Anger in children is a completely normal emotion. Most children at some stage will have tantrums or meltdowns and may even lash out or become defiant. It is often a reaction to either not getting their own way, frustration, stress, disappointment or when a child is asked to do things they don’t want to do.
It’s important that we as parents help children understand that it is OK to feel angry and it is actually important to get angry at times. As children grow, most learn how to deal with the frustrations of everyday life, and they learn helpful ways to manage their anger. However, some children need more help.
If anger in children is managed well, then they are more likely to able to grow into socially adjusted adults and they will have the ability and tools to be able to self-regulate.
However if they are not given the tools to manage their anger in a healthy way, it can have effects on them later in life. There is much research that suggests that the effects can include depression, sleeping and eating problems, difficulties at school, social issues, risk taking and addictive behaviours.
How to help your child identify their anger
How can parents help their children understand their anger signs and what they should once they’ve identified them?
You can begin by teaching your child that our body is our best friend. It gives us warning signs to let us know that we are feeling a particular way when we start to feel angry. For example, children will often say “their heart is beating fast, their face is turning red and their hands are clenching”. As adults we can help children tune into these warning signs so they can better self-regulate.
It is also important for adults to be aware that some children keep their anger bottled up inside, often causing them to get a headache, sore stomach or just feel sad or cry. It is important for us as parents to be aware that it is not always easy for children to know or verbalise what is bothering them. Sometimes children may not want to talk about it.
We need to model how we effectively manage our own feelings. By acting calmly we can help reassure children that they are capable of successfully managing their own difficult feelings.
11 ways to help your child manage their anger
Everyone has feelings. It takes time and patience to learn how to manage them effectively, below are some strategies and tips that parents can use to help children manage their anger.
1. Use an emotional vocabulary with children
It is important to teach children that all feelings are healthy and normal; however, children often need tools to learn how to best manage their emotions.
Using an emotional vocabulary with children is important as it normalises it for them, and shows the child that you accept and validate their feelings e.g. “Oh that must be so frustrating for you” or “I can see that you look sad”. The use of ‘I’ statements are also powerful tools to teach children such as “I feel angry when you leave me out of the games”.
2. Use visuals
As children understand and communicate at different levels, visuals (or pictures) can also be used to help a child communicate. It is a great tool to help them see and understand what they are being asked to do, especially when they are in a highly emotional state.
Visuals give the child the ability to process the information in their own time and act as a cue to inform children what they can do and simplify the message by breaking it down into small achievable steps. For example developing a calm chart together e.g. when I get angry I can: Jump on trampoline, punch a pillow, and kick a ball.
3. Praise your child
This is important to do when you see your child managing their anger in a helpful way. By getting down onto your child’s level and praising them this shows your child you are noticing them for good behaviour not just when they are not doing the right thing. This can help boost your child’s self-esteem and increase their motivation to do well.
By being specific with praise e.g. “I really liked the way you walked away from your brother when he snatched the toy off you” tells your child what they specifically did well opposed to saying “well done for not getting angry”.
4.Talk through it afterwards
After an angry episode, once the child has calmed, it is helpful to talk through the situation and problem solving strategies to help them better manage their anger for next time.
Questions parents can ask are for example “How did you feel and react? “How did the other person feel and react?” “What could you have done differently and how could you have better managed that situation?”
5. Encourage positive self-talk
Encourage children to learn positive self-talk for example “I just need to take a deep breath, or I can do this or I know I can handle this situation”.
6. Find their calm place
Some children may find it helpful to go to quiet place or room in order to get away from their triggers or if they are feeling sensory overloaded in order to help them calm down. It is important for parents to be aware that every child is different and that each child will calm down in their own time.
7. Help them identify triggers
Help the child to identify their triggers and help them intervene as early as possible. For example this may be using distraction techniques with the child such as taking them away from the stressful situation early enough or preparing your child about how they can handle a social situation before they arrive, e.g. a shopping trip or an outing.
8. Be firm and consistent
Help a child know what to expect by setting clear firm boundaries and being consistent with consequences.
9. Don’t give in
Resist the temptation to give into your child’s tantrum by giving them what they want. This will only reinforce that tantrums work.
10. Wait to talk until the meltdown is over
When a child is upset do not engage in conversation. Too much talk is overwhelming for a child’s brain so when a child is in a heightened state of emotion, they are not going to hear you or reason, they are more likely to get angrier.
11. Create an anger toolkit
Develop a toolkit to help your child calm down or develop a calm chart for them to look at. When a child is starting to feel their warning signs they can then look at the calm chart and choose a strategy such as: taking deep breaths, punching a pillow, jumping on the trampoline, kick a ball, read a book, and listen to music.