Friday, August 23, 2013

How to Be Angry

If you’ve ever found yourself arguing with a kid or frustrated when trying to communicate your own feelings to someone, read past the title of the book I review in this post; the skills taught in it are critically important to anyone (kid or adult) who wants to be an effective communicator.

Do not teach your children never to be angry; teach them how to be angry. Lymonn Abbott

Many years ago, I participated in some trainings designed to develop crisis intervention skills related to communicating and working with kids with emotional-behavioral disabilities. The training was administered by trainers skilled in the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute. The skills I learned in that training have been invaluable in my career, but also in my personal life, as well as in my parenting role and that of a wife.  I recently stumbled upon a book that looked like it could be very good, and I contacted the publisher to see if I might be given a copy for which to review on Half-Past Kissin’ Time. As it turned out, the author is the Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Institute! I’m very glad I received a copy of the book for review, because How to Be Angry is everything it promises and a valuable tool for anyone interested in developing healthy communication skills.

While How to Be Angry does address anger (identifying one’s anger triggers and learning to cope with them), it also addresses healthy communication including: disagreeing without arguing, receiving and accepting compliments, making I-Statements (SO important!), handling bullying assertively, responding to angry people, and other important life skills.

I haven’t always been assertive. In fact, I was quite passive in my early years up through my mid-twenties, and throughout my life I’ve taken advantage of many opportunities to develop my skills. I had the benefit of working in a field that involved a lot of mental health therapies for the kids I worked with, and through that, I also learned a lot. If you haven’t had the advantage of this kind of experience (or upbringing that nurtured healthy communication skills), How to Be Angry would be a great resource for you.

I really like the writing style used in How to Be Angry; it’s clear, and relatable. For example, “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.”  Examples shared by the author include situations kids encounter all the time. I also appreciate the activity titles, such as “Sugarcoated Hostility: The Five Levels of Passive Aggressive Behavior.”
Regarding the section, I Feel Angry! Using I-Messages to Express Anger Assertively, it teaches one of the most valuable skills I have learned in my 20 years working with kids who struggle to communicate in healthy ways. I know a number of adults who still don’t have this skill: You-messages vs. I messages. My only suggestion for the author is to provide more examples, since this is a skill that takes much practice, and I’m not sure parents will feel confident enough to model it correctly.  For professionals, How to Be Angry also includes parent letters to send home with each lesson; I really like how parents aren’t left out of the equation; reinforcing the concepts at home is equally important.  I would emphasize in the parent letter that these skills take practice. In fact, I would love to write/find a book strictly on this particular skill, but in the context of families.

On the Receiving End:  Four Steps for Responding Assertively to Anger The steps are clear, but I would like to see a number of examples for communicating that the listener has heard and understood.  The author lists the step of using "I-statements,” but I would go a step further and provide more examples, especially because it’s difficult to respond in emotional situations, especially when the angry person isn’t using healthy communication strategies. Saying, “It sounds like you’re angry; you wanted to go for a bike ride but couldn’t find your bike. That’s really frustrating” doesn’t always come naturally, especially when you’re thinking, “What a jerk!” “What I’m hearing is that you’re upset with me because I said I’d be home at 6 and now you missed your sleepover. I’m sorry.”

Given the subject of anger management, the only lesson I would add to this book is How to Sincerely Apologize.

Although How to Be Angry is designed to be a guide for facilitators working with kids on anger and assertiveness skills, I think it would be an excellent tool for parents, as well, especially those looking for a structured way to help their kids improve communication skills. The strategies shared are essential to anyone wanting to improve interpersonal relationship skills, and they’re laid out in a very organized, clear, lesson-plan like manner. Each section of the book has instructions, resource pages outlining the skill steps, and suggestions for adapting the lesson to different age groups. The book is recommended for kids ages 5 to 18. I would also recommend it for adults, since many adults could benefit from basic social skills instruction, too.

The end of How to Be Angry includes two resources you rarely see in similar books: a convenient contract for committing to walking the talk, so-to-speak and a follow-up letter for group facilitators to send to participants a few months after completing the lessons.

How to Be Angry provides step-by-step methods for teaching valuable life skills and includes resources for each lesson, including a helpful handout to send home if you’re teaching students instead of your own children. In case you haven’t noticed, I highly recommend this book! In fact, I hereby give it the Official Seal of Awesomeness.

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