It’s been a walking-on-eggshells kind of day.
“That’s my decision,” you say cautiously. “No more snacks before bed.”
You pause, waiting.
And, just as expected, your child flies into a fit of rage.
“That’s not fair!” He yells, slamming his fist on the table. “I’m still hungry!”
The yelling doesn’t stop.
“Settle down!” You yell back, “If you keep this up, you won’t have a snack tomorrow night either!”
Why is everything such a battle? Why is he so angry? What can I do to help him?
How to Help Your Angry Child
Anger is a tricky emotion. It will take time for your child to learn these new techniques and put them to good use.
Be proactive! Planning ahead is key to helping your child manage their angry feelings. Teach your child a variety of skills and strategies while they are calm, in a good mood, or separated from the heated situation.
- Explore Feelings: Anger is a master disguise for many other harder-to-express emotions like sadness, fear, and embarrassment. Talk about a variety of feelings – what they feel like inside, what they look like in the body, and what they sound like when spoken. Use books, movies, or this feeling game for examples.
- Write a Script: Give your child the words to use when they are upset. Teach “I-statements,” (I feel…when you…because…I wish…) or even a simple, “I feel mad right now!” You may need to model this for them at first: “You’re upset that your sister bumped you with her scooter. You’d like her to go around you next time.”
- Change the Self-Talk: For some children, expressing anger is a vicious cycle. They feel bad, so they act out, they get in trouble for acting out, so they feel worse. Interrupt this cycle by encouraging the good traits in your child, remind them that it’s OK to be angry and that “mad doesn’t equal bad.”
- Give Appropriate Alternatives: If you don’t want your child to kick the cat, direct him to a soccer ball outside. If he’s throwing toys, offer him some balled up socks instead. Work proactively to set up a safe place to express anger or cool down. (Of course, if your child is hurting others, safety is a priority).
- Use Art: Sometimes, words can’t express what they are feeling or thinking. Allow your child to use paints, markers, crayons, and other art supplies as a creative outlet for pent up emotions. Here are some activities to try: managing big feelings, dealing with mixed up emotions, or art journaling.
- Deep Breathing: Learning to calm your body and mind is key to getting your anger down to size. Yelling “calm down” in the heat of the moment is not effective. Instead, be proactive! Take time to teach your child a variety of deep breathing exercises, then practice them in calm moments.
- Big Muscle Movements: Some children need to relieve stress through exercise, hard work, and play. Like deep breathing, be proactive and make time for big muscle movements, like push-ups, vacuuming, or swinging throughout the day. Teach your child a yoga routine or stretch together before bed.
Bonus tips for parents:
- Calm Yourself First: It’s easy to get swept up in your child’s emotion. Matching anger with more anger is not helpful or productive. Instead, get yourself to a calm, rational frame of mind first. You will be able to provide your child support, and they will feel safe knowing that you are not rattled by their big feelings.
- Self-Care is Essential: Parenting a child who struggles with anger can be exhausting. Do not neglect taking time and space to care for yourself. I know you’re busy, but self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Find ways to fit self-care into your day so you can be available for your child.
- Look Under the Anger: Anger is often a go-to emotion because it keeps you from having to feel other painful or uncomfortable feelings, like sadness or disappointment. Instead of seeing your child as a “bad kid with a temper,” look at him as a “hurting child who needs help to deal with his feelings.”
- Get Help: Sometimes, your child’s anger is too big to manage on your own. If you feel that their anger is above and beyond what would be considered “normal” or if you just have a gut feeling that something’s not right, seek help from a mental health professional.
Stepping back, you decide to take a deep breath. (Or three)
He is still angry, but instead of seeing him as a manipulative monster, you see him as a kid who’s having trouble handling the fact that he’s not getting his way.
“I can tell that having another snack is really important to you,” you say empathetically. “You’re really disappointed.”
Instead of trying to force him to settle down, you give him space to feel this disappointment. You offer him a hug and remain a calm presence in the room.
You know he needs to learn a better way to handle disappointment. And, it may be time to set a clear limit on after-dinner snacks. But now is not the time. You make a mental note to address these things later, when everyone is calm.
Your child can learn to manage their anger, and they need your help to get there.