Teaching Self-Management Skills to Young Offenders

By Williford, Lori | Corrections Today, February 1996 | Go to article overview

Teaching Self-Management Skills to Young Offenders


Williford, Lori, Corrections Today


Everyone has been angry at one time or another. For some, however. anger leads to destructive behavior with serious consequences. A stressful situation then becomes frustrating. and the anger arousal cycle begins all over again.

Successful people are those who learn to manage their conflicting and often complex emotions. Teaching, self-management skills to young offenders is essential to change old beliefs and alter patterns of behavior. The goal is to respond rather than react to perceived stress -- to think before acting.

When teaching a self-control program, the instructor should reinforce the following key principles:

* One's mind is the only thing he

or she can control. Either one

controls it or relinquishes control

to other forces. With control,

practice and direction, the mind

gains power.

* One can change his or her

response to or behavior in an

emotional situation. Something

that used to frustrate someone to

a point of anger can, by the mere

perception of die event and

decision to change, cease to trigger

an angry response. One chooses

to look at it differently.

* Each person is responsible for

his or her own thoughts, feelings

and actions. Something or

someone does not make one think,

feel and act a certain way. No

gun is pointing at an individual

forcing that person to feel mad. It

is not fate or luck. The locus of

control is within an individual. It

is a responsibility to be treasured.

The following six steps can help youths master their emotions to the point of being ready to respond to stress in a healthy manner.

Find the "trigger." Ask them what triggers anger. Is it being teased or called a name (i.e., "stupid"), someone invading their "space" or saying something derogatory about a loved one? Let them know that they need to them and understand whatever causes them to lose control. They can then begin to neutralize die strong effect it has on them.

Recognize the "cues." The body sends off signs and symptoms of stress and emotional arousal. During a self-control skills session, one youth described his anger as feeling as if he were "a volcano ready to erupt." He was able to recognize he was clenching his fists and feeling unduly warm at these times. Another individual, when describing his frequent anger, said, "My adrenaline runs too fast," realizing his heart was beating rapidly and his breathing was quick and shallow. Learning early warning cues will help prevent that eruption and avoid negative outcomes.

Break the cycle. Teach youths to learn to say, "Stop, think and breathe." Say "stop" to distract and interrupt old, self-defeating patterns. Say "think" to prevent making bad choices. Tell them to practice thinking, "If I do x, then y will happen." Say "breathe" as a reminder to take some slow relaxation breaths to enable them to remain calm and to think more clearly. Tell them that the next time they feel anxious, rushed or upset, focus on breathing slowly and deeply.

The following key points are helpful in teaching youths die proper breathing technique: Begin taking slow, deep breaths into your belly. Your abdomen should rise and expand with each inhalation of breath, making you feel more relaxed.

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