“It is important to understand that there is a difference between anger and aggression” (stolen straight from the Mandt Trainer manual).

The majority of the Mandt System® training focuses on developing healthy relationships and we spend time during our training to draw attention to the issue of emotion and understanding the link between emotion and behavior. Let’s also consider that in regards to the families of those receiving our services. Everything that we discuss about being proactive is applicable to our students, patients, clients, etc. but it is equally applicable to their parents and other family members.

When a parent or approaches us and is using behavior that would indicate that they are angry we must take a moment to realize that the first order of business is to calm ourselves (on the inside as well as on the outside). We say it often at The Mandt System® – affirm your emotions and then choose your behavior. It is perfectly acceptable to feel overwhelmed, disrespected, scared, anxious, worried, etc. However, choose the behavior of active listening (“help me understand…”). Try to appreciate the factual information that is being presented as well as the feelings and acknowledge both. Remember that this parent is processing information from an emotional point of view so if our responses are purely factual in nature, we are probably going to shut down the communication, or escalate the situation. Also, explore ways of going past the anger to identify the underlying emotion with which the parents might be struggling. Is it possible that the parents are fearful about an outcome for their child? Is it possible that the parents are frustrated with a perceived lack of progress? Is it possible that the parents are hurt by a breakdown in communication? When we understand the primary reason that a person might be feeling angry it is sometimes easier to address and may lead to successful resolution.

We also talk a great deal about taking behavior back to Maslow and identifying if people have needs that are not being met. Remember that behavior will increase in intensity, duration and frequency until the person’s needs are met. An environment that feels familiar and safe to you might not have the same impression to parents and family members. Change in general creates uncertainty, which can result in fear, which in turn may lead to anger. Dr. Les Carter’s book “Good ‘n’ Angry (2002) says, “when a person is angry s/he is saying “notice me, notice my needs!” The angry person is trying to tell you that he deserves to be treated with dignity and respect; he is standing up for himself.” Anger is not good or bad, it is just a signal that tells us something needs to change. As professionals we need to ask ourselves what we may be able to do to effect that change. Open and honest communication is paramount and viewing the situation as an opportunity to problem solve – collaboratively – will potentially set the stage for much more of a team effort involving us as caregivers, as well as the families.

Nikki Wince – Mandt System Faculty