There’s always that one experience when a child lashes out. Oftentimes, parents deal with an angry child the wrong way. Combined with miscommunication and the child’s incapability to properly deal with anger, the emotions can become intense in a short period of time.
You see, anger is like mercury on a thermometer. You cannot let the anger of your child go unchecked, otherwise the emotion can increase from simple frustration to full-blown rage and bitterness. Let’s face it. There’s just no definitive way to anger-proof your children, but you can teach them how to control their temper.
In all of my years working as a counsellor, I have not been able to give parents a fool-proof plan for anger. All I have been able to provide is a guide of sorts that will allow them to not only help their child control anger, but also help them develop the coping skills to avert and avoid anger.
Child anger management is not an easy task
For children, anger is a signal emotion. It’s a response to danger yet it can be used as a form of self-expression and oftentimes, a child’s way of declaring independence. A lot of things can trigger a child’s anger, and the end result is usually aggression.
One example that I can think of is a girl named Sophie. She was brought to my attention when her mother had noticed significant increases in the frequency of her tantrums. Sophie, according to her mother, suddenly went from calm to aggressive really quickly. When I asked her what triggered it, the mother told me that she was picked on by another classmate of hers.
That’s when I understood Sophie. Five-year old Sophie underwent a lot of emotional turmoil when she was picked on. She was frightened, angry, and sad at the same time. She was confused. She didn’t know how to react to all of them. In an effort to understand her feelings, she resorted to biting, fighting, and temper tantrums.
She had resorted to aggression because she felt relief – relief that she was no longer feeling all of the confusion.
Children her age don’t necessarily resort to aggression. Some would resort to pouting, sulking, and whining.
Anger is a signal emotion. It usually mobilizes a response to danger, but it’s also a form of self-expression and sometimes a child’s way of declaring independence. Many things can trigger a child’s anger, and sometimes the result is aggression. In the example of Sophie and her little brother, each child went on the attack. Sophie became frightened by her reaction and feelings. As is often the case, biting, fighting, and temper tantrums were just around the corner. As children reach kindergarten age, anger doesn’t usually explode into aggression because they’ve learned to hold back such impulsive urges. Over time, as children reach school age, parents can expect more subtle forms of aggression: pouting, sulking, and whining.
Believe it or not, young children like Sophie have a lot to be angry about. They’re little and they’re not allowed to do anything they want. They may often fail at things they want to try. Bigger and older people tell them what to do and they’re forced to do it because the bigger people can make them do it.
From a child’s perception, this is a very unpleasant experience. Due to their tendency to be impulsive, they try going for the offensive – which is aggression.
But I am telling you this now, from one parent to another – it’s important to learn how to deal with an angry child the right way.
Yelling can help my child control his anger
We’ve all been there. Our children have done this a couple of times in their lives. They will eventually reach a point where they will push all of our buttons to the limit, and before you know it, we start yelling at them. We are yelling at children aged 5 to 10 years old the same way we yell at older people or people our age.
You know what parents usually get when they yell at their children? MORE YELLING.
Because a child learns by example, he or she will believe that yelling is a normal response to anger and he or she will attempt to imitate you. Afterwards, both of you will feel drained, frustrated, and upset because nothing got resolved by yelling.
Let me tell you this:
Yelling at a problem does not usually make it go away—it only makes matters worse.
But why do parents scream at their kids? Most people scream because of frustration. It’s that exact moment when a mother or father has lost it and feel like there are no other options. Yelling becomes a knee-jerk reaction in the long run. Parents don’t even think about what they’re doing because yelling becomes an automatic response.
How to control anger in children – the do’s and don’t’s
I spoke to a number of parents a couple of years ago and they all had one common problem – an angry child. Throughout the numerous sessions they (the parent and the child) had with me, I felt that it was necessary to compile a list of things they did and things they avoided to control their child’s anger.
To help my child control her anger, I had to recognize her feelings
Steven and his daughter, Mattie, was a case close to my heart. At the early age of 5, Mattie had already experienced tantrums, not because she was spoiled but because she didn’t know how to respond to her feelings. She didn’t know how to respond to it because she couldn’t recognize what she was feeling.
In our sessions, Mattie was the core focus and Steven was an ally. As I went through the process, I had to trigger various emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger. Of course, she didn’t know how or what to call them. She just went through the phases and I asked her what she felt. I asked Steven to repeat the exercise at home. Two months later, Mattie was a changed child.
No matter how young your child is, they already have a firm understanding of what they are feeling. They may not be able to process it, but they know what is happening. If you want your child to develop the coping skills needed to deal with anger, you need to recognize and validate their feelings – anger included. This is one way of letting them know that you, as an adult and a parent, understand what they are feeling and how they are processing it. When you acknowledge their feelings, your child will understand and develop empathy. They will be able to develop their own sense of self because they are recognized by the parent as an individual with emotions. The child then reciprocates this empathic action.
To help my child control his anger, I taught him EMPATHY
Miranda and her son, Kevin, was the first parent-child couple that went through my doors. Kevin, aged 7 years old back then, just transitioned from a big move to the city. He was in a new environment, with no friends, and with no one to play with. In a way, Kevin started to act out. The smallest things could set off his temper – which was completely non-existent before they moved. Rather than punishing Kevin, Miranda sat down with Kevin every time there was an incident. Rather than spanking him, she listened.
