I’ve been working one-on-one with parents, brainstorming positive parenting techniques for their specific challenges. One of the topics that keeps coming up is how to handle anger in kids.
Angry outbursts can feel scary and sudden and overwhelming. It’s hard to know what to do in the moment, especially if you don’t have a good plan already in place. I know this because we’ve been there too.
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The thing about anger is that the emotion itself isn’t bad. Just like any other emotion, it has its purpose. The goal isn’t to get rid of anger, the goal is to help our kids learn how to move through it. To teach them how to handle the anger and use it in ways that are beneficial.
Can you think of a time when anger was the push you needed to make something right in your life? Or when anger drove you to complete something important? Anger can be a very powerful resource… if you know how to control it.
How to Handle Anger in Kids: In the Moment & Beyond
Acknowledge the anger. The angry moment is triggered by something, but it’s often the need to be heard that can throw the moment into a full on blow out. The anger builds and builds because no one seems to understand. Luckily this is one of the easiest tips to implement.
Become a narrator of the situation. Explain the facts and make sure your little one feels heard. Focus on the emotion and be careful not to condone any unwanted behavior.
“I can see your mouth is tight. I can see your hands are clenched. Are you feeling angry?” “I heard your voice all the way from the other room. It sounded so much louder than usual. And now that I can see your face, I can see that you are very angry. Am I right? Are you angry?”
The idea of this is to defuse the situation first. Tackle the issue of hitting, screaming in someone’s face or unkind words for later. (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.)
Hold off on the problem. Problems are not solved in the heat of the moment. Before talking about the problem everyone needs to calm down. That might mean that everyone else needs to pause. If the problem is over a toy, remove it until the angry party (or parties) can talk calmly.
If the problem is with you or something you are requesting… take a break from it. A power struggle or yelling match isn’t going to get either of you what you want.
I’ll send you over to conflict resolution for kids for tips on actually solving the problem.
Write it out. Rejoining the situation following an angry outburst can be difficult. For every kid it will be different, for every situation it will be different. It might be hard to come back because of embarrassment over how they reacted, they might now feel sad, they might still be a little mad or it might be for a different reason entirely.
Something that works really well for us is writing notes and sliding them under the door. We write things like. “It’s been a few minutes, are you ready to join us again? Check yes or no.” “I’m still mad.”
“Okay, shall I come back and ask again or just leave you to come out when you’re ready?” OR “Hey your brother has been waiting a while to play with the truck, it’s time to decide what’s next. Do you want to be a part of the decision?” “Yes, but I’m not ready to talk about the yelling.” “Okay we can talk about that after the problem is solved.”
(If your kids aren’t old enough for words, try pictures.)
Come back to the anger. It’s really important to talk about what happened once the moment has passed. Depending on what actually happened you can wait or handle it as soon as the problem that caused the anger is handled.
If other people are involved it probably needs to be handled immediately. “When you were very angry you hit your sister. That was not okay. Let’s find out what she needs from you.” OR “When you were yelling, you said something to me that was hurtful. Can you think of something kind to say to me please.” OR “You throw the chair and it needs to be picked up. Please take care of that before starting to play.”
It might be best to wait until later in the day or even the next day to talk about how it felt to be angry. Losing control does NOT feel good. Talking about how your little one felt in the moment, just before the blow up and after will be the first step in understanding that they can actually have control!
Prepare for next time. If you have a kid who has angry outbursts then you know what types of things trigger them. It may take a little thought to find a pattern but most likely there is one. A great example is: he gets very angry when he loses a game OR leaving someone’s house always ends in an angry outburst because she’s having fun.
Of course there will be times that you aren’t expecting but for those times you know it’s coming… be prepared! Positive behavior books are a great way to set up your expectations before the issue arises.
Offer understanding, support and ideas. Handling anger is a skill and it has to be practiced. We aren’t looking for perfection on this, we’re looking for improvement. Remember that changes in routine, sleepiness and hunger can affect anyone’s mood. Be understanding when your little one slips up. And point out any positive you can find. “Wow, you calmed down really fast! Did you do something differently this time?”
The best techniques will come from your kids. Go ahead and offer ideas to get your little one thinking. But support any ideas they might have too. If your son suggests going to his room to calm down, remind him of that during the next blow up. “Hey, do you remember last time we talked about ideas for calming down? You mentioned going to your room might be helpful. Would you like to try that? We’ll be right here once you’re calm.”
Imagine how empowering it will be for your little one to feel in control of these strong emotions! And what an incredible life lesson you are giving. It can almost make you excited to hear screaming down the hall… almost.
Anything to add? Tell us what’s worked for handling anger in kids at your house in the comment section.