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    Sit With Your Anger





    I read a book with my son last night, Anh's Anger (written by Gail Silver; illustrated by Christiane Kromer), that was absolutely wonderful.  It's about a young boy, Anh, who is stacking blocks when his grandfather tells him it's time for dinner. As many young boys who are in the middle of playing, he didn't want to stop playing. He gets very angry, and knocks down his tower, which makes him even more angry (anyone ever experience this with young boys? Yes, I thought so) . His grandfather acknowledges that he's upset, then gently requests that he sit with his anger, then rejoin him when he's calm. While on his own, Anh meets his anger in the form of a big red snaggle-toothed monster. They bang around a bit, vocalize, dance, and then sit and breathe. And as they sit and breathe, anger gets smaller, and Anh gets calmer. They talk about who anger is and why he's there, and how they can help each other. And once Anh is calm, he and his grandfather reconcile, and life continues on.

     

    Sit with your anger.

     

    What amazingly simple, perfect advice. Something that I don't typically do; I'd venture that's true MOST people. I'd say more often than not, we act on our anger right away - which can result in doing or saying things we wouldn't have otherwise done or said, and consequently, feeling badly afterwards. When you can acknowledge your anger, work with it creatively, and try to understand it, it's far less scary. You can become an observer, analyzing, considering, and then releasing.


    (image credit: amazon.com)

     

    So what does sit with your anger mean to a child?

     

    In our post-reading conversation, my nearly 6 year old was able to recognize Anh's monster was not a "real" thing, but rather a representation of the feelings we get when we are angry. He understood the message was that it's okay to FEEL angry, but that you shouldn't act out in anger towards someone or something else - even when you felt like it. He said that it was okay to express your anger in ways that didn't hurt anyone (even yourself) until you were calm enough to think a bit about it; in other words, to have a conversation with your monster. And then, once you've had the conversation, to breathe in, breathe out, calm, and come back to being yourself. He really enjoyed the book as we were going through it, and it inspired some fantastic post-read discussion as well.

    (image credit: gailsilverbooks.com)

     

    The illustrations are bright & simple - charcoal, paint, and collage elements. At ~30 pages (of words & illustrations), I found it just the right length for a bedtime story (and plenty of conversation afterwards).

     

    We all struggle at times with our anger - and our children, who are so new in this world, can often find anger frightening and overwhelming. Heck, so can adults. This book is the perfect springboard for talking with your kids about creative expression of anger - without shame, without punishment - you just might find yourself examining your own ways of dealing with anger. And that can only be a good thing for everyone.

     

    Peace to you.

     

    If Not Spanking, Then What?





    I love my children, and I know that the world can be a hard and angry place. I want to be a haven for them. A gentle place. I want to reflect love and tolerance back to them so they can carry that gift into the world.
    ~ Alex Iwashyna

     

    I recently read a post over at LateEnough.com on why mom-of-two Alex chooses not to spank her children. I agree with her wholeheartedly, and believe there is no room in parenting for violence (of any kind – physical or verbal/emotional). We should all be aware of crossing the sometimes fuzzy line of punitive discipline in our homes – not just because it can lead to escalating violence – but because parenting through fear, intimidation, anger, or violent outbursts is no way to raise a child, nor to live as a parent (you know it just stinks to be a constant rule-barking angry disciplinarian – parents end up missing out on a lot of the joy & so do kids!).  If we want our children to grow up to be empathetic, caring, and peaceful with others, we have to treat them with empathy, caring, and peace.

     

    Of course that’s easier said then done, right? The word peaceful doesn’t always seem congruous with life with children. Children are perpetually in motion, breaking rules, testing boundaries, and outbursting. And as adults, I believe most of us have moments where we really feel like we could or want to spank or scream at our kids (or anyone). And, I believe that we ALL have moments where we actually do react less-than-peacefully, in spite of our best intentions. There are times in parenting where our children can be frustrating. Days that are long after nights where sleep was elusive. Sometimes our patience is short and our creativity lacking. And when all of these things come together, it feels much easier to fall back into modes of parenting that were used on us, or methods that work for others, or just what comes out of frustration – even if those methods aren’t how we would ideally want to parent.

