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13 Ways To Deal With An Angry Child

13 Ways To Deal With An Angry Child

Anger in a child may occur for many different reasons. It might stem from a condition like ADHD, ODD, anxiety, various different developmental difficulties or perhaps frustrations over experiencing specific learning difficulties at school. Anger can also occur just as part of the typical emotional regulation development of the growing child. Whatever the source of the anger, teaching the brain in a child to stay calm can be a challenge; I often wonder if the person who came up with the phrase “the joys of parenting” ever had any dealings with children. Did they ever see a toddler tantrum or a teenage mood swing?

Let’s face it, parenting is not always joyful and working with angry kids in any capacity can be downright difficult at times. You may have read every guidebook on the planet already. And you may know that while parenting or teaching may be the most important and rewarding job that you’ll ever do, at times, it feels very much like that — a job. When your child is feeling angry and acting out, you may be hurt, offended, bewildered, or even angry yourself. This doesn’t make you a bad parent or teacher. It makes you human.

Psychologist Karen Webster Stratton reports that emotions are responses to situations in which people feel strongly. She further notes that these responses are felt on three levels: neurophysiological, behavioral, and cognitive. This means that there is a physical response in the person’s body as well as an intellectual understanding of what is happening. In addition, there is also an overt behavior exhibited as a result of the person’s response to the stimuli.  So your child’s responding may not be as simple as what you see on the outside. Your child may be responding to events on a single level or on all three levels.  Whichever is the case for your child, here are some top tips based on psychological research that will help you manage the situation when your child is angry and carry you through those times when parenting or teaching is far less joyful an experience.

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Remind kids that they are capable of managing their emotions.

In early childhood, kids begin to talk and reflect on the emotions that they are having. This helps them understand and regulate what they are feeling. By middle childhood, they realize that they can have conflicting and difficult feelings but that they may not always act on them. So while they may love and respect their parents and teachers, they begin to understand that they can still be angry with them. By the time they reach adolescence and all of the hormonal flux that comes with this period, they become very skilled at hiding emotions that are unpopular or that might get them into trouble. So remind them that it is entirely normal to feel angry sometimes, but that it is within their power to make space for uncomfortable feelings and still move forward in life. Intense feelings may seem unmanageable at times, but with practice, even the most difficult thoughts and feelings can be worked out.

Balance schedules with periods of activity and down time.

Kids that are overstimulated or overtired will often misbehave. Adequate physical and cognitive stimulation will keep their brains and bodies active, but also ensure that there is enough down time to allow them to process what they are learning and allow them space so that they don’t feel completely overwhelmed by what is going on around them.

Model emotional regulation.

Even in early infancy, babies use social referencing (Klinnert et al 1996) to guide their emotional reactions. This means that even before the age of one, babies will look to the adults around them if they are unsure of how to respond to a stimuli or unfamiliar situation. So if you want your baby to respond with calm, you need to model this for them. Start early so that calm and measured responses become the norm, not the exception. Then continue to do this as your child gets older. If you find that your child (or student) seems to regularly over-react, it is a good idea to let them see you making some mistakes and responding in a flexible and balanced manner. The more this behavior is witnessed, the more it will be the norm. If they see you making some mistakes and still being able to manage yourself, they will see that there are options besides anger when things don’t go the way they expect them to.

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Role-play emotional regulation.

If modeling alone doesn’t seem to be effective in toning down your child’s emotional responses, you may need to role play some example situations. This can be done easily in classroom settings as there are many games that you can play whereby each child gets to act out what it looks and feels like when things go wrong. You can have kids act out various different responses and then discuss which would work best in real life. You can also do this at home with just yourself and your child or with siblings or friends. The point is to set up situations that might be difficult in real life and play out the different responses. This gives kids a chance to think it out before it happens to them and allows them to see that they have a choice in how they respond. There are some great examples of games and activities for this type of role play in books like “Anger Management Games for Kids” by Deborah Plummer or in “What to Do When Your Temper Flares” by Dr. Dawn Huebner.

Teach the difference between having feelings and acting on them.

