Helping Your Child When They’re Angry

Children oftentimes have difficulties identifying and controlling their emotions. Things that seem trivial to adults may seem catastrophic to a child.

Younger children do not always possess the ability to regulate their emotions. They need help to identify what emotion it is they are feeling and be allowed to verbally express themselves. For very young children that cannot yet verbalize, ask them to draw a picture of how they are feeling. The colors they choose are often indicative of their mood.

There are typically underlying feelings that are represented as anger. Oftentimes fear, guilt, hurt, or grief can manifest as anger. Parents are encouraged to have regular conversations with their children to aid them in processing their feelings. When talking to your child keep in mind that all feelings are allowed, even negative ones. The important thing to focus on is how we deal with the negative feelings. Teach your children that violent behaviors are not appropriate reactions to anger.

Children naturally look to their parents and/or guardians to keep them safe when they are angry. Make sure to set boundaries and limits. Do not allow them to hit themselves, others, or you. Hold them if you need to. Let them struggle if they need to. Keep them (and yourself) safe. If you have witnessed what it is they are frustrated about (their block tower fell; their sister pulled their hair, etc.) acknowledge what it is that you saw that made them mad. “I see that you are angry because your tower fell over. I know you worked really hard on that.” Allow them time to be angry but then help them to calm down and process the situation.

Try to stay with your child, or very nearby when they are upset and working to calm down. Let them know that you are there to help them but also that you recognize they need to process on their own. Say something like, “I know you don’t want to talk right now but I’m right here and want to listen and help when you’re ready.” They need to know that they have your support and that you “have their back.”

It is important to try and stay calm yourself in situations where your child might be escalated. If they are yelling do not yell back. That will likely worsen the situation. If you are yelling you are then modeling for your children that that behavior is ok and acceptable. Children look to their parents for guidance. You are forever their teacher.

When individuals become angry they often will have a “fight or flight” response in their brain. Parental presence for a child when angry can be calming and create a safety measure for them so that they do not feel the need to flee and they can deal with their anger. This allows the reasoning part of their brain to work properly.

Teaching replacement behaviors will be important. Encourage children to “do an angry dance, stomp their feet, or rip up paper.” These are things they can do in the moment to release that anger or frustration in order to calm themselves down. Once they are calm they will then be better able to process the situation with you and identify what specifically made them mad. You may find that it wasn’t the block tower falling over but something that happened earlier in the day at school and the blocks were the final straw.

Try to help your child recognize their “anger warning signs.” For example they might start to ball their fists, feel their face flush, or start shaking. Teach them to self-regulate their negative emotions (deep breathing, positive visualization tools-their “happy place,” counting). Please do not ridicule or tell your child they are wrong for feeling that way. Instead allow them to express their emotions so they do not live in fear of them. When a child is unable to express what they are feeling they are then afraid of that emotion. Children need to learn that all emotions are “OK.”

The following are some warning signs to watch for that may be indicative of a larger scale problem:

They can’t control their aggressive impulses and hits people; this behavior continues past the age of five.

Frequent explosive outbursts, indicating that they are carrying a “full tank” of anger that is always ready to spill.

They are reflexively oppositional (and they are older than age 2).

They are unable to engage in constructive problem solving and do not acknowledge their role in creating the situation, instead feeling constantly victimized and “picked on.”

They frequently lose friends, alienate adults or are otherwise embroiled in interpersonal conflict.

They seem preoccupied with revenge.

They threaten to hurt themselves physically (or actually does so).

They damage property.

Repeatedly expresses hatred toward their self or someone else.

They hurt smaller children or animals.

(Phish, D. 2013. “Ten Signs Your Child Needs Help Controlling Their Anger” msue.anr.msu.edu/news/ten-signs-your-child-needs-help-controlling-their-anger )

If you feel that your child is having difficulty with managing their anger and you need further assistance please do not hesitate to call Family Service of the Chautauqua Region Inc. at 488-1971 or another community agency and set up an appointment with a therapist.


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