My youngest son’s report card came back and everything looked good except one understated piece of feedback from his first grade teacher. In the column “Areas to Improve” it said, “Halsten needs to work on his anger.”
In spite of the fact that at six years old he still has the cutest “mean eyes,” and severely down turned mouth you’ve ever seen, if he doesn’t learn to manage his anger it could have far more harsh outcomes in his life than a little feedback from his teacher. The reality is that we all might do well to take Mrs. Drake’s feedback personally.
To get the most out of life, we must first be able to manage our emotions so they can’t carry us away. As children, it simply doesn’t occur to us that there is any other way to experience a particular event, than the way we are experiencing it in that moment. What we feel now, is what’s “real” and we have no inkling that there is choice involved in the emotion at all. Over time, if our parents are wise, they won’t let tantrums work for us. We are forced to learn new ways to feel better about disappointment or injustice, to sooth ourselves, and be able to move on.
Eventually, with persistence, we not only learn that we can lessen the intensity of a negative emotion, but that we can actually move it from one emotion to another. So, rather than feeling angry over something, we can slide it towards frustration. That’s a qualitatively different, and much easier emotion to manage.
Each of us, if we are going to be the least bit happy and successful in life, need at a minimum, the ability to keep from blowing up or sinking into despair, shame, fear or jealousy–all potentially destructive emotions. With that knowledge comes empowerment and the sense that the control knobs to our life experience are in our own hands. What a liberating feeling to know that with life’s hills and vales, you and I possess the internal tools for keeping small issues small and large issues at least manageable.
In this month’s Notes From Home we explore scientific studies on destructive emotions, to-do’s for any parent to try themselves or with children of any age, and experiences from some of our own parents. We hope you find moments of introspection and inspiration as you read.
To Your Family\’s Happiness!
Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
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