Anger is a natural human emotion; any mom or dad who has ever been in a traffic jam knows this all too well. But children often have a difficult time processing their anger in a manner that’s healthy, pulling on their sister’s hair or throwing family heirlooms instead.
In fact, it’s normal for kids to get angry about most anything; when you’re little, everything feels like the end of the world. Children may get upset when their siblings get to stay up late or angry if they’re not allowed to eat the candy that they’re craving. They may feel dismissed if they don’t get lunch on their favorite plate or they don’t get to wear their favorite shirt (even if it’s caked in mud). And that’s why Tantrum Town is a favorite destination among the young.
Parents tend to want to minimize this anger – they might say something like, “It’s just a game” or “It’s not a big deal to drink out of the orange cup instead of the blue.” But minimizing anger translates into minimizing feelings, inadvertently telling the child that their feelings don’t matter. This isn’t only bad for their self-esteem but it’s sure to worsen anger as well.
Rather, you’re better off listening and validating your child (no matter how silly the issue may seem) and then teaching them to harness their temper in a productive way. In other words, your job isn’t to teach your child to shutout powerful emotions; your job is to show them how to integrate those emotions. Children who learn to do this are better able to succeed as adults. They’re more likely to thrive both academically and socially.
But, alas, anger management for kids is easier said than done. That’s why children need plenty of help along the way.
A few things you can do to offer this assistance include:
Name it to Tame it
Some kids don’t know they’re angry – they feel upset and aren’t sure why. But helping your child recognize their emotions before things get out of control helps you avoid any full-fledged meltdowns in the middle of your living room (or, more likely, in the middle of the library).
One way to aid this identification process is by giving your child the skills to name their emotions. When they yell or scream at their sibling, for instance, say something like, “I think you’re angry that your brother is playing with your favorite truck.” Or, when they drop their dinner plate on the floor, say, “I think you’re angry because you don’t like porkchops.”
After your child understands the “name” for the feelings, help them recognize warning signs from their body. You might point out that their face gets hot or their heart starts to beat in their chest. This helps your child understand when they’re feeling out of control, empowering them to keep their anger in check.
Take a Break – Anger Management Activities, Skills & Techniques for Kids
Perhaps the best way to deal with anger is to take a break from it. This is because, when a child is upset (or an adult, for that matter), it’s very hard for them to think rationally and act calmly. They’re more likely to throw their sippy cup at the dog in a fit of rage than they are to take a step back and consider their options. Thus, encourage your child to put a timeout on their temper whenever you can.
Here are a few ways to do this:
i) Moving to a Calm Place
If you’ve reached the point of no return and your child is running up and down Walmart tossing Goldfish crackers onto the floor, take them away to a quiet place and remind them, calmly, that they need to settle down. While your natural instinct might be to yell (and to buy a disguise for the next time you’re out in public), this will only exacerbate the situation. If your words alone don’t get the job done, consider playing your child a mellow song or asking them to do some jumping jacks.
ii) The Magic of Breath
There’s a reason people tell you to take a deep breath when you’re upset and this works on children too. Breathing regulates the body and calms the nerves. But there’s a trick to it and regular old breathing doesn’t always get the job done. Instead, ask your child to breathe in slowly through their nose and out through their mouth. If they do it enough, it’ll become old hat.
iii) Other Tricks of the Tantrum Trade
In addition to the above, there are other tricks you can use to help give anger a rest. These include:
- Offer an anger space: Creating a safe space for anger gives your child a chance to moderate their emotions on their own time. This can be a corner in the dining room, complete with blankets and pillows (and preferably far away from all the fine china). The idea is to offer them a corner where they can chill out somewhere comfortable and calming.
- Make a calming box: A calming box is filled with items that help in regulation. These may include fidget spinners, squishy toys, crayons, or drawing paper. You might also add in something to stimulate their sense of smell, like scratch-n-sniff stickers.
- Give a polar bear hug: A polar bear hug involves hugging your child as tightly as you can (something that helps with their overall wellbeing even in times when they’re not upset). Explain to your child beforehand what it involves (so you don’t startle them) and tell them that anyone can call “polar bear hug” anytime they want. During the hug, grasp tightly for 10-20 seconds. You might count, squeeze, or move back and forth.
- Count to 10: Counting is a great regulation tool – our minds must focus to count, which cues the body to relax. If your child is unwilling, dare them to do it. And, if they need a challenge, ask them to count backwards or by 2’s.
Talk About It
Never underestimate the power of talking things through (no matter the age). Of course, this isn’t always necessary: Oftentimes, kids get angry only to forget what they were mad about five seconds later. But if the anger lingers, talk away!
Speak with them on ways they can react differently the next time (Kicking your friend, bad. Telling your friend that it’s your turn to go down the slide, good). Sometime, your child will need your suggestions while, in other instances, they’ll benefit from deciding on their own how to handle the situation (though you’ll still likely need to offer them options).
Rely on Humor
Okay, your kids won’t think you’re funny when they’re teenagers, but – when they’re young – there’s still hope! Children who learn to see humor in everyday situations, even those situations that are unfair, learn resilience. But they must learn this from you.
If your child sees you brush off your worries and concerns with jokes and laughter, they’ll follow suit. For example, if you have a terrible day at work because your boss is a jerk, instead of talking about how angry you are, say something like, “Maybe I should start my own business and work for myself. Then, I’d love my boss!”
Shun the Screaming
The only people who never yell at their kids are probably those who don’t have any. Screaming, it turns out, is a natural part of being a mom or dad. However, if your child sees you scream, they’ll be more likely to do it too.
One way to hold you and your child accountable is to create a no-screaming policy. If your child refuses to obey this policy, offer a warning and then consequences. Make sure you hold yourself responsible too – the policy only works when it applies to grownups as well.
If you do scream, apologize. Then tell your child you need some time before you can discuss the matter calmly. This reinforces the importance of taking a break when feelings grow overwhelming.
Lay Ground Rules
Odds are, you have ground rules in several areas of your household (such as “pick up after yourself” or “no getting dessert unless you clean your plate”). Anger should not be an exception.
What works for your family may be different than what works for others. But get on the same page with your spouse and kids and establish rules of what is acceptable and what is not. Ideally, these rules should have respect at their apex and forbid any name calling or violence.
Keep Consequences in Mind
After you’ve established the ground rules as discussed above, give your child consequences. But don’t only focus on the negative; focus on the positive too. If your child follows the rules, for instance, reward them with an extra cookie or an extra hour of video game time. If they break the rules, do the opposite: Take away Minecraft or send them to bed an hour early.
Seek Professional Help if Needed
It’s perfectly normal for kids to have trouble managing their anger: They’re little bodies with big emotions. Still, there is a point where it becomes unmanageable for parents. If nothing you’re doing is making a difference or your child’s anger seems to be getting worse or more violent, consider seeking professional help. The earlier you jump on a potential problem, the better.
At the end of the day, it’s hard being a kid and anger comes packaged with the cuteness, the runny noses, and the propensity for lost socks. Anger, in itself, isn’t a bad thing: It’s empowering for children and adults. That’s why the point isn’t to avoid anger but process it in a productive and healthy manner. The above tips can help your child do just that.