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- Angry Child Outbursts: 10 Essential Rules for Dealing with an Angry Child
- 1. Don’t Yell At or Challenge Your Child When He’s Angry
- 2. Don’t Try to Reason with Your Child When He’s in the Middle of a Tantrum, Tirade, or Angry Outburst
- 3. Pay Attention to Your Reactions
- 4. Don’t Get Physical with Your Child
- 5. Take a Different Approach with Younger Kids
- 6. Don’t Freeze Up
- 7. Give Consequences for the Bad Behavior, Not for the Anger
- 8. Don’t Give Overly Harsh Punishments
- 9. Take a Break
- 10. Role Model Appropriate Responses When You’re Angry
- 10 Tips To Help Your Child With Anger
- How can parents help kids learn to manage their anger?
- 1. Start with yourself.
- 2. De-Escalate.
- 3. Remember that all feelings are allowed.
- 4. Give your child ways to manage his angry impulses in the moment.
- 5. Help your child be aware of her “warning signs.”
- 6. Set limits on aggression.
- 7. Don’t send a child away to “calm down” by herself.
- 8. Restore connection.
- 9. Do preventive maintenance to help your child work through the emotions that come up daily.
- 10. Help your child develop emotional intelligence.
- How do you know when your child needs help handling anger? Look for these ten signs.
- Recommended Books for Kids on handling anger:
- Anger Management Issues in Children
- Help! Why Is My Toddler Angry and What Can I Do to Help Them?
- Treating Anger Disorders: Anger Management Treatment Program Options
- What Causes Anger-Related Problems?
- Is There a Cure for Anger?
- Therapies for Anger Management Issues
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treatment for Anger Disorders
- Heart Coherence Training
- Anger Suppression
- Residential Anger Management Treatment Centers
- The Benefits of Residential Anger Treatments
- Luxury Anger Management Facilities
- Executive Anger Management Programs
- Outpatient Anger Rehab and Treatment Programs
- Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications
- How to Find the Best Anger Disorder Treatment Facility
- Anger overload in children: diagnostic and treatment issues
- Diagnostic issues
- Treatment techniques: behavioral strategies
- Therapy for ADHD and anger overload
- Cognitive treatment strategies
- Future research ideas
- Child Rage: How to Manage Explosive Anger in Kids and Teens
- 1. Make Sure the Area Around Your Child Is Safe
- 2. Focus on Being Calm
- 3. Don’t Respond to Name-Calling or Verbal Abuse
- 4. Talk Later, When You’re Both Calm
- 5. Give Consequences for the Behavior, Not the Anger
- Be Consistent
- Understand Your Child’s Triggers
- Don’t Walk on Eggshells to Accommodate Your Child’s Anger
- Managing Destructive Behavior
- Managing Threatening Behavior
- You Can’t Talk Your Child Out of His Rage
- Does My Child Have a Mental Health Problem?
- How to deal with a very angry child
- Related links
- Find out more
We all get angry sometimes—even kids. It’s natural to feel anger when we’re frustrated or disappointed, or when life seems unfair. Even so, when your child is angry, it can feel like you’re walking on eggshells. You want to know what’s going on.
When kids are little, they may get frustrated and lash out because they can’t communicate their needs. Young kids also often act without thinking. This can lead to angry outbursts and broken toys.
Once kids start school, most learn to talk about their needs. They gain self-control and become calmer. But some kids keep having flashes of anger through grade school and beyond.
Older kids (like your fourth grader) may have anger issues because things are hard for them. Fourth grade is a uniquely difficult time for lots of kids. Kids who struggle in school, for example, get frustrated when they keep falling short even when trying their best. They may feel like they’re letting their family and teachers down.
Getting into trouble all the time can be upsetting for kids, too. Or kids may feel bad because they don’t have friends—or are teased or made fun of. Over time, these negative feelings can turn into anger.
A child’s sense of fairness also comes into play when kids feel shortchanged or treated badly. Kids may think it’s not fair that they struggle, while others have it easy. They may feel like they got a raw deal in life.
A sibling relationship can make it harder. If one child seems to get more attention in the family, the other might feel angry. Or if things just seem to come more easily to the sibling.
Sometimes, other issues are at play. Experts say that kids with ADHD often have trouble with anger. The same is true for kids who are anxious or have experienced trauma. A few kids also have severe emotional troubles, which can show up at an early age.
What can you do about your child’s anger? Start by looking for patterns. If your child is grumpy every night when you ask about homework, it could have something to do with schoolwork. If it’s dinnertime, it could be that your child is hungry. Use this frustration log to help you figure out what’s going on.
Angry Child Outbursts: 10 Essential Rules for Dealing with an Angry Child
By Carole Banks, LCSW
If you’re a parent, it is a certainty that you have had to deal with an angry child. Often, we end up in shouting matches with our kids, or we freeze up, not knowing what to do when an angry outburst occurs.
