Anger Management: Helping Kids Cool Down

by Sarah Lyons

Everyone has to deal with feelings of anger and frustration at times. While these feelings are normal, it is important to teach kids how to appropriately deal with them. Parents and kids can work as a team to come up with strategies for these situations. “Unfortunately, many kids have never been given the opportunity to think of those other ways to calm down. They keep getting into trouble because the only behaviors they know are inappropriate ways to express their anger,” explains Working together to prepare a plan in advance, will help children learn how to calm down and discuss why certain feelings occur. “Once the child chooses their ‘calm down’ technique, encourage them to use the same strategy each time they starts to get angry.” Here are some examples of this technique for each age group.

The Toddler Years

Prepare: Observe what calms your child. Is it snuggling up with a parent? What toys do they play with quietly? Make note of what is calming for your child and use these activities later when your child is upset.

Act: Children of this age do not understand their feelings. When your child becomes frustrated and angry, use one calming technique you observed. Sing a song, snuggle up with a book, get out a new toy, or start a new activity. Remain calm yourself and use a soothing voice while speaking to your child. 

Discuss: Think about what caused your child’s anger and discuss with other caregivers what may be common frustrations for children of that age. If a toy is causing your child to become angry, simply remove it. If your child is overtired or hungry, adjust meals and bedtime. During the toddler years, tantrums are normal and may happen frequently. Try to remember this is one of the ways that toddlers are able to communicate their feelings. Be patient and know that this stage will pass as your child matures and their vocabulary develops.

The Preschool Years

Prepare: On a calm day, talk with your preschooler about different types of feelings, giving names to them. Some find a chart or photos helpful when explaining. Discuss appropriate behavior when angry and talk about actions to help them calm down. Calming suggestions for preschoolers may include drawing a picture, playing with cars, doing a simple puzzle, singing and dancing to music, running, jumping, or hugs. Sherrie Hoffman says, “With my five year old, slow deep breaths help. Then, when he can talk, we discuss what has upset him.” 

Act: When feelings of anger begin, ask them, in a calm voice, to try one of the techniques discussed earlier. Remind them you will talk about it when they are calm.  Do not feed into their actions unless they are working on becoming calm.

Discuss: Later, ask your child to share why they became angry and come up with ideas of how to prevent the situation in the future. Remind them it is normal to feel angry at times and let them know you are proud of the way they used techniques to calm down. 

The School Years

Prepare: Discuss common triggers for your child and come up with a plan of how to handle them. Talk about the difference between appropriate and inappropriate anger. Like the preschool age, come up with a technique that helps calm your child and plan to use it when needed. Ideas for this age group could include: going to their bedroom and listening to their favorite music, kicking a soccer ball, swinging on the swing set, or hugging a pillow.

Act: When your child becomes angry, calmly let them know that you see they are upset and would like to talk about it when they are calm. “We don’t talk about a problem until they are calm and if they get worked up while explaining what is wrong then we take deep breaths until they are calm again,” says Rachael Kennedy, mother of five.

Discuss: When your child has calmed down, listen to their frustrations. Let them know it is okay to feel angry and praise them for handling it well. Ask them what could have been different and come up with solutions as a team.

The Teen Years

Prepare: At this age your child may be aware of what sets them off—and you may be, too. Try to problem solve how to avoid situations that make them angry. Come up with ways that they can calm down on their own. Ideas for this age include taking a walk, tidying up their room, listening to music, journaling, taking a shower or bath, or calling a friend to vent.

Act: Calmly mention that you see they are angry and ask them to please take a break from the situation until they can calm down. Give them space, unless they want to talk, and be patient. If appropriate, leave them alone in the house to calm down.

Discuss: Later, after everyone is ready, discuss what happened. Brainstorm a solution that could be used in the future. Discuss what could be different and ask them for as much input as possible.

The goal of these techniques is to teach kids that all feelings are normal, even anger. Teaching these techniques gives kids the tools they need to deal with anger in an appropriate way and teaches them how to use problem solving to work through a frustrating situation.

Tips to Help Parents Cool Down

It is no secret that our behavior as parents affects our kids. How a parent deals with feelings of anger can have a huge impact on how our children will react when they feel angry. Here are some tips to model appropriate behavior when those feelings occur:

• Walk away
• Take some deep breaths
• Keep a calm voice
• Use calm body language (no slamming doors or stomping around)
• Diffuse anger by doing a calming activity (tidy up, take a walk, splash water on your face)
• Fake it until you make it
• Make a commitment in advance to keep your cool
• Think about how your actions affect your kids
• Acknowledge that it is normal for children to push your buttons
• Try to see the humor in the situation

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