6 Strategies for Dealing with an Angry Child
Mighty Mommy shares six tips for dealing with your child's angry outbursts.
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I recently received an e-mail from a regular Mighty Mommy listener who was worn down from her 4-year-old son’s emotional outbursts. It wasn’t that he was a whiny kid, or one who didn’t follow directions well, it was something she felt was much more difficult to handle: anger. She said he would be fine one moment and then, almost out of nowhere, he’d be in a fit of angry rage. She wondered if there were any strategies she could put into place to help him and the rest of the family deal with it.
Dr. Gail Gross, a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, explains that anger is built into the human psyche. It is a protective response against physical and emotional injury. Children in particular are vulnerable to their feelings until they develop coping skills that help them manage their emotions. Until then, anger is an instinctive defense for children to use against physical and emotional pain.
I’ve dealt with many angry children while raising my 8 kids. In fact, one of my son’s had a much more angry personality than the rest. So here are Mighty Mommy’s best tips for dealing with anger.
Strategy #1: Stay Calm
Although it might be your first reaction when you are dealing with a child having an explosive outburst, don’t let yourself get all riled up and yell back at him. Kids feed off of the emotional atmosphere around them so if your angry child sees you reacting in anger, you’ll just keep that heated momentum going.
The best thing you can do is to remain calm and don’t challenge your child when he’s angry.
When one of my kids is pushing my buttons or doing something that I find completely unacceptable, I count to ten (sometimes a lot more!) and talk to myself in the process. “Stay calm and in control,” I tell myself. By taking a few seconds to step away from my child’s poor behavior and get my own feelings in check, I can usually shift from being frustrated and ready to lash out to a reasonable state where I can handle my child’s situation without losing my composure. When you work to manage your own behavior first, you effectively neutralize the power struggle.
See also: 10 Ways to Handle Difficult Days
As an added bonus, when you get yourself under control, your kids will also usually calm down. Remember, calm is contagious—and so is anxiety. When we as parents are nervous or anxious, it creates anxiety in our kids.
Strategy #2: Act, Don’t React
When you witness defiant behavior from your child, don’t get angry and lose your temper. Instead, take a step back and calmly tell your child that you don’t approve of the behavior and that you will handle it at a later time. This will raise fear in your child's mind because he’ll have time to think about the poor actions and the potential consequences. Not only are you using the time to calm yourself down, but you’re also teaching your kids how to do the same.
Strategy #3: Step Away
When things with your child are falling apart and chaos is brewing at a fast pace, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to turn back the tide. Peace may not be an option due to external factors such as angry voices, dogs barking, TVs blasting in the background, and maybe even your spouse or other children chiming in their 2 cents to stoke the fire.
When your surrounding atmosphere is just as disruptive as your child's behavior, sometimes the best medicine is to simply walk away. My kids are used to me chanting one of my favorite responses when the going gets tough and that is “Step away and no one gets hurt.”
See also: 8 Ways to Lighten Your Parenting Load
I try to say this with a bit of sarcastic humor, but in our house, it means that mom is going to take a quick breather and go someplace to be alone and quiet while I refocus. Silence is often just the thing we need to replenish and rejuvenate ourselves and yet it may be the hardest to make happen. But if you get into the habit of breaking away for a brief respite, you will be helping yourself and teaching your kids a lifelong coping skill as well.
Note: I always tell my kids “I’ll be back in five minutes” so the younger ones know what to expect. I don’t want them to think I’m running away, just taking a little break in the action.