Anger is a normal emotion in kids and adults alike. But how we express and deal with our feelings of anger is the difference between living in relative peace and feeling like we are at our wits’ end.
Learning to manage angry children and teens is an ongoing process and an important skill to learn. Read on to learn our top 10 rules for dealing with an angry child.
1. Don’t Yell At or Challenge Your Child When He’s Angry
Many times parents deal with angry outbursts by challenging their kids and yelling back. But this will just increase your feeling of being out of control. The best thing you can do is remain calm in a crisis.
Think of it this way: even if you get into a car accident and the other driver jumps out and is furious at you, if you can remain calm, they will probably start to relax and be reasonable. But if you come back at them with an aggressive response, and say, “What are you talking about, that was your fault,” the tension just stays at that heightened place.
So don’t challenge your child when he’s angry. That’s just adding fuel to the fire. Instead, patiently wait until he calms down.
Related content: Parenting an Angry, Explosive Teen: What You Should—and Shouldn’t—Do
2. Don’t Try to Reason with Your Child When He’s in the Middle of a Tantrum, Tirade, or Angry Outburst
Many parents I talk with fall back on logic when their kids are angry. After all, as adults, we reason through things to defuse tense situations. But, reasoning with an angry kid is always a challenge because they don’t have the same capacity as we do to stop and reason.
So when you’re dealing with your angry child, you have to leave that verbal place where you feel pretty comfortable and use different techniques. Saying, “Why are you mad at me? You were the one who forgot your homework at school,” will only make your child angrier. Instead, wait until he calms down and then talk it through later.
3. Pay Attention to Your Reactions
It’s important to watch your reactions, both physical and mental. Your senses will tell you “Yikes, I’m in the presence of somebody who is very upset.” You’ll feel your heart start beating faster because your adrenaline will be heightened. Even though it’s difficult, the trick is to act against that in some way and try to stay calm.
Remember, you’re lending your children your strength in these moments. By staying calm, you’re showing them how to handle anger. By staying calm, you’re not challenging your child to engage in a power struggle.
Also, paying attention to your own reactions will also help your child pay attention to himself because he won’t need to worry about you or your emotions. When you don’t respond calmly, your child will work even harder at his tantrum to try to get you to pay attention to him. So you really have to tap into some solid parenting skills to handle the outburst quickly and effectively.
4. Don’t Get Physical with Your Child
In our online parent coaching sessions, we sometimes hear from parents who have lost it and gotten physical with their kids. I took a call from a dad whose teenage son mouthed off to his mom, and the father shoved him. The fight escalated.
Afterward, the son would not speak to his father because he felt his dad should apologize to him. The father, on the other hand, felt that his son caused the problem and worried that his authority would diminish if he apologized. Here is what I advised him to say:
“I lost control and it was wrong for me to shove you. I apologize.”
That’s it. Nothing more. End of story. We all make mistakes from time to time and we apologize, make amends if necessary, and move on.
Don’t go into your child’s role in that situation at all because it is an attempt to place the blame on someone else for your actions. Instead, you want to teach your child how to take responsibility and make a genuine apology.
Don’t worry, you will have other opportunities to work with your child around being mouthy or defiant. But it’s important to be a good role model and address your role in the fight going south. Remember, if you get physical with your child, among other things, you’re just teaching him to solve his problems with aggression.
Related content: How to Deal with a Mouthy Child
5. Take a Different Approach with Younger Kids
If your small child (eighteen months to age four) is in the midst of a temper tantrum, you want to move ever so slightly away from him, but don’t isolate him completely. When small kids are upset, you want to help them to start to learn that they can have a role in calming themselves down. You can say:
“I wish I could help you calm yourself down. Maybe you can lie on the couch for a little bit.”
So have them calm down until they feel in control. By doing that you’re asking them to pay attention to themselves. So instead of, “You have to sit there for ten minutes by yourself,” it’s better to say:
“When you feel better and you’re not upset anymore, you can come on out and join us.”
You can also give them a choice. You can say:
“Do you need time to go into your room and get it together?”
Again, don’t challenge them when they’re in that mode.
Related content: Dealing with Child Temper Tantrums
6. Don’t Freeze Up
Some parents freeze up when their kids throw tantrums or start screaming at them. The parent is emotionally overwhelmed and becomes paralyzed with indecision or gives in to the child.
If this is you, you may find that sometimes your child will get angry on purpose to engage you. They’ll bait you by throwing a fit or saying something rude because they know that this will cause you to give in. Don’t take the bait. Don’t get angry and don’t give in.
I think parents sometimes have a tendency to negotiate with their child in these situations. Often, parents are having a hard time managing their own emotions and so they don’t know how to coach their child properly at that moment.
