December 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 6 // Tools of the Trade // 6TOT4
Anger Management Toolbox for Parents
It's Monday morning, Mom and Dad are tired, their children aren't cooperating, and this is adding tension to an already stressful day. Before they react to their children with anger, parents can try reaching for the Anger Management Toolbox. Or, it could be that their three-year-old has not yet learned how to share her toys with others and this is causing quite a problem within the family. What can they do? The Anger Management Toolbox can help. This novel parenting tool gives positive strategies for handling "hot button" issues that often occur when raising children.
Family violence issues such as anger management for parents have been identified as one of the top concerns of people interacting with children. When parents feel anger in response to something their child does, their first reaction is often to feel aggressive toward the child. Although anger is a universal emotion, many parents have difficulty expressing and handling their feelings of anger in a constructive manner. By learning how to effectively deal with anger, parents can improve their relationships with their children. "The most important protective resource to enable a child to cope with exposure to violence is a strong relationship with a competent, caring, positive adult" (Osofsky, 1998).
Anger can be a constructive force when you use it to bring about change that solves problems, rights an injustice or a wrong, or restores self-esteem and pride. The rewards for constructive management of anger can be deeper emotional connections among family members and an increased sense of worth, integrity, and feeling safe. When problems are solved by discussion and re-direction and expression of feelings, there is less need to elevate the level of anger. Such constructive management of anger will reduce the risks of violence and abuse.
The Anger Management Toolbox is a practical teaching tool that Extension educators can use to encourage parents to deal with anger in a constructive way. Educators can build a program around the Toolbox or incorporate it into existing parenting programs.
Toolbox Purpose and Description
The Anger Management Toolbox contains practical and proven strategies to assist parents in handling the frustration and anger that often arise when interacting with children. Use of the 'Toolbox strategies helps parents learn to develop skills that can improve communication with their children and reduce the level of stress in the home. Learning alternative strategies will decrease the use of physical discipline, encourage consistent parenting styles, develop positive problem-solving skills, and decrease conditions that cause violence towards children.
The Toolbox consists of:
A lightweight plastic file box with rounded edges (provides safety and easy portability) that holds 3" x 5" index cards.
Five "age-group" tabs: 1st year, 2nd & 3rd, 4 & 5th, 6th through 11th, and 12th through 17th.
Over 40 "Anger Trigger" cards that depict specific behaviors of children that might trigger angry responses from parents or caregivers.
An "Anger Trigger" is a specific behavior that can "push our buttons" and cause us to get angry. For parents of young children, even everyday childhood behaviors can activate an anger trigger. For example, most parents have or will experience the frustration of a young child not sleeping through the night. That frustration can lead to anger directed at the child. So the behavior of the child--not sleeping through the night--becomes the anger trigger for the parent or caregiver. Another example would be a three-year-old having a temper tantrum. The behavior of the child--having a temper tantrum--becomes the anger trigger for the parent or caregiver.
Each card addresses a specific anger trigger and is followed by three general prompts: Stop and Remember, Think, and Say and Do. Each card is also bilingual--English on one side and Spanish on the other.
The Stop and Remember prompt reminds the parent to STOP before reacting to the behavior and REMEMBER that this is a young child behaving like a young child.
The Think prompt asks the parent to try to see the child's perspective. Often children do not understand why someone is getting angry or how to change their behavior.
The Say and Do prompt gives suggestions on positive responses that can help deactivate the anger trigger and lead to a constructive outcome.
Use and Evaluation
This 'Toolbox has been the focal point of the RETHINK© (IMHI) Anger Management Program that is currently being taught by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. In workshops with parents, the instructor teaches the why and how of using the 'Toolbox, followed by several small group activities that allow the participants to practice using the Toolbox (Kock, Killian, & Bixler, 2003).
Over 860 parents have completed the training. Initial post-pre-test measured whether participants understood what triggered their anger, recognized the signs that they were getting angry, and learned how they typically handled their anger and whether they learned constructive ways to manage anger. Results showed significant increases in parents' knowledge. New efforts to measure actual use of the 'Toolbox include a 6-month follow up interview. Results of in-person interviews conducted in January 2006 with 14 of the 20 parents who had taken a workshop in July 2005 were:
How many times have you used the Toolbox since the workshop?
79% had used the 'Toolbox one or more times
36% had used the 'Toolbox four or more times
If you have used the Toolbox, how helpful was it?
73% found the 'Toolbox "very helpful"
27% found the 'Toolbox "somewhat helpful"
If you have used the Toolbox, what was the age group(s) of the cards you used?
The age groups most referenced were for "2 & 3 years olds" and "6 to 11 years old."
If you have not used the Toolbox, how likely is it that you will use the Toolbox in the future if you want help with handling a "hot button" anger issue with a child?
The three parents who had not used the 'Toolbox said that they "might" use it in the future.
Additional comments from parents include: "Good guide. One time had problem with three-year-old sharing. My 10-year-old son went to the box and read the card for sharing to me in English, I read it in Spanish." "Husband also uses it. I have it in the living room at our disposal. Sometimes we are at a loss of what to do--the cards help."
Kock, J., Killian, E., & Bixler, M. (2003). Anger management toolbox curriculum. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Curriculum Materials, CM-03-09. Available at: http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/hn/2003/cm0309.pdf
Osofsky, J. D. (1998). Children in a violent society. Guilford Publishing Inc.
The Institute for Mental Health Initiatives (IMHI) (1988). Anger management for parents: The RETHINK© method. Distributed by Research Press, 2612 N. Mattis Ave., Champaign, IL 61822.