by Andrew Metzger
First of all, I must confess to experiencing a flood of childhood memories as I read the STS Childhood Anger and Anger Management course. Yes, I was all-too-often that angry little boy with whom some poor child care provider or teacher had to contend. I place a tiny bit of the blame for my behavior on being the youngest of three siblings—yes, the little brat of the family—but most of it was on me. I was never violent, but oh, I could act out when I didn’t get my way!
I wish the adults overseeing me had known some of the excellent techniques detailed in the STS Childhood Anger and Anger Management course. The heart of the course involves a variety of effective techniques to help children evaluate emotional situations, recognize emotions that trigger anger, and respond to emotional situations appropriately. It’s all about redirecting that negative energy that can well up in any youngster under the wrong circumstances.
But this blog is not going to be all about exploring distant memories. I actually have ongoing experience with a certain group of children over the past couple of decades. As a volunteer who works with a local children’s chorus and with area children’s theater productions, and also a journalist who writes about area performing arts events, I have become quite familiar with “stage children.” Oh, and don’t let the words “children’s chorus” fool you. The shows this group puts on rival Broadway productions!
So, does the phrase “stage children” conjure up images of perfect little angels largely incapable of anger? If it does, let me start by quoting this paragraph from the STS Childhood Anger and Anger Management course:
“Six-to-eight-year-olds need to be first and best. They are verbally and physically aggressive and tend to tease and bully. They worry and show concern over what is fair or unfair. When angry, they will hit, fight, and damage items other children care about. They quickly become jealous if siblings get more attention than they do. At this age, they are learning to control their anger and resolve problems. They are able to empathize with other children and value peer relationships.”
I cited this particular paragraph because certain parts of it jumped out at me as directly applicable to the world of children’s theater. Let’s isolate those parts.
Everyone who has directed children’s theater knows all about the need to be first and best. Dealing with children who did not receive a big role when they have absolutely NO doubt that they were the best of the best at auditions calls for all sorts of anger management skills. The idea of this age group showing concern over what is fair and unfair also applies here. The parents of these children represent an additional element. The term “momager” (combination mom and manager) has come into wide usage these days, but that’s another course!
Then there’s the reality of bright, articulate, egotistical youngsters who can be verbally…aggressive in ways that would put the characters in “Mean Girls” to shame. Many a director has had to nip this sort of behavior in the bud early in a rehearsal process.
The word jealous also appears in the above-quoted paragraph. It’s used in the context of sibling jealousy, and very often siblings do audition for and are cast in the same shows, but any director who doesn’t head off a jealousy epidemic before it runs rampant through his entire “theater family” is in deep trouble.
The value placed on peer relationships enters into the equation in a big way. This manifests in the form of cliques—those elite subgroups within casts in which peer pressure is especially intense and outsiders are not welcome. There’s plenty of potential for anger anytime cliques form. Directors who fail to dissolve clicks are doomed to deal with a cast divided against itself.
I’ll end by quoting lines from the song “Kids” from the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”
You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
But they still just do what they want to do!
Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
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