But remember, if you give in and negotiate, even every once in a while, you’re teaching your child that it’s worth it to act out. Instead, let your child calm down and try to coach them to use his problem-solving skills later.
Related content: Anger with an Angle: Is Your Child Using Anger to Control You?
In my opinion, when you refuse to negotiate you’re not being passive. You are making a conscious choice to not get into an argument. You’re saying, “I’m not going to negotiate. I’m going to be calm.” Although it may not seem like it on the surface, all of those choices are actions. You are making a choice to act by not giving in.
7. Give Consequences for the Bad Behavior, Not for the Anger
When your child throws a tantrum, starts screaming, and really loses it, make sure you give him consequences based on his behavior and not on his emotions.
For example, if your child swears at you during his angry outburst, give him a consequence later for swearing. But if all he does is stomp into his room and yell about how life isn’t fair, I would let that go. Anger is a normal emotion and kids get angry just like we do. And they need to feel that they have a safe place to let off steam.
As long as they’re not breaking any rules and not being disrespectful, I think you should allow them to have that time to be angry.
8. Don’t Give Overly Harsh Punishments
Giving harsh punishments in the heat of the moment is a losing proposition. Here’s why. Let’s say your child is angry. He’s having a tantrum and shouting and screaming at you. You keep saying, “If you don’t get it together, I’m going to take away your phone for a week. Okay, now it’s two weeks. Keep it up…now it’s a month. Do you want to keep going?”
But to your dismay, your child keeps going and you keep escalating the punishment. His anger is out of control and the more you try to punish him in order to force him to stop and get control of himself, the worse he gets.
We have a name for that kind of discipline: It’s called “consequence stacking.” What’s really happening here is that the parent is losing emotional control. I understand that it is hard to tolerate it when your kid is upset. We don’t like it. But what you want to try to ask yourself is, “What do I want my child to learn?”
And the answer is probably something like: “I want him to learn how to not throw a fit every time he has to do something he doesn’t want to do. I want him to learn that when he gets upset, there’s an appropriate way to get out of it.”
The worst thing you can do is join him and get upset yourself. Harsh punishments that seem never-ending to your child are just not effective and will only make him angrier at that moment.
Remember, the goal is to teach your child to get control of himself. Effective and well thought out consequences play a role, but punitive consequence stacking is not the answer.
9. Take a Break
During coaching sessions, I’ll often ask parents about their child’s angry outbursts the following question: “When you and your spouse are mad at each other, what do you do to calm down?” Often, people will say they take a break and do something on their own for a little while until they can calm down and talk it through.
This technique also works with your child, but parents often don’t think of it because they feel they should have control over their kids. But remember, when somebody is angry, you can’t reason with them and you can’t rush it. The bottom line is that if you stay there in that anger and keep engaging each other, it will not go away. On the contrary, it only gets bigger.
So take a break and come back and interact with each other later when everyone is calm.
Related content: Child Outbursts: Why Kids Blame, Make Excuses and Fight When You Challenge Their Behavior
10. Role Model Appropriate Responses When You’re Angry
I also tell parents they should try to role model dealing with their own anger appropriately. In other words, use managing your own anger as a lesson for your child. What are some good ways to do that? Try saying this to your child:
“I’m getting frustrated—I’m going to take a break.”
“I can’t talk to you right now. I’m really upset so I’m going to wait until I’m calm. Let’s talk later.”
Admitting that you’re angry and you need some time to calm down is not a weakness. It takes a lot of strength to say these words out loud. Remember, you’re teaching the lesson of how to manage your anger, and that’s exactly what you want your child to learn.
Related content: Kids Who are Verbally Abusive: The Creation of a Defiant Child
10 Tips To Help Your Child With Anger
“The truth about rage is that it only dissolves when it is really heard and understood, without reservation.” – Carl Rogers.
But humans don’t only get angry in response to outside threats. When something happens today that reminds us of a past upset, we get angry to protect ourselves — even if the threat today isn’t really much of a threat. That’s why our three year old’s defiance triggers our rage.
We also get angry in attempts to maintain our equilibrium. So when our own fear, hurt, disappointment, pain or grief is too upsetting, we tend to lash out. The anger doesn’t get rid of the hurt, but it makes us feel less powerless and temporarily numbs the pain. This explains why anger is part of the grieving process.
So humans mobilize against any perceived threat (even our own upset feelings) by attacking.
That’s true for kids as well, of course. And because kids don’t have a context for their upsets, a small disappointment can seem like the end of the world. Worse yet, since they don’t have a fully developed frontal cortex to help them self-regulate, children are even more prone to lashing out when they’re angry. (Doesn’t it seem crazy that we expect them to handle anger constructively, when so often we adults don’t?)
Sometimes attacking makes sense when we’re angry, but only when there’s actually a threat. That’s rare. Most of the time when kids get angry, they want to attack their little brother (who broke their treasured memento), their parents (who disciplined them “unfairly”), their teacher (who embarrassed them) or the playground bully (who scared them.)
