How a martial arts teacher talks to kids about anger

March 4, 2018

I was contacted the other day by a family member concerned about the recent behavior of his student, specifically the anger he has been displaying.  The child had apparently been talking back, hitting his brother, and almost hitting his mom.  Could you imagine hitting your own mom?!  Fortunately, he stopped himself, but his aggression was alarming enough for the family to reach out for help, and I am always more than happy to assist these kids to grow into respectable, responsible adults.


On Thursday afternoon I met with the young man, and we had an honest conversation.  At first he was his usual self, happy and smiling, but when we addressed the elephant in the room--his behavior--the tears began to flow.  I could see so much of myself in that face.  I know first-hand how that anger builds and boils over.  I know what it feels like to lose control of my own words and actions.  In that moment, I could relate.  He was ashamed at the way he’d been acting and that things had gotten to the point they had. It was hard for him to talk about it.  This was a teachable moment.


Now, I’m nowhere near an expert in anger management, but I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way, having dealt with this myself.  Here’s how I talk to kids about anger...


1)  Identify what makes you angry


Something set him off.  I asked some questions to get him to open up and, after talking through some of the possibilities, he admitted that his little brother takes his things without permission and often invades his space.  It’s important to recognize what sets us off so that we can be aware when it happens again, and it will.  Rather than triggering the usual angry response that leads to hitting and saying something we’ll regret, we can choose our response.  What we are trying to do is to take the power away from that particular trigger.


2) Have a plan for how you will handle your anger


OK, so we know whatever angered us last time will probably happen again.  We need to plan for the likely trigger and have an idea of how we will react, so as not to relive the past negative response. Here are two powerful tools for getting control of the anger:


Ask for some time to yourself - Taking a moment to step away and collect your thoughts is a powerful tool!  In the spirit of trying to create a peaceful outcome, I tell my young students that it’s OK to ask their parents if they can take some time alone, and that it’s OK feel angry.They’re not in trouble for being angry.  Trouble comes from the response to the anger.  Who makes good choices when they’re angry??

Take some deep breaths - Seriously, slow things down and take 10 slow, deliberate breaths!  Slowing down the breathing will get oxygen flowing and help to clear things up in your mind and, hopefully, allow for a clear head to deal with whatever issue set us off in the first place.


3) Talk about what happened


Once you’ve calmed down and you’ve got a clearer picture of why you’re angry, talk about it.  Stay calm and explain what happened and why it angered you.  This is important, so I’m saying it's ok to feel angry. But we have to get control of that anger when it happens and before it controls us.  This is the part where steady parents and adults can guide young minds and give them the tools they need to be good communicators.  This is where they will learn to express their emotions in a way that strengthens their character and the bond they have with their family.


I’m sure we’ve all had moments when we felt so angry that we said or did something we’re not particularly proud of, so remember, empathize and be sincere.  We can’t change what happened, but we can learn from it and improve!

As a member of the Ultimate Black Belt Test 2018, I am dedicated to improving myself and the martial arts I teach by passing on the lessons I'm continuously leaning through the process.  I am committed to adding to the work of my mentor and UBBT creator and coach, Tom Callos, by expanding on what martial arts can represent in our studio and in our community.  If you'd like to know more about the Ultimate Black Belt test or the work of Tom Callos, please feel free to visit the sites linked above!  

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