You know what happened next?
Kevin responded calmly. At a young age, he was able to verbalize his emotions and his mother helped him go through all of that. Miranda, with the help of her husband, spent the nights talking to Kevin even when he was very calm. Months later, Kevin’s attitude changed.
When you listen to an angry child, you go way beyond scolding and punishment. You are teaching your child the important habit of listening and being able to understand another person’s situation without judgment. The consistent practice of listening, combined with being empathic, as a whole will teach your child about emotional control.
You want to know how to deal with an angry child? Establish acceptable standards of behavior
Let’s take this part one step at a time. What do I mean by acceptable standards? Simply put, you just need to teach your children how to behave within what’s considered as reasonable by society. For example, if your child is angry, you need to teach them that it’s okay to feel angry but it’s not okay to use a very harsh tone of voice.
Setting up acceptable standards of behavior will also guide your children on how to act accordingly.
Learning about unchecked anger will help you know how to control anger with kids
I remember one experience of a parent of a screaming child in a supermarket. The mother had put on her headphones while her 5-year old son was crying and having a bit of a temper tantrum. As they fell in line in the checkout counter, the child was trying to shove this toy to her mother but he was being ignored. In one swift motion, the mother grabbed the toy and paid for it. The child, being unable to process what happened, took the longest to cool down.
So what was wrong with this scenario? Two things: the mother never paid attention to what her child was going through. Second, the child’s anger remained unchecked. The child, in the long run, will not be able to develop the coping skills and emotional growth needed to control anger. The parent, not being able to practice empathy and acknowledgement of the child’s anger, contributes to not only emotionally incapacitating the child but also spoiling them.
Problem-solving skills help my child control his anger
Tempers flare when children don’t know how to work around problems. One couple, Robert and his son, David, serves as my example. Robert, being a military man, wanted his son to be independent at an early age. David, who was aged 8 years old when he entered the office, was a remarkable lad. First, he was independent. But there was a problem. He never had problem-solving skills to go with his independence. According to his father, when things got too difficult, his wife would swoop in to the rescue. This led to some crutch of sorts for David when he was faced with problems.
Neurological tracking occurs when children solve problems creatively. The more they practice this skill, the more they are equipped to deal with problems logically than emotionally. To do this, parents can teach their children how recognize and acknowledge problems and come up with appropriate feelings and actions by asking them questions like:
- What do you think would happen if you did this instead of that??
- What do you think are your options right now?
Relaxation techniques can help my child control her anger
Believe it or not, progressive relaxation is not only for adults but for children as well. Breathing techniques are used to manage anger and stress. Children who are able to utilize these relaxation techniques find it easier to relax under pressure rather than giving in. It also keeps their tendency to be impulsive under wraps.
“Time outs” are not proper child anger management techniques
Sending a child to a corner because they did something bad is not what you want to do. As a parent, your job is to guide them. When they do wrong, take them in and tell them exactly what they did wrong. You, as a parent, need to guide them on what their response should be for any emotional experience.
When a child is isolated, they feel guilty and thus may induce feelings of low self-esteem. This may contribute to bad behavior, which will create a bad cycle to get out of.
Orchestrating your child’s feelings is not the best way on how to deal with an angry child
When your child is experiencing something very emotional, it’s important that they go through the whole process. Don’t tell them to STOP CRYING if they are sad or don’t tell them to STOP YELLING if they are angry. This just means you are undermining their emotional experience.
Rather than telling to STOP THIS, try to tell that “you understand what they are going through. It makes me _____ too.” Your child will see you as an ally, rather than a target for anger and anxiety.
Your child needs to trust you because as I mentioned earlier, you are their guide all throughout the experience. They need to count on you do just that. If your child can trust you, they learn to trust themselves because you trust them too.
Do not stoop down to their level of behavior
Do you know the difference between you and your child? You know what they are going through and they don’t. Rather than yelling at them because they yelled at you, try to be the model. Remember, your child sees you as their guide and if they see you yelling at them, they might think that it’s okay to yell because you did it. Children are more likely to be afraid of you when you are yelling at them, so they may try to go for a more ferocious approach as well. Instead, try to go for a more composed behavior.
Teaching your children about anger cues means proper child anger management
It’s inherent in each of us to recognize anger cues, or some little details that show when a person is angry. Teaching your child how to recognize anger cues can be very helpful to their development, as this is the first step to a successful attempt at recognizing emotions. The recognition of anger cues can help them manage their emotions prior to getting controlled by the chaos. If you see that your child is angry because they are tired or cranky, sit down with them and explain why they’re feeling that way.
Teach your child how to bring their feelings to consciousness
Feelings and emotions manifest to a conscious level. This is where you should tell your child on how they can control the physical manifestations of their anger or other emotions. Writing, painting, and drawing are wonderful ways for children to express issues that bother them, especially when they have difficulty in verbalizing their emotions. Once they are able to manifest these emotions, you need to TAKE THEM IN, and explain to them why they’re feeling that way.
The bottom line
Your parenting style makes all the difference in the world when it comes to helping your child control anger. When you apply these steps and avoid what needs to be avoided, you can guarantee your child’s holistic development as they come to understand their emotions.
In this day and age, problems can make or break anyone, including children. Giving them the skills they need to manage anger can go a long way.