People often think that they are their thoughts, taken completely literally. Of course, just because we have thoughts doesn’t mean that every single one of those thoughts is true. It also doesn’t mean that we have to buy into or act on every single thought that we have.  In fact sometimes our thoughts are completely unhelpful and sometimes our mind tells us to do things that just don’t work. For example, even though I’m a grown-up, I sometimes feel like throwing myself on the floor and flailing my hands and fists about in rage when things don’t go my way. Do I do this? Of course not! I know that this type of behavior doesn’t bring me places that I want to go to and it doesn’t solve my problem. This behavior simply doesn’t work for me the same way it may have worked for me (on some level) when I was a toddler. There are lots of different therapeutic techniques for defusing us from difficult or unhelpful thoughts so that we don’t get into the trap of believing all of our thoughts or of feeling that we have to act on every single thought.

In Dr. Steve Hayes’ book called “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life; The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”, he describes a multitude of defusion strategies in an easy to read self-help format that can be used with kids too. One exercise is to imagine that you are watching leaves going down a quickly moving stream. For each thought that you have, imagine that it is written on one of the leaves and then watch that thought roll away down the stream. You can do this also by imagining that each thought is attached to one of the cars on a freight train that you are watching go through a railway station too. The point is that you notice that you are having the thought and you watch the thought. You don’t have to act on it; you just notice that you are having it. This act of imagining the thought outside of yourself has the very powerful effect of separating us from our thoughts. In other words, we can have the thoughts and not be them. We can choose not to act on them.  We can train our brains merely to notice the thoughts and notice that they are just that — thoughts.

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Train mindfulness and meditation.

While we aren’t all yoga experts or self-help gurus, a little bit of mindfulness goes a long way. Increasingly, psychotherapies are using mindfulness and meditation techniques as these have been shown to increase a person’s self awareness. Having a heightened self awareness will help young people catch unworkable thoughts and actions before they hit the self-destruct button. Dr. Russ Harris makes lots of suggestions for how to do this in his book, “The Happiness Trap”, but basically this entails winding down and watching our thoughts and actions as they happen. It entails noticing what is going on around us — even the very small things — and taking the time to slow down now and again and notice all the sights, sensations, and smells of our everyday activities.

Coaching.

Sometimes, parents and teachers might be doing a great job of empowering kids to act in a pro-social way. They might also be modeling appropriate behavior at every opportunity. They might do some excellent role plays and they might also do some stellar work defusing kids from difficult thoughts and feelings. Even still, angry outbursts will occur. When this happens, we need to meet the child where they are at, right then and there. Try to coach them through the same way you would teach them any other skill. Encourage them to act in manner that works for them and one that is consistent with class or house rules.

Do not respond with anger.

You know the old saying, “Fight fire with fire”? It doesn’t apply here — you are the adult in this situation. Even though this young person might be pushing every last button and you might be exhausted and tempted to shout and slam some doors yourself, remember that a child will mirror your behavior. If you are throwing tantrums yourself, you can be certain that this will increase the likelihood of an escalation in your child’s angry outbursts. In the 1960s, Albert Bandura and his team demonstrated many times that children who witnessed aggressive behavior were more likely to act aggressively than were their peers who had witnessed more pro-social actions. If you want your child to respond with calm, you need to remain calm yourself, even though your own physiology might be telling a different story, you need to practice self restraint and show them how it is done.

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Acknowledge that what your child is going through is difficult.

There are a whole range of human emotions (anger, sadness, fear, happiness, etc.). All of them are normal, but sometimes the level or intensity of the emotion is not commensurate with the situation. At the same time, it is very important that your child feels that you have heard them. Let them know that being angry is normal and that you understand that they feel frustrated, but that you are concerned with the way they are acting out their frustrations or concerned that their behavior is not working for them in this situation. They are much more likely to engage with what you think will work for them if they feel that you understand them and that you are on their side.

Show them unconditional positive regard.