    But even if yelling or spanking seems easier, it certainly isn’t better.  Violence towards our children – in words or deed – isn’t okay. It escalates our stress, it makes our children afraid or worried, and it clouds whatever messages we were trying to send to our kids – because all they’re focusing on is our anger or avoiding being hit or yelled at. I think that most parents understand this and don’t want to resort to violence – whether as a planned out form of discipline, a knee-jerk reaction, or even a last-resort method. But it's not always easy, and it takes awareness, and practice. And more practice.

     

    So, how can we reconcile the desire of “needing to discipline” our children with an innate feeling of wanting to maintain a peaceful home and raise open, empathetic, and loving children? What CAN we do instead of spank to get our message across? And what options are there instead of yelling to get your frustration out and be heard?  How do we get beyond the feeling of wanting to act angrily, and into actually acting peacefully?

     

    Here are some ideas that I’ve used to help calm down when I’m angry, and help me move towards creatively disciplining, without resorting to spanking or outbursts. It doesn’t always work – I’m not perfect – but I’m trying every day to be a better parent.

     

    When you know better, you can do better! And our children (and ourselves) will all be better for our efforts.

     

     

    Calming techniques & alternatives to spanking for parents AND kids:

     

    Count to Ten. Or Twenty. Or One Hundred if need be. Whatever number you need to reach in order to gain some distance between anger and action. You can do this out loud in order to better focus your anger on counting instead of what you were about to scream instead – or – do it in your mind as a metal exercise in patience.  Sometimes the sudden Silence Of Mom will get kids’ attention, too. They might ask you what you’re doing. And even participate. End tantrum. Begin teaching.

     

    Walk Away. If mental distance (a la counting) doesn’t work, try actually separating yourself from the situation. Tell your children – as calmly as possible – what you are doing, so that they can understand (and hopefully model in the future!), “I am feeling REALLY frustrated. I’m going to take a break.” Try NOT to put any blame on this statement – as in, “I’m going away because you guys are acting like maniacs!!!!” Of course, this may in fact be true, but screaming it as you’re separating defeats the purpose of calmly removing yourself from the frustrating situation in order to calm down and at the same time, puts bad, and potentially damaging feelings out there. You can scream it in your head whilst walking away. Or… see the next idea:

     

    Scream into a pillow. Seriously, this works. Just make sure you didn’t slam the door on the way into your bedroom towards the pillow into which you’re about to scream. :) Once screaming is done, tell yourself you’ve released all that negative energy, take a deep breath filled with positivity, splash some water on your face, and re-greet the situation refreshed. Chances are in the meantime, everyone else has cooled down a bit too.

     

    Relocate. If your child is old enough (and calm enough), ask her to remove herself from the situation to calm down. Not in a punitive way, as in “go to your room!”, but in a suggestive, empowering way like, “I see you’re feeling frustrated.  Maybe you’d like to take some time away to get calm”. Once the storm has passed, you might try building a “calming down” area with your child that she designs with things that are comforting – maybe a photograph of kittens or flowers, an iPod with soothing music, a favorite book or puzzle, a soft blanket.

     

    Distract. Sometimes the only thing that works to break everyone out of a potentially volatile situation is simply changing the scene. Start telling a joke. Start juggling or singing or dancing or doing jumping jacks. Open the back door & walk outside. Turn on the shower or turn on the TV. Break out the bubble gum (sweetened with xylitol of course). Dump out a bucket of legos on the floor (didn’t that feel good?). Just changing it up – allowing everyone to move out of their current frame of mind, then revisiting the issue once all is calmer – often does the trick.

     

    Offer a choice. A choice moves the control into your children’s hands, and gives you a moment to cool off while they think about the choice presented. Even if the choice is: do you want to stop running wildly right now or do you want to leave (fill-in-the-blank-place-where-wild-running-isn’t-acceptable) right now? Of course, if said place isn’t actually fun for the child, this may backfire… but still, it gives everyone a moment to think, and if you do end up leaving, you can also offer the option of returning.

     

    Realize YOU have a choice.  Every moment you have a choice. You may feel like you don’t. You might feel like you HAVE to discipline in this moment. That you HAVE to “teach a lesson”. Believe me, I’ve felt that. But you *always* have a choice… and often the best choice is simply to wait it out. Get everyone calmed down by whatever method works best, and THEN talk about the behavior you didn’t like. If it’s a situation that requires immediate intervention (say running into the street or a child hurting another child), intervene swiftly and firmly (a scared voice & face really does work to alert a child to danger – better than a spanking), and separate the child from scene. Then, choose to talk about it later. You never have to spank or yell. You can always choose to do something else.

