teach alternate ways to vent frustration: Encourage your child to think before acting. Make him understand that his behaviour would devalue him and the receiving person as well. Train him assertiveness, a skill to stand up for his own rights in a calm and positive way, without being aggressive or passively accepting the unacceptable  matter. If it is a fight with his friend, encourage him to take up a line of compromise. Teach him to apologise when needed. Teach him empathy and encourage him to see things from a different perspective. Even young children can understand when others feel sad or upset.

Shower them with hugs and pats:
A timely physical contact can alleviate a disappointment or frustration. A gentle touch can pacify a child during failure, before it ends up in outbursts.


Don't Yield 

Don't encourage him to continue his behavior by agreeing to what he wants in  order to make it stop. Once you yield for it, he learned that all his demands could be achieved just by yelling.


Reward Systems : Praise appropriate behavior. When he has calmed down, let him express his feelings verbally, calmly, or try to find a compromise on an area of disagreement. Praise him for those efforts. Introduce positive reinforcement (reward for doing something well, in the form of points or tokens toward something he wants.) and  Negative reinforcement  (removing a 'bad consequence'  after a good behavior is exhibited,  eg :  not giving his favourite chocolate or visit to a park if throwing tantrums).


 Time out: This is the process of taking away the child from his interesting activities  and not giving attention for a short period of time. This is a powerful way of teaching them about unacceptable behaviour. The kid learns that  if they misbehave, they lose the chance  to be with others. Make sure that the time out area should be in safe premises with no toys or games around and quite boring.


Teach to de-escalate: Teach your child to use some alleviating strategies when he gets  angry, eg, taking deep breaths, drinking a glass of water, distracting himself with a song or  a story, or climbing stairs few times .You can discuss and negotiate with the child to follow a  strategy when he feels angry. It can be pasted on the wall in simple steps.


Help Children Remain Calm:  If your child is feeling out of control, you should take him away from the room to prevent escalation of emotion. Out-of control children need parents to step in firmly, so they don't hurt others or break things. This is applicable when the child bursts out in public places or in a function when it’s not easy to adopt other techniques, and this avoid killing others' fun.

Effective and consistent parenting : Democratic  parenting(giving freedom within limits) is the ideal kind of parenting suggested which is the  middle ground approach between authoritarian parenting (limits without freedom) and  permissive parenting (freedom without limits). It is based on warmth, love, guidance, and positive discipline. Parents are more aware of a child's feelings and capabilities and they support the development of a child's autonomy within reasonable limit setting. The outcome of such parenting is children who are happy, self- reliant, content, generous, self controlled, friendly, cooperative, high achievers and independent. 



(A)           Maintain a thought diary with 5 columns and assign each column for the following 

  • Note down the incidences when your temper crossed boundaries. 
  • Evaluate yourself and understand your emotions. Figure out if you are replacing   your sadness, worries, anxiety, hunger, tiredness and over work with anger.
  • Check how you reacted, how long it lasted, the impact it might have created on others. You understand that you devalued others for no or minor reasons which spoiled their day.
  • Figure out how you felt after the incident. You would realize that even if you felt powerful initially, the uneasiness started creeping in your mind which spoiled your day.
  • Find out the alternate way it could be expressed which is more acceptable and pleasing for others and repeatedly practice it in your mind.Continue this self evaluation for a month and you will start focusing on most appropriate way to communicate with others, showing respect and consideration. In this way you are  re-shaping your personality.
  •  (B) Do exercises regularly. Swimming, dancing, jogging, work out in gym anything which will wear away the anger bottling up within you.

    (C) Practice stress reduction techniques on a daily basis which keep your mind cool.


     In conclusion, anger is an emotion. All emotions are normal, feeling angry is acceptable but actions need to be      controlled. Children learn from their parents, teachers and elders and so a responsible behaviour is expected from all of us. High emotional quotient (EQ ) is a must for getting good jobs and moving ahead in careers. Hence let us cultivate and develop the soft skill of assertiveness without losing temper.

    Dr.Elsie Oommen

    Dr Elsie Oommen is Consultant Psychiatrist at Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi

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