10 Ways to Help Your Angry Child Get Control Over Those Bad Feelings
Yelling. Fighting. Hitting. Tantrums. Biting. Sound familiar? These are typical behaviors of quick-to-anger children. Other kids hold their intense feelings inside, with unreleased anger and pent-up frustrations leading to anxiety and even depression.
If you want your child to handle anger more appropriately, you must help her learn substitute behaviors to relieve that pent-up energy and replace current unhealthy strategies. Some parents swear that learning deep-breathing yoga techniques helped their kids manage anger, while others say teens relax more when they go to a dark room and listen to quiet music.
The trick is to find what works best for your child so he can learn how to take control of his temper, and then use the same tip each and every time until it becomes a habit and he can use the strategy without you. That will take practice, practice, practice.
Each child is different, so it’s best to use the trial-and-error approach: teach a strategy and then watch to see how your child responds. If the strategy and your child seem to “click,” then focus on that one technique by practicing it again and again until your child can use it alone. That may take some time—after all, you are helping your child change a habit—so hang in there.
You should see a gradual diminishing of the anger as your child gains self-control and applies the “anger replacer” skill. Track how often your child practices the technique. If you do not see a change in behavior after a few weeks or if your child’s anger intensifies, becomes more frequent, lasts longer, or becomes a safety issue for your child or others, seek the help of a trained professional.
Here are a few solutions that help kids handle their hot feelings in healthier ways.
1. Develop a feeling vocabulary
Many kids display aggressive behavior—such as kicking, screaming, hitting, biting—because they simply don’t know how to express their frustrations any other way. They need an emotional vocabulary to express how they feel, and you can help your kid develop one. Here are a few words to start with:
• ticked off
Once your child learns emotion words, encourage her to “talk out her anger.” Of course, she might just yell, “I’m really angry!” or blurt out, “You make me so mad.” Do not discipline her. That’s exactly what you want her to do so she learns to express anger in a healthy way instead of lashing out or holding it in.
2. Use self-talk
Teach a simple, positive message your child can say to himself in stressful situations. For example: “Stop and calm down,” “Stay in control,” “I can handle this.”
3. Pound it out
Encourage your child to pound clay, hit a pillow, shoot baskets, punch a punching bag, throw rocks at a wall (away from people), or hit a wall with a foam bat. Help her find the most effective way to calm her temper, and then encourage her to use that technique consistently. Be aware, though, that most research finds that this strategy can backfire and increase impulsivity. Use it only if you see a decrease in your child’s anger.
4. Go to a calm spot
Ask your child to help you set up a place where he can go to gain control. Offer a few soothing options—such as books, music, pens, and paper—and then encourage your child to use the spot to cool down.
5. Tear anger into little pieces
Tell your child to draw or write what is upsetting her on a piece of paper, then tear it into little pieces and “throw the anger away.” She can also use this concept to imagine that the anger is slowly leaving her one little piece at a time.
6. Stop and breathe
Show your child how to inhale slowly to a count of five, pause for two counts, and then slowly breathe out the same way, again counting to five. Repeating the sequence creates maximum relaxation and reduces stress that can turn into anger.
7. “1 + 3 + 10”
Explain the formula this way: “As soon as you feel your body sending you a warning sign that says you’re losing control, do three things. First, stop and say: ‘Be calm.’ That’s 1. Now take three deep, slow breaths from your tummy. That’s 3. Finally, count slowly to ten inside your head. That’s 10. Put them all together and you have 1 + 3 + 10. Doing it helps you calm down and get back in control.”
Along the same lines, you can teach a younger child to use “Dragon Breaths” and blow anger out just like a dragon.
8. Imagine a calm place
The second your child feels his body warning signs kick in, tell him to close his eyes and, while breathing slowly, imagine a peaceful spot, such as the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, or a tree house. Taking a photograph of the actual calm place or drawing a picture of it and then framing it and putting it by your child’s bed can be a great visual reminder.
9. Draw it
Some kids find drawing to be relaxing. If this is your child, stock a basket with markers, crayons, and a sketch pad and encourage her to go “draw out her anger.” You can keep a spare drawing pad in the bottom of her backpack for this purpose.
10. Write it
Other kids find that writing out their anger can be effective. If this is your child, provide a journal and a pen or a paper and pencil and encourage him to go to a calm spot and “write away his anger.” Some kids prefer to write a letter to the person they are irritated with, though caution the child about actually presenting the letter to the person. Best to write it when you’re upset and then rip it up.