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How To Help Your Child To Cope With Anger

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How To Help Your Child To Cope With Anger

Kids have a way of disarming parents with their innocent smiles and sweet comments. However, nothing can quite prepare you for the wrath of an angry child.

Anger is a natural response to injustice or frustration. Kids aren’t born with emotional awareness and control, though, so it’s up to parents to help them deal with it. Fortunately, most kids outgrow outbursts and temper tantrums by the time they’re seven or eight. By then, they’ve learned self-control and can vocalize their frustrations better.

There are times when a child’s anger can be a sign of a deeper problem. Knowing the warning signs can be the first step in getting appropriate help.

When should you worry? What are ways to help a child cope with anger?

Is It Normal for My Child to Be So Angry?

Children can get upset for a variety of reasons. Often, it doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but kids have big emotions. You never know what might set them off. It might be spilled juice, a missing toy, the wrong kind of cereal, or socks that feel weird. Kids will communicate it often and in a wide variety of ways.

Here are the most common ways an angry child will express their feelings:

  • Crying
  • Screaming
  • Kicking
  • Biting
  • Yelling
  • Stomping
  • Pushing

Kids expressing themselves this way are exhibiting typical childhood behavior and usually self-correct with guidance and help.[1]

Sometimes, the situation is complicated because the anger is a symptom of a more serious issue. This requires more diligent efforts and possibly the help of a professional.

When Is Anger Extreme?

You may need to get further help if your child struggles with any of the following:

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  • They have tantrums and outbursts that go beyond 7 or 8 years old.
  • Their anger interferes with relationships at home and interrupts family life.
  • The child becomes dangerous to themself or others.
  • The child feels bad about it.
  • The child’s anger causes problems with other kids at school.
  • The frequency and intensity of outbursts increase as the child gets older.

These are signs that the anger is out of control and might point to an underlying issue.[2]

What Are the Common Sources of Anger?

It can be both frustrating and scary to realize your child may have an anger issue. You want answers so you can help your child. This list is not exhaustive but provides a good starting point. These are all common and can cause unexplained or extreme anger in your child.

1. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

This disorder is relatively new, so it’s uncertain how widespread it is. There are specific things to look for, however.[3]

  • Three or more severe outbursts a week, on average
  • Outbursts that have lasted at least 12 months
  • Chronically irritable or bad mood
  • Trouble functioning in multiple environments
  • Irritation is out of proportion to the situation, extreme for what would be considered normal for that age

DMDD is most often diagnosed between the ages of six and ten.

2. ADHD

Kids with ADHD can be more likely to struggle with anger. They tend to be more sensitive and impulsive, making their emotions harder to control. Frustrations from school or other kids can accumulate and make an outburst seem sudden and inappropriate. It can be hard for them to slow down mentally and physically and is even more difficult to do when under pressure or stressed.[4]

3. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Aggression is a common symptom of ASD and often takes the form of self-injury, temper tantrums, impulsivity, and irrational moods. Kids on the spectrum have a hard time with social interaction and boundaries.[5]

4. Environment

A child dealing with trauma or an unhealthy environment will be more likely to act aggressively. This can be hard for parents to acknowledge, but sometimes children learn anger at home. Or maybe they are dealing with something traumatic. The important thing is to pinpoint the problem and work as a family to fix it. It is better to reach out for help early on, so that good habits can be established.

How You Can Help Your Child Overcome Anger?

You may be asking, “What now?” With so much information available, it can be hard to figure out what’s best for your family and dealing with your angry child. Temper tantrums can be disruptive and hard to deal with, even if they only last a few years.

If your child has been diagnosed with a disorder, you might be feeling a mix of sorrow and relief. The process can be overwhelming. Often it means making large life changes as the family adjusts. It can take time to find the “new normal.”

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The good news is that finding answers and knowing what you’re facing can help you move forward. Those first steps feel good because you know you’re headed in the right direction.

Fortunately, there are many ways a child can learn anger management skills. With time and dedication, your child can learn specific techniques that will help process emotions. What are some of those methods?

1. Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation is the ability to monitor when and how you have emotions and knowing what to do with them. It is a significant milestone in child development, and parents play a crucial role. How?

Imitation is the best way for children to learn how to regulate their emotions. Kids learn emotion regulation by watching those around them. You can show your angry child how to handle their feelings by being a good role model.[6]

It can be hard to stay calm in the heat of the moment. Here are some tips for getting control of your anger:[7]

  • Think before you speak.
  • Exercise.
  • Take a time-out.
  • Express yourself after you’re calm.
  • Don’t attack or criticize others.
  • Use humor to ease the conflict.
  • Look for solutions instead of focusing on the problem.
  • Know when to seek help.

2. Communication Strategies

Effective communication is key to relationships. Children struggle with finding the right words to convey what they’re thinking.

