Anger is almost always an overflow of different underlying emotions, and this is particularly true for children as they do not yet know how to compartmentalize emotions and deal with them accordingly. Instead, the child experiencing grief, helplessness, insecurity, hurt, or a host of other negative emotions, will subconsciously allow that emotion to bubble up and pour over as anger. As parents, it can be challenging to remember that, often, anger is not a behavior problem that needs to be disciplined, but instead, the surfacing of underlying emotions that need to be gently addressed. TCKs experience a significant amount of grief. In fact, they experience more losses in their first 18 years than most mono-cultural adults do in their lifetime (Misunderstood, Tanya Crossman, 2016). Unfortunately, this grief and the multitude of tag-along emotions that accompany it, often come out in explosions of anger.
Enter, the "Get Out My Angry Cards". This is one of my very favorite tools, and is a concept that I teach kids ages 3 all the way to 18. I'll admit, I have mentally drawn from my own deck of "Get Out My Angry Cards" a time or two myself! These cards give kids choices for appropriate ways to deal with their anger and other negative emotions. As I stress to the TCKs in my class, "It is OK to be angry! It is not ok to hurt people or yourself in your anger, and you must find a way to "get out your angry", but being angry in and of itself is not wrong." You'd be surprised how many kids look up at me with big, shocked eyes. But, it is true, emotions are never wrong, how you act upon them is a different story. The "Get Out My Angry Cards" gives children healthy ways to combat their negative emotions without ignoring them.
Here's how you can make a deck of your own:
Together with your children, brainstorm appropriate ideas for cooling down when they are angry. These could include:
Counting to 100
Doing jumping jacks
Listening to music
Praying about it
Drawing your anger
Taking 5 deep breaths
Talking about it with someone you trust
Make up a dance
Write and/or draw them on 3x5 cards, decorate the cards, hole punch them, and clip them together with a binder ring. They now have a deck of choices for working through their negative emotions. Every child processes differently, so providing them with a variety of healthy options can be very effective. When you see your child becoming angry, you can instruct him or her to choose a “Get Out My Angry Card" and then proceed to have a conversation about the underlying cause of their anger after they have completed the card. Children cannot have a rational conversation in the heat of their anger, so it is critical to wait until their anger has subsided before trying to discuss the sub-surface feelings. The cards give them practical ways to cool down, and creating them can be a fun project to do together as a family!
If you adopt this tool into your family, I'd love to hear about how it works for you and your kids!