Anger is an emotion, we all feel it from time to time. It can develop slowly, the feelings of disappointment or frustration that continue to build up over time until they simmer over or it can come on quickly, frequently because your child is overwhelmed, frustrated or feels an injustice has been done.
When people speak about anger control issues, it isn’t necessarily the anger that needs to be eliminated, it is the aggressive behavior that results from the anger. Sheila has a teen son with Asperger’s syndrome (AS). In many ways, he is the same as his neurotypical siblings. But he becomes frustrated easily and when he doesn’t appropriately deal with his frustration it escalates to anger - and then he throws things and usually ends up in a total meltdown.
Children and teens on the autism spectrum (ASD) have a hard time interpreting and making sense of the world around them. It doesn’t always fit into their linear and logical thinking. It doesn’t always fit into their strong sense of justice. Their inability to relate to and understand their environment often leads to frustration.
Parents are often at a loss as to how to help their children deal with anger and frustration in more constructive ways. The following tips may help:
Help your child learn the warning signs of anger and frustration. We all feel anger in our bodies, although we may feel it differently. We may feel a tightness in our chest, a headache or a feeling of our hands tightening into a fist. Help your child discover how his body tells him his anger level is rising. Being aware of our anger is the first step to learning to use it constructively.
Teach deep breathing. Taking ten deep breaths - where your abdomen rises, helps to diffuse feelings of anger and frustration and gives your child a moment before reacting to the situation. Even a few minutes between the feeling of anger and acting out can help your child come up with different ways of behaving.
Have your child do something physical. Physical activity reduces stress and feelings of anger. Tasks such as vacuuming may help for younger children as can running or jumping in place. For older children, stopping to do ten sit ups may give enough time to diffuse the anger.
Have your child or teen keep an anger journal. It is sometimes hard for a child with ASD to be able to express their feelings but some may feel more comfortable writing them down. Your child can write down what made him angry, how he felt and what steps he took to overcome these feelings. This gives him a reference to learn what works and what doesn’t work.
Give your child a calm place to go. Some children may prefer to be alone and have some time to calm down. Provide a place, it can be their room, that has things they can do to distract them from the frustration. Be sure your child isn’t going to their room and throwing things or hitting walls.
Make sure you are being a good role model. If you react to frustration by yelling or screaming, your child will too. Instead, practice frustration management so you react to situations in a calm manner.
Use guided imagery disks or apps to help your child calm down.
Have a plan of action. When your child is in the middle of a meltdown, giving instructions on disarming the anger isn’t going to work. Your child needs to practice anger and frustration management during calm moments, so he can instantly put them to use when he feels the warning signs.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.