Luckily, as children’s brains develop, they gain the capacity to manage their anger constructively — IF they live in a home where anger is handled in a healthy way.
What does “constructive” handling of anger look like for a child (or even an adult)?
- Controlling aggressive impulses
When parents accept and empathize with the child’s emotions, she learns that emotions aren’t dangerous and can be felt — without necessarily being acted on. As we accept our child’s anger and remain calm, she lays down the neural pathways and learns the emotional skills to calm herself down and communicate how she feels, without hurting people or property. By the time they’re in kindergarten, kids should be able to tolerate the flush of adrenaline and other “fight” chemicals in the body without acting on them by clobbering a playmate. (Note: It’s not unusual for kindergartners to still hit siblings.)
- Acknowledging the anger, as well as the more threatening feelings under the anger
If you can keep yourself from getting triggered and acknowledge why your child is upset, his anger will begin to calm. That will help him feel safe enough to feel the more vulnerable emotions driving the anger. Once the child can let himself experience his grief over the broken treasure, his hurt that his mother was unfair, his shame when he didn’t know the answer in class, or his fear when his classmate threatened him, those feelings begin to heal. As those vulnerable feelings begin to fade away, he no longer needs his anger to defend against them — so the anger vanishes.
By contrast, if we don’t help kids feel safe enough to feel those underlying emotions, they will just keep losing their tempers, because they don’t have any other way to cope with the upsets inside them. These kids often seem to have “a chip on their shoulder” because they walk around ready to get angry.
- Constructive Problem-Solving
Eventually, the goal is for your child to use the anger as an impetus to change things as necessary so the situation won’t be repeated. This may include moving his treasures out of little brother’s reach, or getting parental help to deal with the bully. It may also include acknowledging his own contribution to the problem, so that he resolves to do a better job following his parents’ rules, or to come to class more prepared.
With your help, your child will learn to calm himself when he’s angry so that he can express his needs and wants without attacking the other person, either physically or verbally. He’ll learn to see the other person’s side of the issue and to look for win/win solutions to the problem, rather than just assuming that he’s right and the other person is wrong.
Obviously, it takes years of parental guidance for kids to learn these skills. If parents are able to help kids feel safe enough to express their anger and explore the feelings underneath, kids are able to increasingly move past their anger into constructive problem-solving during the grade-school years.
How can parents help kids learn to manage their anger?
Here are ten tips for teaching your child healthy anger management in everyday life.
1. Start with yourself.
If you’re in the habit of shouting at your kids, know that you are modeling behavior that your child will certainly copy. It can be tough to stop yourself from yelling at your child, but if you give in to that temptation, you can’t expect your child to learn to control himself. Your child learns from watching you how to handle disagreements and conflict.
Your calm presence, even when he’s mad, helps your child feel safe, which helps him develop the neural pathways in the brain that shut off the “fight or flight” response and allow the frontal cortex, the “reasoning brain,” to take over. That’s how kids learn to soothe themselves. They learn from your self-regulation that anger and other upsetting feelings are not so scary as they seem — after all, Mom and Dad aren’t scared of them.
You’re probably good at staying calm when things are going well. What takes heroic effort is staying calm when things get turbulent. But yelling at an angry child reinforces what she’s already feeling, which is that she is in danger. (You may not see why she would think she’s in danger when she just socked her little brother, but a child who is lashing out is a child who is feeling threatened and defensive.) So your anger will only make the storm worse. Your job is to restore calm, because kids can only learn and understand how to “do better” when they’re calm.
3. Remember that all feelings are allowed.
Your child needs to know that you understand how upset he is and why. So when he expresses anger, the best thing you can do is listen and acknowledge. You obviously don’t have to agree with his reasons to recognize that he’s angry and has a right to be. So in that moment, don’t tell your child to calm down, or to act appropriate. That just makes your child escalate in an attempt to get you to hear. Instead, open the door to communication: “You must be so mad to speak to me that way. Tell me more about this.” Later, you can talk about appropriate tone or language.
No, you’re not encouraging bad behavior. Remember, all emotions are acceptable, only actions need to be limited. When you ask kids to “stuff” their emotions, those feelings are no longer under conscious control. So they’re going to pop out unregulated, making it more likely that your child will have a short fuse. If the emotions are allowed, the child can accept them, instead of trying to repress them. That gives her enough cognitive control over the feelings so that she can start putting them into words instead of hitting.
4. Give your child ways to manage his angry impulses in the moment.
Kids need skills to manage their anger in the moment. When your child is calm, make a list with her of constructive ways to handle emotion, practice them, and post the list on the refrigerator. Let her do the writing, or add pictures, so she feels some ownership of the list. Model using it yourself when you’re mad: “I’m getting annoyed, so I’m checking our MAD list. Oh, I think I’ll put on some music and dance out my frustration!” Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Teach her to use her “PAUSE” button by breathing in for four counts through her nose, and then out for eight through her mouth.