This classic Rogerian piece of psychological advice still holds true today.  Kids will work harder on their behavior if they think that you like them. This is another reason why you want them to know that you have heard them and that their feelings are valuable. If they recognize that you will keep batting for them even when they misbehave, they will know that you have their back in difficult situations. This also helps them separate themselves from their behaviors. In other words, you love your child always, but you don’t always have to agree with the way they behave and you would sometimes like them to work on those behaviors in a different and more positive way. It is also worth noting that children who misbehave often get into trouble and this can become a very negative cycle whereby they are in trouble so often that they become disheartened and stop even trying to play by the rules.

Impose consequences for inappropriate behavior.

Showing a child unconditional positive regard does not mean that you ignore every act of misbehavior. The real world doesn’t work like that and you need to prepare your child for this reality. Have rules and boundaries and work within them. If your child has trouble with a particular rule, there is no reason why that cannot be discussed in a mature and respectful fashion, but remember that actions have consequences and it is important that young people understand that this applies to them even if they did not mean to lose their temper or even if they are very sorry for their actions.

Be aware of gender, cultural and socioeconomic differences in emotional responding.

Boys and girls sometimes respond differently at different stages of development so be aware that the children in your home or in your classroom may be at different developmental stages. In increasingly diverse classrooms, there may also be different cultural and socioeconomic differences which may come into play in the ways that different children react. So while the home and classroom rules should always be consistent, you may need to apply some flexibility to certain situations to make room for what may be entirely typical for a certain gender, culture, or socioeconomic group at that specific chronological age. This doesn’t mean that you don’t work on behaviors that are problematic — it means you need to be sensitive to where these behaviors may be coming from.

Be aware that people make mistakes.

Sometimes even when you have done your best to adopt these strategies, children will still show high levels of anger. Just be aware that everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Bearing this in mind will help you look at a situation as problematic, rather than looking at an individual child as the problem. Maintaining this stance will enable you to keep persisting with these tried and tested tips so that you don’t undermine your relationship even with children with extremely high levels of anger. So don’t think that you have failed in your efforts because of one or two or even ten angry outbursts. Effecting meaningful and lasting behavior change takes time, patience, and persistence by both you and your child. Celebrate the small victories and learn from the mistakes along the way. These are a necessary part of the learning process too.

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Last Updated on February 20, 2019

13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with Them and Enjoy the Ride

13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with Them and Enjoy the Ride

Fear. I spend my life talking about fear — fighting fears, fixing fears and understanding fears. And yet I doubt I get 10 calls a year from people saying “Mandie can you help me fix my fear?”

Why is this so critically important to you?

The realization for me is that fear is not the fundamental driving force in your life it’s what regardless of whether I’m talking to a doctor, a teacher, a CEO’s, a senior citizens or teenager – every single one of those conversations has a direct correlation with your world.

Fear can range from the overwhelming desire to look away or stop in your tracks to literally fleeing your country and the life you knew. In this article, I will share you with 13 tips to face your fears and enjoy the ride.

1. Know That Fear Is Real, but Can Be Overcome

Right now around the world people are facing fear — real fear. Fear that I pray my children and I will never experience. Does that lessen my fears or your fears in your relativity safe 21st century life?

When I look at the world we all live in, I find that fear like so many other emotions can mean so many different things to so many different people:

  • The child who has to be physically dragged to their first day of school.
  • The man facing the judge.
  • The woman with her hand poised over the buttons over her phone because she has to walk down a dark corridor late at night alone.
  • The man as the surgeon says “count backwards from 10 Mr Smith.”
  • The woman that’s told “We are sorry, we can’t help you.”
  • The man that faces the empty circle of a gun and prays for his very existence.

These and a million more (Portrayed in every kind of movie, book or song you could imagine) are what make us human. We face fear and somehow move forward or are stopped in our tracks.

Like the rabbit in the headlights of the car that veers off through the field away from the tyres of the car or stays still praying for salvation. Like someone will save them. Sound familiar?

Fear is huge. Fear is everywhere and yet fear can be overcome, controlled and can even be a power for good.