     

    Pretend someone is watching. If what you are about to say or do isn’t something you’d want your spouse, neighbor, best friend, mom from playgroup, (someone whose parenting opinion you *value*) to hear or see you say or do to your child… don’t do it. Instead, say or do what you’d want someone to think, “Wow, that Mom has her act together!”. I’m not saying we have to live for anyone else’s expectations, but *sometimes* feeling like someone is watching over my shoulder helps me be more measured in my response.

     

    Assess your (and your child’s) current state. Are you hungry or thirsty? Are you trying out a new diet or routine? Did your plans for the day not work out? Are your jeans too tight? Did your child skip his usual nap? Are your hormones out of the norm (because of pregnancy or menstruation for example)? Did you get in an argument with your spouse?  Sometimes these smallest things that seem unrelated to parenting can cause big upsets in our ability to react well to situations. Sometimes just realizing, “Hey, I didn’t get my coffee yet this morning!” and sitting down for five minutes with a hot mug of joe puts things into perspective again. The same goes for children. Potty learning, a new sleeping arrangement, starting or ending school, a new sibling, a growth spurt... all of these "little things" can have big effects on little people.

     

    Imagine you are your child. This is a really powerful tool. Getting in the shoes of the person with whom you’re angry is never easy… but it’s so worthwhile. If your child was looking at you, would they like what they are seeing? Would they want to be covering their ears? Are they actually able to hear what you are trying to teach, or is your message so wrapped up in being angry about behavior that they can’t hear anything other than, “you’re doing it wrong”? Imagine what you would want to hear your mother say or do at that moment – and then do it. Maybe it’s a hug, maybe an offer for a snack, a walk outside, a do-over. I can guarantee it isn’t a verbal lashing or spanking.

     

     

     

    Please remember that using these ideas instead of spanking or yelling doesn’t mean you don’t discipline. It just means that you are demonstrating to your children that in the face of irritation, you can be calm, measured, and in control. A tantrum isn’t enough to faze you – and kids need to feel that and see that! When they know that it’s possible not to go crazy when they are angry, they’ll begin to do it themselves (let me tell you, it is positively heavenly to hear my child yell, “I’m taking a break” than to hear other, angrier or hurtful things yelled). Once everyone is calm, THEN you can talk about whatever rules were broken or whatever misbehavior occurred, and begin to discuss logical consequences to the action if necessary. Chances are you will be able to be more fair in your assessment of the situation and children will be more open to hearing you out and wanting to fix the problem than in the midst of an angry outburst or while trying to avoid a spanking.

     

     

    Online resources on the effects of spanking; plus, gentle discipline techniques:

     

    Spanking: Facts and Fiction http://www.stophitting.com/index.php?page=factsnfiction

     

    Gentle Parenting During Toddler Tantrums  http://typical-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/04/gentle-parenting-during-toddler.html

     

    101 Things to Do Instead of Yelling or Spanking http://codenamemama.com/2010/08/31/100-things-to-do-instead-of-yelling-or-spanking/

     

     

    Books to read on non-punitive discipline & keeping cool while parenting:

     

    ScreamFree Parenting by Edward Runkel

     

    Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort

     

    Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower

     

    Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen

    Posted: May 18 2011, 15:11 by kelly | Comments (22) RSS comment feed |
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    Parenting Through the Perfect Storm





