Top Tips for Helping Your Child Cope with Anger
by Elizabeth Pflaum, AAA Parent Coaching Services
Lately, so many of my clients have been struggling with their child's anger that I decided to write another article on the subject. In truth, I believe that coping with an angry child who has not learned how to express theirangry feelings in a healthy way is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. While some parents may find themselves trapped in endless and pointless arguments or power struggles, others may respond to their child's anger with anger of their own, leading to a dangerous spiral that quickly gets out of control and seems only to perpetuate further anger.
I believe that the cornerstone to raising children who can manage anger and frustration is both to model such behavior ourselves, and to provide our children with the ability to identify when they are angry and then to use language, physical exercise, and other mechanisms to express and control their anger. We are all allowed to feel angry. Anger is an emotion and we are entitled to feel whatever we feel. However, we should not express our anger in a way that is physically or emotionally abusive to ourselves or to others. I often find that children, and even adults, may not have learned that anger does not have to be expressed by screaming, yelling, or exploding. An angry child does not have to be an aggressive child. Anger is simply an emotion. Aggression refers to a set of violent, hostile, and often deliberately destructive behaviors.
In children, anger may become a catch-all emotion to include feelings of frustration, loneliness, anxiety, fear, and/or sadness. Therefore, I find it incredibly helpful for parents to help children to recognize and name the emotion that they are feeling. We can let our children know that it is absolutely okay to feel angry, and that we will help them to learn how to manage their emotions.
The next step is to help our children to identify what triggers lead them to feel angry, and to help them to identifyhow they may respond to the various situations that upset them in an appropriate way. . At a calm moment, perhaps at the dinner table, you might go around the table, asking each family member to list the five scenarios that make them the most angry, and then discuss how they cope with these situations. Parents should participate as well as children. In our family's case, we have found that actually the same types of circumstances elicit anger in all of us, which came as quite a surprise. Our top triggers were:
Feeling overwhelmed by homework, work, or chores
People who are rude, mean, hurtful, intolerant, or yell at us
Feeling that people we love aren't listening to what we are saying
Perceived poor performance, such as bad grades, losing a game, or not doing our very best at work or school
Being forced to do things we don't want to do
Having to stop doing something we enjoy without warning
Once we realized that we all shared basically the same set of frustrations, except for those of us with learning disabilities who also felt angry when teachers or classmates pointed out that they did not understand a particular lesson, we were able to share a rich and interesting dialog about anger, and, perhaps, a greater understanding of ourselves and one another. Of course, this list would have been different for families with younger children, but the exercise is worthwhile and I invite you to try it out tonight at dinner.
More Do's and Don'ts for Parents of Angry Children:
Model healthy expressions of anger and other emotions as often as you can. Let your children hear you express anger in a calm voice. Let them see you take deep breaths or remove yourself from a stressful situation. Let them see you laugh at yourself, blow bubbles, take a walk, whatever you do to express angry feelings in a controlled and appropriate way.
Compliment your child whenever he or she manages anger well. You might say something like, "I am so proud of the way that you stayed calm when your little brother knocked over your block tower / took your favorite baseball cap / broke the remote control. I know you felt angry but you did a great job of staying in control."
Ignore irritating behavior when possible. For example, sometimes the best thing to do when faced with a child who has thrown himself on the floor in a screaming fit of rage is to simply walk over him to another room or towards the check-out line at the store. Obviously it is important to keep safety in mind at all times, but a tantrum that receives no attention is hardly worth the energy it requires, and can often resolve on it's own.
Love unconditionally and hug often. Sometimes all an angry child (or adult) needs is a really big hug that communicates love and recognition of the depth of
their emotional upset. An angry child is not a bad child. An angry child is simply experiencing an emotion that he or she may not yet know how to express and control. A hug will not reinforce bad behavior, but may help a hysterical child to recover quickly and to be better able to problem solve new strategies for handling the emotion in question.
Maintain clear boundaries at all times and say No when you truly mean it and it needs to be said. When children are calm, rules and boundaries should be explained and consistently reinforced. Boundaries are not a form of punishment, but simply a clearly understood set of rules for the family to abide by. When rules and boundaries are based on your core values and beliefs, they are easily expressed and maintained, so pleasetake the time to create your family rules and enforce them with love and confidence.
Provide plenty of opportunity for your child to engage in physical exercise during the day. Running, shooting baskets, kicking a ball, jumping on a trampoline, or doing jumping jacks are all excellent ways to release upset and anger.
Try to give your child lots and lots of positive attention. This will help them to recognize their own strengths and positive behavioral choices. Moreover, children of all ages relish the attention of parents and other important adults in their lives. Often children will put more energy in behaving in the way that helps them to garner the most attention. Thus, the more attention they receive for positive behavior, the more likely they are to engage in additional positive behavior.
Remember to laugh often and to use humor to diffuse tense situations when possible. Be careful to ensure that your child recognizes that you are making a joke about the situation and not laughing at their expense.
Listen actively to your child when they explain what is bothering them. We all know how wonderful it feels to be heard and understood. Sometimes that is enough to enable an angry child to let go of their upset. At the very least, your child will know how much you care about his or her feelings and experiences in the world, which is a gift beyond measure.
Elizabeth Pflaum provides individual parent coaching services, workshops, and seminars on all aspects of parenting children of all ages and abilities. As an adoptive mother of four, Elizabeth has a special fondness for families touched by adoption. For more information, please visit Elizabeth on the web at www.aaaparentcoach.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.