Working with Childhood Anger: How to Manage it with Playfulness

As parents, it’s easy to love being around our kids when they’re behaving and doing as they’re told. However, the moment something happens, whether an emotional tantrum or a physical outburst, we tend to quickly lose our cool as parents. Angry and upset ourselves, we turn our attention to doing everything possible to make the outburst stop. As if in a state of panic, we shout and yell, threatening our child with punishments and consequences, desperate to “win” to show who’s really in charge.

For most adult parents, especially in the United States, this reaction has been learned, handed down to us from our parents and grandparents. We even have moments where we recognize this learned behavior, exclaiming, “Oh my gosh! I sound just like my mom/dad!” And, while it’s easy to dismiss our responses to an angry child as “just the way it is”, the truth is that there is a healthier way for everyone.

For thousands of years, the Inuit people have lived a very similar lifestyle. Known for being calm and loving, the Inuit rarely raise their voices or show anger as adults. Even when their children get angry, they manage to stay collected and level-headed because something in their culture has taught them how to handle their negative emotions in a way that’s very different from the “American” way of life.

For Inuit parents, showing their anger, even raising their voices, is a sign of weakness and childishness. Rather than meeting their children’s anger with their own, parents stay calm, waiting for their child to cool down before speaking with them. Not only does this tactic immediately defuse the situation, but it teaches children something else important: Their response to anger doesn’t have to be anger.

At the cornerstone of Inuit parenting is a golden rule: No scolding, no timeouts, no shouting. 

Whether the child is two or eight, Inuit parents focus their energy on tender nurturing. Incredibly gentle with their children, the Inuit culture views scolding, yelling, or even speaking in a negative voice to children as inappropriate. Parents recognize that yelling back, or even raising your voice, at an angry child only makes your own heart rate go up – and it definitely doesn’t make your child feel better or set a good example.
When children get angry, Inuit parents don’t view it as misbehaving, which is how so many Americans are taught to understand it. Instead, they understand anger as an emotion (which is exactly what it is). To help a child become less angry, Inuit parents go to work to try to figure out what’s at the root of the behavior – and they’re calm and patient in doing so.

Rather than “demeaning” themselves by getting angry or yelling back at a child who’s upset, Inuit parents use a unique teaching strategy: Dramas. When an Inuit child gets angry, they are given the space they need to calm down on their own – no judgment, no fear of immediate and arbitrary consequences. Once they have calmed down, parents use playful dramas as a chance to teach their child about the real consequences of their actions. This strategy gives children an ability to practice controlling their anger when they’re not actually angry.

As adults, we should understand how difficult it can be to immediately turn off our anger – so why should we expect our child to be able to?

By recreating the behavior in a fun, playful way after the child is no longer angry, the child can see more clearly how they acted, the effects that it has, and how to better respond next time. This simple teaching method requires time and patience from parents – but isn’t that exactly what we should be giving our children in the first place?

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