A+ Advice for Parents

Son Must Learn How to Control Angry Outbursts

Q: My son's teacher told me that his emotional maturity must improve before he enters first grade or, "Jacob will spend all his time with the principal." When he gets frustrated, he throws a tantrum. I'm sick of yelling! Any suggestions?

A: Try techniques Wisconsin family counselor and psychotherapist William Mulcahy shares with parents.

"Don't take frustration as an assault to your parenting skills," says Mulcahy. "As young children grow, they constantly encounter new tasks to accomplish, grow from -- and become frustrated by."

He teaches kids the Frustration Triangle: name it, tame it and reframe it. They learn to cope with frustration in a way that puts them in charge of their thoughts and feelings.

Here's how it works: Draw a triangle and label each point as you go. First ask Jacob to name the cause of frustration.

"This may sound obvious, but naming the source increases children's awareness of their emotional state," says Mulcahy.

Next, tame it with "chill skills" to let go of the frustration. These include deep breathing, counting to 10, playing, listening to music, spending time in nature, progressive relaxation, prayer and meditation.

Third, reframe it by looking at the situation from a different angle. For example: "I can't ride my bike, but my dad will play catch with me."

Mulcahy says as kids become more efficient at reframing, they learn that this, too, will pass.

Tantrums that follow frustrations often necessitate apologies. Mulcahy says learning to apologize should be taught in a positive way.

"They can learn the power of a sincere apology," he says. "It can end conflict without fighting, encourage communication, restore self-respect, increase empathy for receiver and giver, and heal negative feelings such as shame, guilt and anger."

He teaches children a "four square" apology to make something right: Write the four steps on a paper folded in quarters to make it easy to learn them.

First, the child must define what he did to hurt somebody. Allow the child time to get calm and acknowledge what he's done wrong.

Next describe how the person felt. This is where the child should put himself in the other's shoes, says Mulcahy. "It's a step in developing empathy, a critical social-emotional skill," he says.

Third, discuss what the child can do next time. This prepares children to think about future choices they can make in a given situation, rather than have a knee-jerk reaction.

Fourth, talk about how to make it up to the person. "When we hurt others, we take something away," says Mulcahy. This step gets children to think how to give something back.

"We need to help children understand that frustration is a natural emotion and that emotions aren't good or bad," Mulcahy says. "It's what we do with our emotions that matters. These techniques teach kids to feel, identify and deal with their emotions in a healthy way."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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