- Grab two squishy balls; hand her one, and demonstrate working out annoyance on the squishy ball.
- Put on music and do “an angry dance.”
- To keep from hitting, kids can clap their arms around their bodies (so each hand ends up on the opposite shoulder or side) and yell something like “Mom!” or “Stop!”
- Young children often find it helpful to stomp their feet when they’re mad. Don’t worry, it’s better than kicking their sister or the wall, and over time they will start using words.
- With a child who is a bit older, you can suggest that she draw or write on paper what she is angry about, and then fiercely rip it into tiny pieces.
One note about expressing the anger physically. Remember that what’s healing isn’t acting out the aggression, which can actually make the person more angry. The body may benefit from discharging tension, but that could happen from dancing. What’s really helpful for your child is that he gets to show you just how upset he is, so he feels understood. So if your child wants to clobber something (in lieu of acting out his anger toward a person), say “You are showing me just how mad you are about this! I see! Wow!”
5. Help your child be aware of her “warning signs.”
Once kids are in the full flush of adrenaline and the other “fight or flight” neurotransmitters, they think it’s an emergency, and they’re fighting for their lives. At that point, managing the angry impulses is almost impossible, and all we can offer kids is a safe haven while the storm sweeps through them. But if you can help your child notice when she’s getting annoyed and learn to calm herself, she’ll have many fewer tantrums. When she’s little, you’ll have to know her cues and take preventive action — offering some snuggle time, or getting her out of the grocery store. As she gets older, you can point out to her:
“Sweetie, you’re getting upset. We can make this better. Let’s all calm down and figure this out together.”
“I know this is hard. And you can handle this. I’m here to help.”
6. Set limits on aggression.
Allowing feelings does not mean that we allow destructive actions. Kids should never be allowed to hit others, including their parents. When they do, they are always asking for us to set limits and help them contain their anger. Say “You can be as mad as you want but I won’t let you hit me. I will keep us all safe. You can tell me how mad you are without hurting me.”
Some children really need to struggle against something when they’re angry. It’s fine to let them struggle against your hands, or even your holding arms, if that’s what they want, but take off your glasses, and don’t let yourself get hurt.
Similarly, don’t let kids break things in their fury. That just adds to their guilt and sense that they’re a bad person. Your job is to serve as a safe “container” and “witness” while you witness your child’s upsets.
7. Don’t send a child away to “calm down” by herself.
Your goal when your child is angry or upset is to restore a sense of safety, which requires your calm presence. Remember that kids need your love most when they “deserve it least.” Instead of a “time out,” which gives kids the message that they’re all alone with these big, scary feelings, try a “time in,” during which you stay with your child and help him move through his feelings. You’ll be amazed at how your child begins to show more self control when you adopt this practice, because he feels less helpless and alone.
8. Restore connection.
Your child needs to know that you understand and are there to help. If you know what’s going on, acknowledge it:
“You are so angry that your tower fell.”
If you don’t know, say what you see: “You are crying so hard….I see how upset you are.”
Give explicit permission: “It’s ok, everyone needs to cry (or gets mad, or feels very sad) sometimes. I will stay right here while you show me your sads and mads.” If you can touch him, do so to maintain the connection: “Here’s my hand on your back. You’re safe. I’m here.”
If he yells at you to go away, say:
“You want me to go away. I will step back a bit. I will be right over here when you are ready for a hug. I won’t leave you alone with these big feelings.”
9. Do preventive maintenance to help your child work through the emotions that come up daily.
There are a few practices that help your child feel safe and connected, and that help her work through the emotional challenges that all children encounter in daily life. Those practices are:
- Respond to everything the child expresses with empathy and respect, even when you set limits. (You won’t be able to be empathic 24/7. Just work on increasing your ratio.)
- Spend a minimum of 15 minutes one-on-one with each child daily, just connecting and enjoying the child.
- Use routines so your child knows what to expect, which helps kids feel safer.
- Accept all the emotions your child expresses, and make it safe for him to cry when he needs to.
- Give your child control of her choices when possible.
- Make sure that each child gets a daily chance to belly-laugh for at least 10 minutes, preferably by being physically active with him.
Here’s a whole post on preventive maintenance.
10. Help your child develop emotional intelligence.
Kids who are comfortable with their feelings manage their anger constructively. There’s a whole section on this website on emotional intelligence.