    It’s around 4 o’clock on a rainy day. The kids are bored. You are tired. Maybe you have a work deadline, maybe you’re trying to finish a personal project, or just wanting to organize an area of the house before the clutter gets out of control. Or maybe you just want a little break from the hubbub - but there is no break for a couple more hours (and before then, you have to get dinner made, and keep two rambunctious kids happy). You set said children up on an activity, and decide to hop on your computer (or crack open your favorite novel or get started on that organizing project), for what you hope is a few minutes of “adult” time. But then, the bickering starts. This, you can ignore, until the voices get closer, and start including you: “Mom, she said THIS” and “But MOMMMMM, he took THIS”. And then, something crashes in the kitchen. “Moooooommmmmm!!!!!” You feel your blood pressure rising, and you start out calm, but as you come around the corner of the kitchen to see the bowl you’d prepared earlier in the day so dinner prep would go smoothly, smashed and broken all over the kitchen floor, and before you know it, your voice comes out just a bit louder & harsher than you wanted, and instead of helping them start the cleaning effort, you opt for the escalating loud voice and flailing arms: “What’s going ON in HERE? I just wanted to read for FIVE. MINUTES. Can’t you kids GET ALONG? YOU’RE ALWAYS FIGHTING!!!!” Which of course, isn't true, isn't helpful, and results in nothing being accomplished – other than the kids looking at you wide-eyed and warily like they’re not sure what’s going to happen next, and you feeling badly for yelling and acting like a child yourself.  The mess is still on the floor, the kids’ argument wasn’t resolved, and everyone is still in a state of highly charged emotion.

     

    Sound familiar?  I think we’ve all been at a point where we have had enough. And even though we know better, the perfect storm of events happens right under our own noses, and our self control is sucked away, leaving us with the bare bones of discipline techniques that our parents bestowed on us. 

     

    I think responses like this, when they aren’t habitual, are just visceral reactions; and often not even controllable in the moment. Maybe we’re tired or hungry or our patience has been all used up or we’re touched out. But these moments – they don’t define us; or our parenting. We feel awful about them; and I always try to remember that the feeling badly afterwards is a good emotional response. It’s a reminder to do better, try harder, and come up with tools that work more effectively, so our immediate reaction is more in line with what our planned out reaction to aggravation is like (the responses that we’re proud of and feel help us and our children learn how to deal with anger and aggravation in a positive and productive way – we’ve all had those moments too).


    (Artist: Mindaugas Danys  Source: Flickr) 

     

    So what can you do when the perfect storm hits? Well, there’s the lead-up to the storm… and there’s the aftermath. Let’s start with the aftermath:

     

    The first thing I do is apologize. But I don’t just say sorry – I try to explain to my kids why I was feeling how I was feeling, acknowledge their feelings, and I use the opportunity to model what I’d like to hear/see from them. I also use gentle touch – like a hug or a pat on the shoulder, or even just getting down on their level so we see eye to eye.

     

    I’m sorry that I yelled at you in the kitchen; I bet that was scary for you. I was feeling so aggravated at having to get up from my seat and because I was distracted by my aggrivation, I wasn’t paying attention to using my words carefully.

     

    Next thing I do is talk about how I could have changed the outcome, or what I could do, or we could do together to fix the situation.

     

    Next time, I will try to be more patient in my response.  Yelling doesn’t help the situation. What do you think I could have done to help the situation? Is there anything you could have done differently to help the people around you feel more comfortable? I know you didn’t mean to break the bowl; let’s clean it up together.

     

    I have found that children are incredibly forgiving and peace-loving. They strive for harmony and the thought of holding a grudge doesn’t come naturally. Often times I’ll start to talk about why I felt badly or acted in a way I wasn’t thrilled with and they’ve already moved on. In which case, the best thing to do is…

     

    Forgive myself.  When I realize that I may have acted in a way that’s less than ideal, but have apologized and thought about ways to do it differently next time, I also realize that the simple act of awareness is a big step towards making a change. I forgive myself the lapse of peaceful parenting prowess, realize my children have forgiven me, and I forgive myself. And then…

     

    I move on to what I can do to better handle future perfect storms. I get a game plan in place. What tools do I have and what tools do I need to obtain and develop in order to handle a kid storm in a way that is calm, and guiding, not a way that leaves me wishing I’d done things differently? My game plan is a bit like this:

     