2. Accept Your Fear

Firstly if you aren’t facing the barrel of the gun, atrocities that make the news or impeding death, that’s a good start. However it doesn’t mean your fear is any less real.

We are quick to say “I can’t moan, my life is not as bad as X.” While in theory, that’s honorable your appreciation of Mr. or Mrs. X’s horrific life won’t change anything directly. So accept your fear is relative to you.

And here’s what can be done.

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3. Get Some Perspective

I found myself asking anyone that would answer “what is your worst fear”. The answer that intrigued me the most came from my daughter (15 years old and she usually has a copy of Fight the Fear – my book – in her school bag so she can help someone else be as positive and confident as her. No matter what life throws up.)

And her fear, surprised me — heights. I pointed out that we live in a sprawling bungalow (one storey) and the highest she goes is two storeys’ at school! She laughed but added, fear isn’t like that Mum. I know it’s not a real fear, but it’s like when you stand on a chair and feel unsafe.

That girl will go far. Because she truly gets fear.

We know something is scary and yet we still do it. Why? Because we have a perspective to the fear. When you lose perspective, it can feel too big, and too scary.

So look around you to get some perspective on your fear:

  • Are you really at risk?
  • Will this kill you?
  • Which leads us on to..
  • If the worse was to happen what would it be?

4. Hold a Hand

As a coach, it is my job to holds someone’s metaphorical hand and help them face a fear.

Like the child petrified of the thunder storm or the teen that can’t get back in a car again after failing their test, your job as a parent is to reassure, encourage, enable and motivate someone to face something that ideally they never would choose to again.

We know many of our fears aren’t real. However, it is only when someone guides us with love, respect, lack of judgement and safety are we able to get through fear. And trust me, you can get through your fears. I’ve seen it so many times.

Ask yourself:

  • If the worse were to happen, what would that be?
  • Could that really happen?
  • If the worse did happen, how would you recover?
  • If the worse were to happen, what would you need to do next?

By seeing fear as not the end destination but part of being human, you can see through it’s wily evil ways and move forward.

5. Know Whose Hand You Hold Either Physically or Emotionally

This helps with fears for the rest of your life.

Think of someone you can always rely on (and ideally you won’t just answer yourself because that adds a lot of pressure to your existence!) And you will find that you’ve already found a way to get through fear.

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The beauty of this is that it means that fear becomes part of life not something to be feared and shied away from.

It means you know you can turn to your friend, partner, colleague, parent, sibling and say “Right I need to deal with this, and I’m going to need you to help me.”

For one moment, think about it from the other person’s view point. When we get to help other people we feel valued, loved, respected and lots of other positive emotions and we get a good dose of positive chemicals setting off in our bodies too.

Your fear, and your determination to fight it, helped someone else too. Now that’s cool right?

6. Understand That There Are Some Things Fear Will Never Touch

I like to find role models in life — people who have faced heroism, history changing moments, war, atrocities, miracles, life saving inventions.

Not everyone was looking for greatness, however they all found it. And one of my favourite books to date is written about Alistair Urquhart, the forgotten highlander. If this doesn’t get turned into a film in the future, then no man’s story is likely to.

Alistair went through the most horrific experiences in the 2nd world war. If you think of one of the awful things that happened back then in our world, Alistair went through at least 3 of them! Asked afterwards how did you cope? He talked about how whatever they did to his body, no matter how they starved, tortured, threatened or mocked him, they couldn’t have his mind. In his mind he was free.

Of all the people’s voices I’ve heard in my head over the years, this is one of those statements that reminds me anything is possible if you have faith and hope.

Look for the things in life that fear can’t touch. They will create confidence and faith for the future, whatever you face. And they will give you a sense of why being you is awesome.

Of all the billions of people on this planet, no one will have an answer identical to yours!

7. Process Your Fears to Carry on with Life

Being brave is not about sticking your chest out and smiling regardless of what hell you endure. It is about finding a way to emotionally process your fears to be able to keep going.

I have a tool kit of things I can rely on – tools, strategies, techniques. They include people to hug or talk to, music. hobbies, walks on the beach and even my favourite food. It sounds mad but at the times where I have questioned “how will I get through this?” I’ve found immense joy in doing the most unlikely of thing that makes me smile.