Some kids, unfortunately, don’t feel safe expressing their uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes they have parents who discount or even ridicule their fears or disappointments. Sometimes they’ve been sent to their rooms to “calm down” and never received the help they needed to handle their upsets. Sometimes the pain or grief just feels too overwhelming. They try hard to repress their fears, jealousies, and anxieties, but repressed feelings have a way of popping out unmodulated, as when an otherwise loving preschooler suddenly hits the baby. These kids live in fear of their feelings. To fend off this reservoir of fear, grief, or other pain, these kids get angry — and they stay angry. When this happens, a child may benefit from professional help.
How do you know when your child needs help handling anger? Look for these ten signs.
- She can’t control her aggressive impulses and hits people (other than siblings), past the age of six.
- Frequent explosive outbursts, indicating that he is carrying a full ‘tank” of anger and other upsets, that’s always ready to spill over.
- She is constantly reflexively oppositional (and she isn’t two years old.)
- He doesn’t acknowledge his role in creating the situation, instead feeling constantly victimized and “picked on.”
- She frequently loses friends, alienates adults, or is otherwise embroiled in interpersonal conflict.
- He seems preoccupied with revenge.
- She threatens to hurts herself physically (or actually does so).
- He damages property regularly.
- She repeatedly expresses hatred toward herself or someone else.
- He hurts animals or smaller children who are not siblings.
When a child has “anger management issues” it means that he is terrified of those pent-up feelings under the anger (fear, hurt, grief.) To defend against those vulnerable feelings that he thinks will destroy him, he hardens his heart and clings to the anger as a defense. That’s when kids develop a chip on their shoulder. They seem to be trying to drive you away, but it’s really a cry for help.
Begin by using the ideas in this article to support your child. Start talking about emotions in your home, using the books below as a starting place to begin a discussion. If you don’t feel like things are changing after a few months of good effort, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. An experienced therapist can help the child work through those deeper feelings, and develop more ability to manage his emotions. But in general, I recommend that parents go into counseling along with their child. You don’t want your child to feel that he’s broken so you’re taking him to get “fixed.” You want everyone in the family to learn how to communicate better, so everyone feels loved and gets their needs met. A good therapist who will meet with you and your child together can help you do that.
Recommended Books for Kids on handling anger:
PLEASE NOTE: These books are Amazon links with photos of the books. If you are not seeing them on your page, it may be that your browser is not picking them up. Please try a different browser. Enjoy!
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Anger Management Issues in Children
When to see a doctor
Get help if your child still struggles to manage their anger. Look for certain warning signs. These could mean your child is in distress and has a serious issue. If your child:
- lies repeatedly
- has frequent outbursts that escalate quickly
- has sudden or extreme mood changes
- has a hard time sitting still and focusing
- is not doing well or gets in trouble at school
- threatens to harm or kill oneself or others
- physically hurts oneself or others, such as siblings, pets, or kids at school
- is verbally abusive.
There are several ways a doctor can diagnose mental health problems. They will perform a physical exam and review symptoms and signs. Sometimes an emotional exam, or assessment, may be done as well. They will want to know about your family history of mental health and behavior problems. The doctor will ask about personal life. They likely will want input from your child’s caretaker, teacher, or school nurse about their behavior.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What should I do if I’m concerned about my child’s behavior?
- What types of activities will help my child manage their anger?
- Is my child more likely to have a mental health condition if I do or it runs in our family?
National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus, Child Mental Health
U.S. Department of Education, Protecting Students With Disabilities
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Mental Health for Parents and Caregivers
Help! Why Is My Toddler Angry and What Can I Do to Help Them?
Your child will develop a lot more coping and communication skills between the ages of 1 and 3. This may help alleviate some anger triggers.
By the age of 4, most children are more equipped to share, express their emotions, and do more with their fine motor and gross motor skills.
While you can’t speed up the aging clock, there are several strategies you can use to help your toddler manage and reduce the frequency of tantrums.
Some may be more effective for your child than others. And methods that worked for another child of yours or for another parent may not work. Additionally, methods that worked during a previous tantrum may not continue to work for future ones.
If your child is having a tantrum, the first thing you should do is to make sure they aren’t in danger of getting hurt or hurting others. Toddlers often have little control over their bodies during a tantrum.
You may want to relocate them to a safer place to have the tantrum, such as their bedroom if you’re at home, or a quiet area away from cars and lots of foot traffic if you’re out.
Once your child is safe, here are some strategies for parenting a toddler through a tantrum:
- Ignore the behavior and allow your child to let the tantrum run its course. This can be difficult if you’re out in public or trying to focus on driving. If you’re driving, consider pulling over if it’s safe, until the tantrum is done. If you’re out in public, remind yourself that tantrums are normal and letting your child express their emotions is the best thing you can do for them in that moment.
- Distract your child with a book or a toy. This tends to work better if you’re able to distract your child right as the tantrum is starting. Once they are in a full-on tantrum, this method may not work.
- Change your toddler’s location or move them to a quiet time-out if they’re older than 2. Sometimes removing stimulation can help your child calm down.
