Teach assertiveness, not aggressiveness
Teach your children to make their feelings known by stating their opinions, desires, and reactions clearly. Give them language to help them negotiate difficult situations. For example, “I’m not comfortable; can we talk about this?”
Teach anger control
Help your children recognize their personal signs for anger. Do they have tensed arms and shoulders? Do they feel their hearts pounding? Are they clenching their fists? These are signs and feelings that need to be acknowledged and resolved. Give them tools to help them recognize and name their feelings. Additionally, give them tools to calm down, such as deep breathing, counting backward from 10, reminding themselves that they have control over what to say and do next, or if nothing else, walking away. Teach your children that any incident of violence in a relationship is a serious problem.
A story from a parent:
My 5-year-old son is learning about anger control at his preschool. They taught him that when he is feeling angry or frustrated, he can help calm himself by taking some “belly breaths” (deep breaths with his hands on his tummy). Since he learned this skill, we have tried to reinforce it at home so that he keeps using this positive practice in his daily life, and it really does help him calm down and think more clearly about what is happening and how to resolve it.
Lately, though, when he sees that I am frustrated or angry, he will suggest that maybe I need to take some “belly breaths.” Honestly, my initial response was embarrassment that he could tell that I’m upset, and anger because it felt like he was telling me how to behave. But he is usually right, and I have started to respond to his caring suggestion with less defensiveness. I am now able to smile, and take a few “belly breaths” that help me calm down and think more clearly about what is happening and how to resolve it.
Help your children work through problem-solving skills.
- Examine what happened and what might have caused the problem
- Think of different ways it could be resolved
- Consider the consequences to each alternative
- Discuss their choices
When they are small, talk aloud about your own problem-solving so they can observe what you do. For example, as you pack lunch for work, you might say, “Two tamales and some coffee is enough at lunchtime. But I get hungry again in the afternoon. I could pack more lunch but I think that would just make me too full. I think I will pack a banana for a quick little snack for later, instead.” Beginning when they are small, permit them to make age-appropriate decisions (“Which toy do you want to sleep with?” “Do you want to play with your blocks or read a book?”) This allows your children to begin practicing problem-solving skills. As they mature, they can make progressively more complex decisions (“You may choose what to do with the five dollars your aunt gave you for your birthday,” etc.); just make sure to be clear about any limits (“No firecrackers”) and help them think through the steps.
As your children get older, help them work through the steps above to resolve disagreements between siblings or friends. You and your children can also discuss problems that characters in stories and videos experience as well as possible outcomes if the characters had made different choices.
Don’t underestimate your teens’ abilities to think critically. Teens have values and are capable of making mature, responsible decisions, especially when they have all the important facts and can discuss their options with supportive adults. Remember, though, that teenagers’ decisions may be different from your own — but this is true of any person in your life.
Teach your children to acknowledge difficult situations and give them the skills to state their point of view honestly to help create options that benefit all parties. Learning to brainstorm options (thinking of different ways to solve the problem) is an important skill. Make sure to provide your child with the opportunity and time to practice. Once they learn, many children will invent and create options on their own, but often need reminders and help to see the process through (even adults often forget to seek options that keep both people happy or to remember shared interests, such as “I love you,” to motivate the negotiation).