Parents should teach children to deal with anger
5/29/2004
Ivanhoe Broadcast News

Researchers have known for years that stress and the inability to handle anger by adults is a risk factor for developing heart disease. Now experts say the same is true for children.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center published a study in the journal Health Psychology about the dangers of hostility in children.

The study involved 134 black and white children and looked at the impact of hostility as a risk factor for a condition known as metabolic syndrome.

The children were evaluated using a test known as the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale. The test measures three aspects of hostility. One is the aspect of a cynical outlook on the world. Hostile people tend to view the world as a mistrustful place. Then there is aggressive responding, which means when provoked, you respond aggressively. Finally, the test looked at hostile effect, which is a self-reported feeling of hostile emotions. An interview was also performed by a trained individual who looked for certain reactions to various behaviors on the part of the interviewer.

Over three years, researchers found those who measured higher levels of hostility were more likely to develop risk factors for metabolic syndrome including obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and high cholesterol. A similar nationwide study found children with higher levels of hostility are more likely to have early plaque build-up in their arteries.

Psychologist Kristen Salomon, of the University of South Florida and co-author of the University of Pittsburgh study, said the problem generally begins at home.

"There is some pretty compelling evidence that there is a genetic component to hostility but they also learn it from their environment and at that young age most of their environment involves their parents," she said.

Hostile kids tend to have hostile parents and a parent needs to realize what kind of behavior they're modeling, she said.

Parents need to look for signs of hostile behavior such as being easily provoked and displaying their anger inappropriately. If they notice these behaviors, they need to take steps to try to teach their child better strategies for coping, she said.

Anger management specialist Leonard Ingram said the problem with misplaced anger starts when kids are made to feel "wrong' for being angry.

Parents need to instead validate angry feelings and help their children handle their feelings in positive ways, he said.

To avoid hostile feelings from developing, parents first need to teach their children how to play and how to share and how to give and let go, he said.

That will help develop an emotional style that is rooted in empathy, he said, adding that kids need to learn to distinguish between aggressive and non-aggressive behaviors in others.

Breathing techniques are another way Ingram said children can learn to deal with their angry emotions.

In older children, Ingram said the important step is to teach them common sense. He said children and adolescents need to see the consequences of how their behaviors impact not only them, but others close to them.