My Child’s Anger: A Guide to Helping Our Kids Work Through Their Anger Constructively
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Anger can get a bad wrap. And often, as parents, we can be unsure how to approach our child’s anger. After all, no one wants to be the parent in the grocery store with the screaming child on the floor.
However, anger is an important emotion because it can signal us when there is a problem that needs our attention. The problem isn’t that we can feel angry, the problem is the way we express our anger. Anger is designed to have intensity and be destructive. When directed towards a problem it can give us the energy we need to create change, to attack and solve the problem. However, it often gets directed towards ourselves or another person, and that is when it creates pain and hurts relationships.
When our kids become angry, it is important that they learn to identify it, identify the cause, self soothe, and constructively problem solve. Here are some basic steps parents can take to help their children work through their anger in a positive way.
One of the most powerful tools you have as a parent is your example. Kids are much more likely to imitate what you do rather than what you say. Before you begin focusing on your kids, it is important to do a self-check. Do my kids see me yelling, lashing out, using harsh words, being argumentative, being passive aggressive, stuffing my anger, etc.? Am I able to identify when I am angry, what I am angry about and communicate and problem solve in a positive, constructive way? I often encourage adults to learn to pause before responding and give thought to what they are feeling, what they are about to say and if that is what they really want to convey. The more effective we are at dealing with our own anger in a constructive way, the more effective we will be at helping our children.
Identify the Emotion
We have to learn to connect with and label what emotion we are feeling. Sometimes we know we are feeling something, but can just feel confused and overwhelmed by the emotions unless we learn to identify them.
For example, when your child is getting upset, saying “I can see that you are angry,” or “It looks like you are really frustrated right now,” can help you child learn and connect what they are feeling and experiencing to a word. The more they are exposed to that, they will begin to be able to use words to articulate their internal world vs. throwing, hitting, tantrums, screaming and crying.
Identify the Cause
Anger is generally rooted in hurt or fear. Often it is difficult to empathize with anger, but hurt and fear is something we often can move closer to and empathize with. Sometimes we skip right to anger not realizing we actually felt hurt or fear first. Helping our children connect their anger to the root helps them understand themselves and their experience better.
For example, if your child is playing a video game and is getting frustrated and angry because he/she can’t beat the boss level, you could say, “I can see that you are really angry. It seems like you are really frustrated that you can’t beat the boss level. Is that what is happening?” It is important to give you child an opportunity to state their experience and correct what you have said. Then you can empathize with their experience, by saying, “That is really difficult when we are working so hard to do something and it isn’t working the way we want. I can understand how frustrating that is.”
Often when anger can be expressed clearly and understood and empathized with buy others is begins to de-escalate.
Learn to Self-soothe
It is difficult to be able to communicate clearly and problem solve constructively when we are worked up. We just can’t think straight when our emotions are escalated. Plus for children, especially young children, it can be scary for them to feel anger. They can feel completely out of control and overwhelmed by their feelings. It is important that our children learn how to self soothe. There are a lot of ways to self soothe, here a few to try:
Breathing: Breath has a powerful impact on our mood and our physical responses and feelings. You can do bubble breathing with you child. Teach them to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth pretending they are blowing giant bubbles. Do this 10 times. Or try the magic 8 breathing. Draw an “8” on its side (actually the infinity symbol) and have your child trace the left side with his/her finger while breathing in and then trace the right side while breathing out. Do this 10 times.
Time Away: This is not to be punitive, the way a time out might be, rather, it taking a little break, stepping away for a few minutes. When your child is young I recommend you step away with them so they are not in isolation with their anger. Some examples of time away would be: Lie down on the couch or place a blanket on the floor and sit with them. It’s about creating a safe and quiet space for them to calm down.
Sensory items: Some children use touch to calm down, like a soft blanket or stuffed toy. You could also try using a squishy ball so he/she can squeeze out the anger.
Distraction: Sometimes it can be helpful to just “switch channels.” Help your child focus on something different. For example: playing a game, singing a song, or watching a funny video can be ways to shift them from the intense emotion to a more neutral place.
Learn to Problem Solve
Once we have helped our child identify their anger, identify the cause and calm down, we can move into constructive problem solving. This is a time to open up the dialogue and help your child explore different options and solutions. This is not a time to tell your child what to do. It is important to teach them how to think things through so as they grow they will be able to do this for themselves. Some great openers could be: “What is another way to handle this? What would you like to happen next time? What could make this better? What is another way to say that? How can I help? Lets figure this out together.
I hope these steps can help you have a basic framework when dealing with your child’s anger. Obviously, by working through these steps, our child’s anger will not miraculously change overnight, but it is by consistently guiding our children that they will learn they have a safe place to express their anger and can learn how to identify it, manage it and utilize it for positive change in their lives.