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It may be a short lived moment of happiness. However, it reminded that nothing stays the same and I can find away.

One client told me that it was crazy when it felt like their world was falling around their ears to run a bath to the brim (you don’t waste water) get the best bath oils, light too many candles, lock the door and drink a glass of bubbly (champagne is only for special occasions.)

Did that moment fix the disaster that my clients life felt? No, however it gave them a moment of calm and the brain is far quicker to find solutions, resolve and motivation to keep going when you do that.

It may feel like madness to do something you love, however it can be a powerful way to help you find solutions to the fears you face in life.

8. Assume the Worse

If you read the statement from the client above. Notice how they assumed it was wrong to fill the bath up to the top? How bubbly is only for special occasions?

Think how naughty they felt to be doing something that was not allowed?

  • Think about what age it may have made them feel?
  • Think about how they feel about champagne?
  • What special moments it’s been a part of in their lives?

And you can see how the assumptions they made about their “right” to have these things was not healthy.

When I drag the assumptions out of people’s words for them to see, they are often struck by how negative the words make them feel.

Don’t assume your words aren’t impacting on you. You can go through fear and actually enjoy the ride when you take the time to understand how you are letting words get to you.

9. Take a Fear That Feels Insurmountable Right Now.

If you were to repeat it to me out loud, what would you say?

Would you have blame on yourself in there? Would you assume others can do it and it’s just you? Would you feel small, unsuccessful, useless, unworthy?

Usually, when you do this exercise, you are able to spot the untruths that run wild in your head convincing you that you are doomed. And rarely when we are faced with our assumptions is there is a lot of evidence to them.

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10. You Are Not Defined by Your Fear

One fear does not define your life – be mindful of that. It is likely to lead you to thinking of all the times you’ve succeeded and bring a moment of calm, confidence and faith back to you.

11. Go with Fear

When you learn to go with fear, you could find yourself actually having fun, no seriously – having fun.

I have a few amazing clients I’m working with right now who would describe themselves as life long worriers, or pessimists. In the past that has served them well, enabling them to keep safe, steer clear of risks and even develop strategies in the event of disasters. However, now they find it’s becoming hard to break the cycle and they really want to because it’s holding them back.

Notice how they’ve found their hidden fears and want to face them?

One client said “I knew this was going to be tough, and I knew I couldn’t fight it alone and I knew you would be the one to help me.” Before I sat an incredibly successful, confident, capable business owner with a family and a social life to die for.

However, I’ve learned that the most successful looking lives can hide things that impact on life, success, love, happiness and business.

We didn’t start with the fear that they felt was holding them back, we broke the fear down, and found lots of little obstacles that had been deemed as “life” and “unchangeable” and “that’s just the way it is” by developing awareness to the little steps on the road to their obstacles to happiness and success they were able to tackle them in a different way.

12. Discover Great Skills in Your Scary Moments

And in that clients words “I came here to work with you to grow my company, and my own personal skills. I didn’t expect to get the children to be cleaning up after themselves and my partner being more attentive! It all feels a little magic.”

The moral is that out of the scariest of moments, we can find great skills we didn’t know we had. Find better, healthier, happier ways to live and find ways to enjoy life more. (And have a bit of magic!)

What a great place to be in ready for the next fear that thinks it’s going to get in the way of you, right?

13. Own Your Fear

Think back over these tips and come up with at least one example for each one. Write them down. Put them on your phone. Turn them into a piece of art. Turn them into a poem. Frame them. Go for a fast walk across the fields, beach, down town and repeat these things in your head to the sound of your feet on the ground.

We rarely take the time to appreciate how far we have come, how much we can achieve or what we are capable of – by really owning the tips in this article you will have given your brain a big fat dose of “Damn right I can do this!” and the motivation and accountability to say “Let’s find a way” through any fear.

You can’t help but feel good when you see that can you? And fear doesn’t stand a chance, does it?

More Resources About Fighting Fear

Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

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