We all have times when anger just takes over. What about our little ones? Well, their minds are even littler. What do you do with a child with anger management issues? It's completely normal for a child to experience anger as they move through the different developmental stages. You'll notice for example that your kids are going to experience frustration from time to time. And the reason this is normal is because they are taking on brand-new developmental tasks.
I noticed this with my own son, especially as he was going through a new transition. When he was learning to walk, for example. Again, when he was learning to talk. Just before he had these big developmental milestones, he experienced a period of frustration. And I think it's because his little brain was thinking, “Oh, I really want to do that thing,” and his body wasn't there to support him in that yet, and that causes frustration. Frustration can easily lead to anger and expressions of anger. Understand that this is normal as your kids go through developmental stages. Normal for you too when you have big things happening in your life. It's more normal for you to be more emotionally sensitive. Let's tune into that and make sure that we are using empathy to connect with our kids.
There are times when the frustration can get a little out of control. I've taught a lot of my clients that anger is a secondary emotion. What I mean by that is usually there is another emotion that precedes it. I mentioned frustration, for example. That's one of the most common ones, but there are other emotions like loss or sadness or disappointment. These are feelings that usually come first. It's harder to figure out what to do with those emotions, it's really easy to figure out what to do with anger. “Oh yeah, we all know what to do with anger.” We act out. And that's a very active kind of an emotion. The emotional education that we give our kids can give them words and descriptions of these other more primary emotions. So, that's one of the things that we'll want to do as our kids are growing up. Give them the words to describe the emotions that they are feeling. Let's get into 5 specific tips that can help with kids who are having anger management problems.
Number 1, probably the most important one. Model appropriate behavior. It's never wrong for people to feel what they're feeling. It's not wrong to feel anger and there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle that emotion. As a parent, we need to model the appropriate expression of those feelings. Remaining calm is important. Have some confidence also that your child's feelings will change. Have you noticed this? As a psychologist, this comes up all the time for me. Because people are having intense feelings, right? Well, make a note of this. Feelings change. Think about a storm, for example. You're sitting in your office or in your home and you notice some thunder clouds outside and some lightning. You can tell that a storm is starting. You remember that the windows are open on your vehicle. What do you do? You go outside and you raise your fists to the heavens and you say, “Don't start with me!” No, like that's going to do any good. You simply go out and make sure that your windows are closed on your vehicle. Right? Weather the storm. Storms always pass. When your child starts to have a little storm, for you to react with-don't-start-with-me is going to make it worse. And it doesn't stop the storm and does nothing to calm the storm. Simply batten down the hatches. Close the windows, board them up if you have to, if it's a big storm. and weather the storm, it's going to pass. And after the storm passes then we can do the appropriate cleanup. They are always temporary. So, keep that in mind as your child is dealing with anger.
I remember a colleague of mine who was talking about his young son. In the backseat of the car, pitching a royal fit. He's having a tantrum like you wouldn't believe. I was so impressed by how he handled this. He turns around and he says to his young son, “Buddy, how long do you need?” Now, this kid is… I don't know, 4 or 5 years old, and he's his car seat pitching a fit. And he heard his dad ask him how long he needed. He said, “2 minutes.” And his dad says, “Okay.” He turned back around and it wasn't even 2 minutes, it was maybe another 20 seconds. His son calmed down and said, “I'm done.” Now do kids normally do this? Probably not. But this creates an image of what I'm talking about. You remain calm, okay? Be ready to weather the storm for 2 minutes or whatever it's going to take. Storms always pass. You stay calm. It's going to help the storm pass sooner.
Let's go to tip number 2. There are times when your child's anger is so out of control that they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else. You really need to take appropriate steps to set the boundaries for safety. Sometimes that means restraint. You have to be careful about this because you never want to cross that line of being abusive. But with a young child, for example, who is thrashing about or ready to hurt themselves. Maybe run out into the street or whatever. It's okay to safely restrain them. Small children you can actually hold. Don't squeeze them tight. You be careful, okay? Be wise and judicious about this. But it's okay to set appropriate limits too. So, that they are not hurting themselves or others. If you need help with this, talk to a professional who can give you some guidance.
Tip number 3, establish communication. This is where we invite them from the anger, the rage, back into appropriate communication. Again, it's important to model this for your kids. One way that you can do this is after the storm has passed, when they can hear you, calmly saying something like, “When you can talk to me in the same kind of voice that I'm using with you, we'll be able to solve this.” Do you see? This gives them a cue or a way to get back into communication mode.
You might reassure them also of what we already talked about, that they are never wrong about their feelings. Use empathy. “I know that you're feeling really upset right now. When you can talk to me the way that I'm talking to you, we can solve this.” As the communication is reestablished, we can move on to our next step.
Tip number 4 is to provide appropriate alternatives. What can they do with these feelings that they are having? Now, I have to acknowledge here. I'm not a big fan of some of the traditional lore around this that says, “Oh, go punch a pillow.” I have a problem with that because it encourages an aggressive outlet of the feelings that they are having. I'm a much bigger
proponent of appropriate communication. Use your words. In fact, this is the default alternative that we are going to give our kids. Use your words when you're feeling frustrated and upset so you get into the communication mode and you say, “I know you were really upset right then, huh?” And you're showing this empathic support for your child. And your child says she was so upset about whatever. We use our words to talk about our feelings when we are upset. What are some words you could use to talk about that? Now, notice this is dependent also on your child's development. Because if we've got a pre-verbal child, for example, a little toddler, well, we are going to handle that differently than an older child who can use communication.
What else could they do? When you're feeling that upset, it's good to breathe. I have used breathing techniques with so many kids. We do have to practice when they are not upset. When they are upset, they are not thinking. In fact, they are in a very different part of their brain functioning. When they are not upset, sometimes we'll practice the breathing.
Tip number 5 is get some help when it's appropriate, and we all need help occasionally. I'm talking about different levels of help here. Obviously, there are professionals, psychologists, child development specialists, behaviorists. There are counselors and social workers and people who have some experience in some skill sets that might help. Don't be hesitant to reach out to these professionals in your community. You can get help with our videos at Live On Purpose TV on YouTube. The positive parenting playlist is full of different topics that could help you with your parenting tasks. You don't have to do this alone. Reach out and get whatever help you need to put yourself in a position to help your child. It's good to know that there are some things that we can do. More resources are available to you. You can connect to the Parenting Power-up online program at parentingpower-up.com.