My Child's Anger is Making Me Angry!
Everyone gets angry at times. Anger an emotion that is part of the human experience. This means that our children will get angry too. One of our greatest challenges and responsibilities is not to prevent anger but to teach children ways to manage their anger appropriately. When we struggle with anger ourselves, it can be especially challenging to help our children when they have angry outbursts, temper tantrums, say mean words, act aggressively, refuse to comply, talk back, and give the silent treatment. How we intervene impacts their ability to move through anger and develop the necessary coping skills that will serve them throughout their lives. There is a correlation with how effectively we manage our own anger to how effective we are in supporting our children through their challenges with anger. Here are some guidelines that will help:
1. Remain calm. Feeling angry is okay. Your anger will automatically escalate your child’s anger. If it is challenging for you to be calm, find ways to begin shifting this within yourself. The calmer you are, the more helpful it is for your child.
2. Empathize. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and seek to understand what is making her angry. Communicate empathy simply by stating, “You are really mad that it is time to leave the park.”
3. Help your child calm down. When children experience powerful feelings, they may feel out of control. It is difficult to think and make appropriate choices when filled with intense anger. They need space and time to calm down. Work with children older than 4 to develop a list of calming activities. Ideas may include: lying on their bed, hugging a stuffed animal, sitting outside on the front step, coloring, listening to music, jumping rope, taking deep breaths, journaling or drawing. If your child has not yet learned what feels calming you may want to offer choices to guide him so that he can discover this important tool. Children under 4 may need your presence to calm down. Allow your child to have his tantrum, remain silent and nearby. It can feel scary or shaming to small children to leave them alone when they are feeling out of control and flooded by emotion.
4. Set limits to stop disrespectful, destructive behavior using our 3 step plan of empathy, stating the limit clearly, and providing two acceptable choices or asking what a better choice would be (see our earlier blog post on “The 1-2-3 Plan for Limit Setting”) For example, your child gets angry in the grocery store because he wants you to buy a toy. You leave the store but the tantrum continues when you get home and your child begins calling you names. Set the limit by saying, “I know you really wanted the toy in the store. You feel angry that I would not buy it. In our family, we don’t buy everything we want. Are you able to help me bring in the groceries or would it be better for you to sit and get calm?”
5. Talk later. After the child is calm and when YOU are calm:
Teach appropriate ways to handle anger
Use non-punitive consequences for any disrespectful, disruptive behavior and have children take responsibility for their actions
This can be done with thoughtful conversations. “You were really angry earlier today. I understand why you were angry; but the way you handled the anger by calling me names and screaming in the store, was not okay. Let’s think of what you can do differently next time if you get mad in the store.” You may need to add something like “Because you needed time to calm down, you were not able to do your job of helping me put the groceries away. You need to do something to take responsibility and make up for that. So after dinner instead of playing, you will need to spend some time cleaning the kitchen.”
6. Take responsibility for your own anger when you blow it. When anger gets the best of you, model owning it and apologize when necessary. “I was really angry earlier. I snapped at you. I forgot to calm down and said things I did not mean. I made you feel bad and I’m sorry.”
1. Yell, punish, lecture or try to rationalize when your child is angry. When children are flooded with emotion they cannot process these words and lessons. In addition, these words are likely to escalate their emotion.
2. Give in or re-negotiate when a child is angry. This sends the message that their anger is powerful and can be used to get what they want. Over time, children learn that anger helps them gain power and control. This is an unhelpful and dangerous message that will lead to more frequent tantrums, anger outbursts and mean/aggressive behavior.
For more information about our online parenting course or parent coaching, contact Karen Jacobson, MA, LCPC, LMFT at 312-330-3194, Karen@parentingperspectives.com or Lauren Bondy, LCSW at 847-562-9503, Lauren@parentingperspectives.com. Or, visit www.parentingperspectives.com.