    Firstly, and probably most importantly, I stay aware of my inner balance.  If I’m feeling out of balance – if I start to realize that the kids noise level is sounding consistently to loud to me, when I know it’s really not too loud, or if I’m finding myself annoyed by things that shouldn’t be that annoying, I take stock of what’s going on in my body and mind at the moment, and fix whatever I can fix.  If I’m hungry or thirsty, I get a snack or drink. If I’m tired, I set up a quiet activity and I lie down with them while they play and rest for a few minutes or alternatively, I choose an activity that requires some action to get my blood flowing – running up and down the stairs a few times, or doing yoga with the kids or getting outside and walking around (I know it’s hard in the winter, but there's something about fresh air and nature that rejuvinates, energizes, and balances).  If I’m overwhelmed, I either ask for help – if it’s available – or I figure out what can be cut from my current “to do’s” and I decide not to feel bad about cutting it. If it just happens that I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and can’t come up with a good reason for my mood, I’ll acknowledge that – maybe I’ll mention it to my kids, “Guys, I’m in kind of a crummy mood, so let’s all try to be extra kind to each other today”, then, I’ll have a piece of chocolate, a cup of coffee, and forgive myself for not having an ideal day, and talk myself into grinning and bearing it.  Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of alone time (and “alone time” really can be your computer and a cup of coffee while your little ones play quietly at your feet – and you’re browsing through blogs or looking at magazines that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with parenting) to regain my peaceful center. 


    (Artist: Aussiegall  Source: Flickr)

    Secondly, I make sure I have a plan of action in place for what to do when my center has been lost, and I feel the storm coming on. Things like:

     

    - Realizing I don’t have to intervene in every altercation.  In fact, unless they are hurting each other, it’s best to let the kids work out small disagreements themselves.  When they realize they have the tools to resolve issues, they will do so more and more often without calling MOM!!! every time something doesn’t go exactly as planned. That’s a lot of aggravation, avoided.

     

    - Stepping away from the heat of moment instead of lunging straight for it.  Sometimes, if I know I’m feeling irritable, and not likely to have the most measured response, instead of heading for my kids’ argument, I will head for another room. I have said many a time to my children: “I’m taking a time out”. Giving myself space, a few moments to breathe and think, help me clarify the situation and come up with a more level-headed response.

     

    - Deciding to speak slowly and quietly when I feel like yelling. If I encounter the urge to yell, I use it as a signal to speak softly and choose words carefully. Or instead of saying something grumpy, saying something goofy. Realizing in the midst of a kid storm, sometimes the opposite reaction is the best – like laughing instead of arguing.

     

    - Acknowledging that I can’t fix every problem, take on every issue, or respond to every outburst. My kids’ reactions and moods belong to them, and I don’t have to respond in kind. If my children yell at me, I don’t need to yell back. If my children are being grumpy, sometime it’s okay to just let them be grumpy; it’s not my fault they are grumpy, and I don’t have to take it personally. Modeling cool and calm, owning my own feelings & letting them own theirs is always good.

     

    - Remembering that not every interaction needs to be the perfect learning and teaching moment. Sometimes the scissors just need to be taken away when they are being brandished at a sibling as a weapon; I don’t need to wait for them to be passed while explaining and talking over alternatives to the current scissor-wielding behavior.

    And sometimes the television needs to be turned on and the children sat down in front of it so that I can step away and regain my cool. I love what Annie at PhdinParenting said about the TV: “I’m not a fan of using television as a babysitter. But I am a big fan of using television to avoid mistreating my children and damaging our relationship.” (from her post Ready to Snap) What I mean is, sometimes I find myself so wrapped up in how I can best parent through a moment, and get so guilty over what message am I sending and what lesson am I teaching and why can’t I figure this out or get them to figure this out, when the children aren’t responding to my explanations and descriptions, that I end up getting more riled up than if I’d just responded quickly and done what I needed to do in that moment, and worried about fixing the message later (if even necessary).  Not every single moment of parenting needs to be educational.

     

    And finally, when all is said and done, I realize that every day I’m doing the best I can. Some days are awesome, some days are less so, but most of the time, I’m a good mom, I’m kind to my children, I apologize when I’m not, and I forgive myself and try to do better in the future – for them and for me. That’s the best anyone can do.

    Posted: Jan 17 2011, 17:46 by kelly | Comments (34) RSS comment feed |
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    What About Anger





    I've been thinking lately about anger & how it affects children. And parents.
    As parents, so much of our time is spent with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers (and children and tweens and teens, I can only imagine) trying to teach them how to control (suppress) their anger: We don't hit! No biting! Quiet voices inside! Use nice words! And meanwhile, try to control (suppress) our own anger, in an effort to be a peaceful (good) parent.