- Hold your child until they calm down. Depending on the severity of the tantrum, this may work best by getting on the floor and wrapping your arms. That way, if they thrash out of your grasp, you won’t risk dropping them.
- Get down to your child’s level and talk to them with a low, calm voice while making eye contact.
- Set limits by talking to your toddler about the situation. You may need to wait until the tantrum has subsided. This may work better with older toddlers.
- Introduce humor into the situation, but never at your child’s expense. Try making a silly face or voice, or doing something else that you know your child enjoys.
- Interact with your child to validate their emotions and help them express their feelings. Let them know that you understand that they are upset or frustrated, and that it’s OK to have these feelings.
It’s also important to resist the urge to discipline your angry toddler. This can cause your toddler to increase aggressive behavior and could create more frustration.
Your toddler’s tantrums are one of the only ways they can express their emotions at this developmental stage. Allowing your child to express their feelings will help them understand their emotions better and regulate them more appropriately as they age.
Treating Anger Disorders: Anger Management Treatment Program Options
Uncontrolled anger can affect your relationships, your job and your health. Rage can take over your life and result in depression, violence and suicidal feelings. Your kids, neighbors and coworkers can also be at risk from uncontrolled outbursts and erratic behavior. If you are suffering from anger issues, it is vital that you get the support you need to develop effective management strategies.
Several options are available, including both inpatient and outpatient treatment with mental health counselors. Executive treatment programs and luxury facilities are also available to serve a wider variety of patients. Modern treatments are targeted and effective, often offering results in as little as six to eight weeks.
What Causes Anger-Related Problems?
Anger itself is not a problem. The trouble arises when your anger becomes uncontrollable, and you lose control of your behavior. This loss of reason and rationality can result in all sorts of problems, including erratic behavior, violence, abuse, addictions and trouble with the law.
Often, people with anger issues try to suppress their feelings, believing them to be inappropriate. This can lead to wild emotional outbursts and health problems.
Is There a Cure for Anger?
Anger is not something you can get rid of. It is a normal, healthy emotion shared by all people everywhere. When it gets out of hand, though, anger can become destructive and lead to all sorts of personal problems.
While you can’t cure anger, you can manage the intensity and effect it has upon you. Effective therapeutic strategies exist for managing anger and can help you become less reactive. You can even learn to develop more patience in the face of people and situations you cannot control.
Therapies for Anger Management Issues
Many therapeutic strategies are available to help you deal with anger issues. Some of these include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Improvements in communication skills
- Focus on problem-solving
- Avoidance of problematic situations
- Humor and self-deprecation
While it’s possible to improve your anger response on your own, a qualified practitioner can help you move more quickly to successful management.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treatment for Anger Disorders
One of the most common types of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. The purpose of the treatment is to help an angry person recognize the self-defeating negative thoughts that lie behind anger flare-ups. Patients work with a mental health professional to learn how to manage stressful life circumstances more successfully.
The cognitive behavioral approach has many benefits. Patients learn to:
- Cope better with difficult life situations
- Positively resolve conflicts in relationships
- Deal with grief more effectively
- Mentally handle emotional stress caused by illness, abuse or physical trauma
- Overcome chronic pain, fatigue and other physical symptoms
Cognitive therapies are structured and may offer quicker results than other approaches. Better yet, the results are lasting, with patients showing significantly decreased relapse rates.
This sort of treatment tends to focus on specific problems and personal triggers. You’ll learn how to deal with your particular issues using conscious, goal-centered strategies.
The specific steps in cognitive behavioral therapy include:
- Identification of situations or circumstances in your life that lead to trouble
- Awareness of your thoughts and emotions surrounding anger triggers
- Acknowledgement of inaccurate, negative thought patterns
- Relearning of healthier, positive thought patterns
Very few risks are associated with cognitive behavioral therapy, and the benefits are plentiful. You will likely explore painful feelings and emotions, but you will do it in a safe, guided manner.
Cognitive therapy is considered a short-term approach and generally lasts about 10 to 20 sessions depending upon your specific disorder, the severity of your symptoms, the amount of time you’ve been dealing with anger symptoms, your rate of progress, your current stress levels, and the amount of support you receive from friends and family.
Heart Coherence Training
Another promising technique is heart coherence training. By learning specific techniques to consciously monitor and alter their own heart rhythms, patients can reduce levels of stress hormones while increasing the mood-enhancing hormone dehydroepiandrosterone. Heart coherence training also helps stabilize the autonomic nervous system, resulting in a reduction of anger’s physical effects upon the immune system. The end result can be fewer feelings of tension, irritation, stress and anger.
/>Many people try to suppress their anger. The attempt is doomed to fail and may even lead to painful physical consequences.
Suppression of anger does not make the emotional upset go away. Instead, a person may become depressed or anxious as the feelings of unexpressed rage are turned against the self. Attempts to suppress anger may lead to impatience and hostility that simmers dangerously below the surface, just waiting for a spark to erupt into boiling rage.
