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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 November 20, 2018

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

A new year beautifully symbolizes a new chapter opening in the book that is your life. But while so many people like you aspire to achieve ambitious goals, only 12% of you will ever experience the taste of victory. Sound bad? It is. 156 million people (that’s 156,000,000) will probably give up on their resolution before you can say “confetti.” Keep on reading to learn why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to succeed).

Note: Since losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, I chose to focus on weight loss (but these principles can be applied to just about any goal you think of — make it work for you!).

1. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.

Slow and steady habit change might not be sexy, but it’s a lot more effective than the “I want it ALL and I want it NOW!” mentality. Small changes stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you’ll barely even notice them!).

If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight. Want to lose weight? Stop it with the crash diets and excessive exercise plans. Instead of following a super restrictive plan that bans anything fun, add one positive habit per week. For example, you could start with something easy like drinking more water during your first week. The following week, you could move on to eating 3 fruits and veggies every day. And the next week, you could aim to eat a fistful of protein at every meal.

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2. You put the cart before the horse.

“Supplementing” a crappy diet is stupid, so don’t even think about it. Focus on the actions that produce the overwhelming amount of results. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it.

3. You don’t believe in yourself.

A failure to act can cripple you before you leave the starting line. If you’ve tried (and failed) to set a New Year’s resolution (or several) in the past, I know it might be hard to believe in yourself. Doubt is a nagging voice in your head that will resist personal growth with every ounce of its being. The only way to defeat doubt is to believe in yourself. Who cares if you’ve failed a time or two? This year, you can try again (but better this time).

4. Too much thinking, not enough doing.

The best self-help book in the world can’t save you if you fail to take action. Yes, seek inspiration and knowledge, but only as much as you can realistically apply to your life. If you can put just one thing you learn from every book or article you read into practice, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

5. You’re in too much of a hurry.

If it was quick-and-easy, everybody would do it, so it’s in your best interest to exercise your patience muscles.

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6. You don’t enjoy the process.

Is it any wonder people struggle with their weight when they see eating as a chore and exercise as a dreadful bore? The best fitness plan is one that causes the least interruption to your daily life. The goal isn’t to add stress to your life, but rather to remove it.

The best of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do something we hate consistently, so make getting in shape fun, however you’ve gotta do it. That could be participating in a sport you love, exercising with a good friend or two, joining a group exercise class so you can meet new people, or giving yourself one “free day” per week where you forget about your training plan and exercise in any way you please.

7. You’re trying too hard.

Unless you want to experience some nasty cravings, don’t deprive your body of pleasure. The more you tell yourself you can’t have a food, the more you’re going to want it. As long as you’re making positive choices 80-90% of the time, don’t sweat the occasional indulgence.

8. You don’t track your progress.

Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an “I CAN do this” attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time. Improving your best performance on a regular basis offers positive feedback that will encourage you to keep going.

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9. You have no social support.

It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel alone. The good news? You’re not alone: far from it. Post a status on Facebook asking your friends if anybody would like to be your gym or accountability buddy. If you know a co-worker who shares your goal, try to coordinate your lunch time and go out together so you’ll be more likely to make positive decisions. Join a support group of like-minded folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere on the internet. Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.

10. You know your what but not your why.

The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail: you know what you want but you not why you want it.

Yes: you want to get fit, lose weight, or be healthy… but why is your goal important to you? For example:

Do you want to be fit so you can be a positive example that your children can admire and look up to?

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Do you want to lose fat so you’ll feel more confident and sexy in your body than ever before?

Do you want to be healthy so you’ll have increased clarity, energy, and focus that would carry over into every single aspect of your life?

Whether you’re getting in shape because you want to live longer, be a good example, boost your energy, feel confident, have an excuse to buy hot new clothes, or increase your likelihood of getting laid (hey, I’m not here to judge) is up to you. Forget about any preconceived notions and be true to yourself.

  • The more specific you can make your goal,
  • The more vivid it will be in your imagination,
  • The more encouraged you’ll be,
  • The more likely it is you will succeed (because yes, you CAN do this!).

I hope this guide to why New Year’s resolutions fail helps you achieve your goals this year. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to some friends so they can be successful just like you. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

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