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Article:   STOP, WALK, TALK: The Answer to Anger?

By Janet Pfeiffer
Family Magazine
March 2008

One of the greatest challenges we face as parents is helping our children deal with their anger. They can easily become frustrated and may lash out in anger and cause harm to themselves or another. Understanding what frustration is and where it actually comes from is essential to their development. Using simple and highly effective strategies to manage it is a vital necessity for their well-being.

Have you ever witnessed your child working on a project (perhaps for school) and becoming so frustrated that they blow up in a fit of rage and trash everything? They have truly reached their breaking point yet quitting teaches them nothing and very often is not even an option. What can you as a parent do to help them manage their feelings and complete the task?

First it is important to understand that anger is a by-product of frustration and frustration comes from the need to control.

Your child knows exactly what it is they want to accomplish and as long as that happens they're fine. They determine the outcome.

However, when things begin to go awry, they feel as though they are loosing control. They feel helpless, powerless. (This is the definition of anger: feelings of helplessness or powerlessness.) That's a very uncomfortable feeling for them because it leaves them feeling vulnerable.

Here's a little-known fact: no one can control the outcome of anything. One can only influence. There are so many outside factors that ultimately determine the end result of our efforts. Nothing is guaranteed.

Your child may be doing everything exactly the way it needs to be done yet something can still go wrong that will change the final outcome.

What your child can control, however, is the choices they make, how they handle themselves throughout this entire process and what they choose to do with the experience once the task is completed. Learning valuable lessons from unexpected difficulties is one of life's most important lessons and this is the perfect opportunity to learn.

Here's a simple technique that you can share with your child to help them better manage the feelings of frustration and anger. It's actually a variation of the stop, drop and roll that we teach for fire emergencies. Frustration and anger are normal healthy emotions. But when mismanaged or misused, both can have devastating consequences. The next time your child begins feeling frustrated, have them STOP, WALK, and TALK. Let me explain.

At the first sign of frustration, have them STOP what they're doing. Once they have ceased working on the project, their stress levels off. Next, have them WALK away from it. Out of sight, out of mind, right? This allows the child to take a much-needed break, calm down and cool off. It is vitally important to give the child the opportunity to calm their emotions. When one acts out emotionally, they rarely make intelligent choices and consequently the outcome is usually unfavorable. But when feelings subside, the intellectual brain takes over. Information is processed and rational decisions follow.

Now your child can begin the final step: TALK.

Talk things out with another person: a parent, friend, teacher- anyone they trust.

  • Talk about what is going on and how they feel.
  • What are the real issues here?
  • What are they trying to accomplish? Is that possible? If so, then what is the best way to do that? Ask the other party for helpful suggestions or if they can be of assistance. Look for as many possible solutions as they can. Explore every conceivable option.
  • What is out of their control?
  • Can they be ok with the things that will remain unchanged? (Acceptance is one of the keys to serenity.) Learn to do the best you can with what you've got and then let it go.
  • If no one is around, encourage them to talk to themselves. (Haven't you had conversations with yourself and discovered the answers on your own?) Once the child has calmed down and has gained a new perspective and some possible alternatives, they can return to complete the project. There has been a shift in focus from the problem ("This isn't working!") to the solution ("I'll try this instead.") Calm and confident, they stand a much better chance of succeeding. Should the frustration return, instruct them to repeat this process as often as necessary.

Intelligent choices consistently produce better results than emotional ones.

"Think and act, don't react."

This process can also be applied to a verbal encounter as well. If your child is speaking with someone, experiences feelings of frustration, and notices that the conversation is becoming tense, remind them to STOP talking, WALK away from each other, and TALK out their feelings and situation with a third party. Refer back to the above questions. The results should be the same.

The beauty of this technique is that it replaces feelings of helplessness with feelings of power. Knowing what one has the ability to change allows the child to focus on the solution. Accepting what cannot be changed prevents expending precious energy on something that is out of our hands and allows one to be at ease with the final outcome. This prevents angry outbursts and puts the child in control of their own behavior. Less frustration, less anger, more intelligent choices - now that's POWERFUL!

And just a reminder, we must be the example for our children.

As Ghandi said, "I must first be the change I want to see in others."

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