You can help your child learn good communication skills by:

  • Teaching your child a variety of words to use for different emotions
  • Allowing your child to describe their emotions by asking questions

3. Conflict Resolution

Knowing how to resolve conflict is an invaluable skill. Kids can begin learning it at an early age. Watch for opportunities to teach your child how to handle those stressful situations.

One example would be when you hear an argument take place. Step in to guide the process but be careful not to give the answers. Hear both sides of the story, and give each person a chance to come up with a resolution. Another way is to try turning it into a game to help make it memorable and fun, which can help your angry child calm down.

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4. The Stoplight Method

This method helps an angry child learn to calm down on their own. Practice it when they’re relaxed, so they can remember the process when they’re stressed.

  1. Have your child close his eyes and picture a stoplight.
  2. When the light is red, take three deep breaths and think of something relaxing.
  3. When the light turns yellow, it’s time to evaluate the problem. Think of two ways to solve the problem. Does he need an adult’s help?
  4. When the light turns green, it’s time to try one of the solutions out.

This visualization game helps build the patterns necessary to think a problem through.[8]

5. Exercise

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, increase focus, and give an overall boost. There’s another reason to consider including it in the list of treatments, though. If your child is overweight, aerobic exercise can be an effective way to reduce anger and aggression.[9]

A Quick Look at Behavioral Therapy

For children dealing with other disorders, the above methods might not be enough. While it can be discouraging, there is plenty of help available. With a little extra help, your child can have emotional control, too.

What other treatments are available? What can you expect next?

1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

A therapist does this type of treatment. The goal is for the child to recognize their thoughts and feelings and change the ones that negatively affect behavior. By identifying patterns and reactions, an angry child can learn to respond differently.[10]

2. Parent Management Training (PMT) for Behavior Therapy

This is similar to CBT but teaches parents how to respond to their child positively. The focus is on positive reinforcement, which is also a great way to build up the parent-child relationship.

Interestingly, this therapy involves some of the methods previously mentioned. Children are taught emotion regulation and CBT while parents focus on being good role models.

There are other key components, such as:

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  • Education
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Ignoring negative behavior
  • Rewards
  • Set standards
  • Allowing consequences

You Can Make a Difference Today

You have a list of treatments, but how are they put into action? What does it look like in everyday life? You can start today by teaching your child:

  • Self-Imposed Cool Off Time (SICOT): children close their eyes, rest their head on the desk or in their hands, and focus on calming down.
  • Anger itself is not bad. Everyone gets angry.
  • What happens to your body when you get angry
  • How thoughts influence our actions
  • Self-calming techniques, such as counting backward, breathing exercises, relaxing face and neck muscles, and unclenching fists
  • Self-awareness and triggers
  • Key phrases such as, “I’m frustrated/angry/irritated because…” “I am breathing calm.”

Is Punishment Appropriate?

It would be nice if there were a permanent solution and an angry child was never an issue again. Of course, that’s not the case, and your child will still make mistakes. Even adults do not handle their anger well at times, no matter how well-intentioned they might usually be.

You will have to decide when and what form of punishment is necessary. Keep in mind that sometimes, punishment can produce the opposite effect.

Here are some ways to make sure you’re making a positive impact, whatever route you decide to take:[11]

  • Be motivated by the desire to help.
  • Show your child their feelings are valid.
  • Give examples of acceptable ways to handle the situation.
  • Use plenty of positive reinforcement and praise them when they handle a situation well.
  • Avoid tempting or troubling circumstances when possible.
  • Use attention, affection, and touch to build your child up.
  • Don’t put your child down. Instead, focus on strengths.
  • Set clear limits. Have household rules that everyone is expected to follow.

Important Things to Remember as a Parent

Remember, you love your child more than anyone else. You want your child to succeed and live a healthy life. Be a positive role model and show patience as your child navigates emotions. Regardless of the severity of the anger, you can help your angry child reach realistic goals, and help is always available when you need it.

Knowing is half the battle, so arm yourself with knowledge. You’ll be more prepared, more confidant, and better able to withstand storms.

More Tips on How to Deal With an Angry Child

Featured photo credit: Alexander Dummer via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Yale Medicine: Anger, Irritability, and Aggression in Kids
[2] Child Mind Institute: Is My Child’s Anger Normal?
[3] National Institute of Mental Health: Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
[4] Understood ADHD and Anger: What You Need To Know
[5] Center for Disease Control: Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
[6] Sage Journals: Social Learning Theory
[7] Mayo Clinic: Anger Management: 10 Tips to Tame Your Anger
[8] PBS: Five Strategies to Help Kids Resolve Conflict
[9] NCBI: Aerobic Exercise Program Reduces Anger Expression Among Overweight Children
[10] Center for Disease Control: Behavior Therapy
[11] Child Development Institute: Anger Management for Kids and Parents

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Adrienne Koziol

Adrienne is an educator, blogger, and mother of 9. She loves to help people reach their goals in relationships, health, and life.

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