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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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How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

His motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • He riles up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

Becoming the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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