     

    Really, I think we don’t want our children to be angry. Or, when they are angry (as people will be, of course), we want them to figure out how to get it under control. Like, NOW. And, in a way that socially acceptable (and doesn’t hurt my ears or other parts of my body, or embarrass you or me, thank you very much).  We don’t like the way it makes them feel, makes us feel, or the aftermath of said anger – theirs, or ours. I think we’d rather avoid it altogether.


    I’m a believer of teaching children through example - SHOWING our children how to behave more than telling them. Children do learn more by what they see played out and work out themselves, rather than what they hear.

    So, I try to be gentle. (Oftentimes feeling not all that gentle.)

    I try to be quiet and measured with my voice. (Though sometimes all I want to do is yell!)

    I try to give my children words to describe their feelings. (Nice words, when I can think of them.) 

     

    I tell and show my children that sometimes we DON'T feel good, but even when you feel that way, you still need to act with kindness, patience, and peacefulness.  (Oh, that sounds good, doesn’t it?)

     

    But I often find, that in my effort to teach anger management and keep a peaceful household, I get so wrapped up in the, “what can I do to not mess up my kids by getting angry with them” mode of thinking that I think I often miss the actual hearing what they are angry about and helping them work through it in a meaningful (though maybe not ideal) way.  In the striving to be perfect in my management of anger (rarely happens), I get so darned frustrated, I miss opportunities to stop, say what I’m feeling, and act it out myself in a acceptable way. I think this comes in part from my upbringing - my parents were not ones to withhold the anger (um, read: rage); and it didn't need to have reason.  Screaming was just the method of communication in my household.  So I know now as a parent myself, I try desperately to avoid that at all costs. Because I don't want to be a (the) YELLING MOM.  But in trying to restrict the rage, I disregard my early signals of anger, and miss opportunities to share with my kids, in reasonable tones, "Hey, I'm feeling irritable right now.  I need a break.", and instead, tend to bottle it until it blows.

     

    Case in point: I will repeat ad nauseum "be kind/gentle to your siblings" & "please stop fighting", with increased frequency and urgency but then lose my temper (because my 5 year old has the third tantrum of the day, I haven't had my coffee, I need to pay the bills, go grocery shopping, vaccuum, do the dishes, and have a deadline to meet at work…) and end up yelling, "I've had enough!" and slamming a door to give myself (a much needed, but could have been otherwise more peacefully acheived) time out (right after telling my 3 year old not to slam doors)! 

     

    Go me:  

     

    Which make me wonder: does that very real action negate the message I’m trying to send my kids about anger?  Because, I’m really not that good at managing my own anger all the time.  I can get so frustrated that I yell (and apologize) or slam doors (and say I shouldn’t have done that) or make stupid threats like, “we’re never coming back to the playground!” (and then admit, no that’s ridiculous, of course we are, I was just feeling frustrated with your behavior and I lost my temper). And then I feel plagued with guilt at not being in control of my anger. And guilt at not being able to teach my kids to control their anger.  I’m supposed to be teaching life-long lessons here, right?

     

    But then, that makes me wonder: is it even ideal to BE peaceful/even-keeled/NOT angry/in control all the time?

     

    Kids and adults naturally feel anger as one of their emotions, and bottling that up isn't healthy. So, maybe what I need most to be striving for (and worrying about) isn't how to control and stifle anger (mine or theirs), but how to accept anger as a natural emotion, and learn how better to express anger in a healthy acceptable way. To stop worrying so much about keeping anger in check (so much so that I end up getting super-frustrated with myself, and thus the kids, & completely lose my temper), but instead show my children not that I’m impenetrable by anger.  That I can be, in fact, very touched by anger and frustration and irritation and annoyance, and that’s okay.  Maybe if I accept anger, as I feel it coming on, and express it (not smother it) through words like, “Hey, kids, right now I’m starting to feel angry because you’re not listening to what I’m saying to you”, I might be better able to release it before it builds up.  And in this way be teaching them through example, that saying, “I’m angry with you”, is really okay.  Far better than bottling it up and releasing it all at once by yelling or door slamming.

     

    So how do YOU control your anger?  Or do you?  How do you teach your kids to express themselves when they’re angry? 

    Posted: Jun 02 2010, 23:44 by kelly | Comments (11) RSS comment feed |
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