At a workshop I held recently a parent shared the following problem: "My nine-year-old son has certain behaviors which trigger a great anger in me. When he does this I scream and shout and lose my cool. Ten minutes later I feel very guilty for losing my temper and for some of the things I have said. How can I get my son to stop those behaviors?"

I explained that perhaps, in the first instance, she should not look for the solution in her son but rather look at herself and find methods to deal with it. "Our lives are not only determined by what happens to us, but how we react to what happens; not only by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life".

I told her the story about a Chassidic Rebbe who was yearning to buy a beautiful etrog (the citron fruit taken as one of the "Four Kinds" in the observances of the festival) for the holiday of Sukkot. When the most beautiful etrog in the land was presented to him, he sadly discovered that there was no way he could afford the amount of money which was asked for it. He could not even afford the basic food necessities for the holiday. He then sent one of his sons with the mission to sell his grandfather's tefillin, a precious family heirloom, and use the funds for the purchase of the beautiful etrog. Upon receiving the etrog the Rebbe and his sons started dancing.

The Rebbetzin, who was sitting in the kitchen unemployed, having no ingredients to cook with, was sure that money for food had been found. She was shocked to discover that an etrog had been purchased instead. In her frustration, she bit into the etrog, making it unfit for use. The rabbi was about to lose his temper but started singing and dancing instead. He then said: "I've lost my grandfather's tefillin and I have now also lost the etrog. Should I lose my temper, too?" At the end of this episode he felt that controlling his anger was a greater acheivement than acquiring that special etrog.

In this story the rabbi did not change his wife's behavior. He just changed his physiology by starting to sing and dance. This then made it easier to change his attitude and come to the conclusion that there is nothing to gain by being angry.

A way to get out of an undesirable emotional state is by performing a physical action with our body which is totally opposite to our feelings. For example, if you feel sad, start singing a happy song and dance around the room. If you lack self-confidence at a job interview, then sit with your chin up in an upright position — the way that you sit when you are feeling very confident with yourself. Our conscious mind can only hold one feeling at a time. By us acting out the desired behavior our mind will soon follow suit.

I suggested to the angry mother (and to all of us parents) that when her son presses her anger button and she feels like she is about to begin her usual anger performance she should walk up to her son, embrace him with hugs and kisses and tell him: "You are so special to me. I love you so much. There is nothing in the world that you can do that will stop me from loving you. So don't even bother trying." She should continue to hug him until her mind follows her actions and her stress level is reduced to a manageable level.

Try it — it works!