Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, October 3, 2011

4 Choices in Anger Expression for Kids: Part 1

While anger is a basic human emotion and experienced universally across all ages, races, and cultures, skills for assertive anger expression do not come naturally to most. Rather, learning how to make positive choices in expressing anger is a step-by-step process for young people.

Parents and caregivers can guide kids in making positive choices by helping kids understand their options in communicating angry feelings:


Aggression is one way the feeling of anger is expressed in behavior. Aggression is usually impulsive and unplanned. Aggressive behavior is destructive to relationships because it aims to hurt or damage a person or an object. Aggression can be physical (e.g. punching, kicking) or verbal (e.g. threatening, calling names).

For kids, the impulse to express anger aggressively often comes naturally. A primary job of parents and caregivers is to teach kids to say “yes” to the normal, natural presence of anger in their lives and “no” to the expression of it in aggressive ways (Long, Long & Whitson, 2009). Parents teach kids to manage aggressive impulses through role-modeling acceptable anger expression practices and teaching kids specific skills for emotion management and self-control.


A passive person expresses needs, wants and feelings in an indirect way. They feel that their needs are not as important as the needs of others, so they behave in ways that allow their needs to be ignored or overlooked. Passive behaviors may take the form of poor eye contact or soft speech.

While passive behaviors may seem easier for a parent to manage than aggressive ones, this style is not helpful to children in the long run. Kids become emotionally strong when they know how to express their feelings honestly and directly.

Passive Aggressive 

Passive aggressive behavior is a hidden way of expressing feelings of anger. It involves behaviors designed to get back at another person without the person recognizing the hidden anger. Passive aggressive behaviors include procrastinating, carrying out chores or tasks the wrong way, sulking, or getting hidden revenge.

Parents may inadvertently encourage passive aggressive behavior by praising their children for holding anger inside and/or sending kids honest self-expression is something to feel guilty over. One of the most important things parents can do to help kids avoid choosing passive aggressive responses is to be willing to receive their child’s anger when it is expressed in respectful ways.


Assertiveness is a style that is used to express anger in words, in a direct and respectful way. Assertive behavior sets limits on what a person is willing or not willing to do in a situation. It is an honest form of communication in which a person expresses their wants and needs without hurting or violating the rights of others. Assertiveness includes behaviors like good eye contact, even tone of voice, and the use of I-Messages.

Parents who teach their kids specific skills for assertive emotional expression foster the development of healthier interpersonal relationships and help their kids forge more fulfilling bonds with others.

Signe Whitson, LSW is the author of How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens. This article features excerpts from How to Be Angry. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this article, in which the author uses a real-world scenario to explore a child's four choices in anger expression.

Long, J., Long, N. & Whitson, S. (2009). The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces, 2nd ed. Austin, TX. Pro-ED, Inc.

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