It is important to understand and release anger without trying to deny its existence.
Residential Anger Management Treatment Centers
If your anger problems are seriously affecting your day-to-day life, a residential or inpatient anger management treatment center may be indicated. The access to dedicated treatment staff and controlled conditions may be necessary if you find yourself:
- In trouble with the law as a result of anger issues
- Experiencing constant, uncontrollable arguments with your family members or coworkers
- Lashing out physically at your children or other adults
- Threatening violence to other people or their property
- Losing control of yourself when you get angry
- Believing that everything will be fine if you just hold in your anger
Remember that the purpose of anger management treatment is to give you the tools necessary to express your emotions in healthier and safer ways. A professional can help you get your anger and reactive behavior under control.
The Benefits of Residential Anger Treatments
Residential anger treatments help patients learn to gain control over their anger and frustrations. Your therapist can help you to recognize dangerous situations and to become more conscious of the warning signs of impending rage. Additionally, intense residential treatments can help you learn to avoid anger suppression, which can lead to hypertension, depression, heart troubles and anxiety.
Most importantly, you can develop these strategies while removing yourself from the triggers and risks of the outside world.
Luxury Anger Management Facilities
Inpatient treatment doesn’t have to mean sterile, inhuman conditions. Many luxury facilities exist and are dedicated to inpatient anger management therapy. Comfortable and serene accommodations have a positive effect on mental health and mood, so it’s wise to consider treatment facilities carefully.
If you want to learn more about what to look for in a treatment facility, contact us at .
Executive Anger Management Programs
Executive anger management programs are available for physicians, executives, lawyers and other professionals who may benefit from one-on-one treatment in a discrete and private setting.
Effective anger management strategies not only improve individual interactions with employees, patients and customers but also help to provide a basis for sound organizational policies. A professional who is able to positively deal with stress and anxiety is in a better position to work with and instruct others.
Managers and executives can expect to learn how to:
- Find positive resolutions to stressful people, interactions and situations
- Repair damaged relationships and restore trust
- Communicate directly
- Control emotional reactiveness
- Empathize with coworkers and clients
- Resolve conflicts in a healthy way
Contact us today at for more information about executive anger management programs and treatments.
Outpatient Anger Rehab and Treatment Programs
Sometimes, the commitment of a residential program is not possible. If your anger issues are not physically dangerous, and if you are unable to break completely free from your everyday life, an outpatient anger management program may be right for you.
Outpatient programs offer intense individual counseling, typically for six to eight weeks, and help prepare patients for more limited follow-up care moving forward. You will have to deal with external people and situations during your treatment, so supportive friends and family members can make a big difference.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications
Because anger is a psychological issue, it is possible to treat symptoms with medication. While the goal of treatment programs will be to eventually make the patient self-sufficient, particular medicines can be helpful in the treatment phase.
Antidepressants such as Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft are commonly prescribed for anger issues. These drugs do not specifically target anger within the body, but they do have a calming effect that can support control of rage and negative emotion. Epilepsy medicines are sometimes indicated, particularly when a patient’s seizures result in anger reactions.
You should speak with your doctor about whether or not prescription medicines can help you with your anger issues. Pay particular attention to potential side effects and any risks of addiction. The purpose of medications is to complement your healing, not to complicate it.
A number of over-the-counter medications and supplements can also be used to improve mood and support anger management therapy. These include:
- Primal Calm (formerly Proloftin)
Benadryl is an anti-allergy medication that also helps to reduce anxiety. Valerian and Primal Calm are herbal extracts that purportedly promote lowered stress levels and calm feelings. Passionflower and chamomile are usually consumed in either tea or tablet form to support mood and reduce anxiety.
How to Find the Best Anger Disorder Treatment Facility
If you are ready to take control of your anger issues, you need to find help treating anger management problem. Look for facilities that offer comprehensive assessment, treatment and follow-up programs. Speak to the health professionals directly, and ask questions about their qualifications, methods and expected results. Express any concerns you have, and make sure you fully understand all of the program costs. In many cases, your health insurance will cover at least part of the treatment expenses.
As with any therapy, you’ll receive the most benefits if you:
- Treat your therapist as your partner
- Share your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly
- Stay consistent with your treatment plan
- Remember that results take time and determination
- Do whatever homework your therapist gives you between sessions
- Communicate well and often with your therapist, particularly if you are having difficulties
Whether you are in need of residential or inpatient care, considering outpatient therapy or seeking executive or luxury facilities, we can help you. Call to discuss your specific needs today.
Anger overload in children: diagnostic and treatment issues
Anger reactions in some children are quite frequent and troubling to parents and teachers who witness them. The child’ s intense anger may erupt quickly and intensely in reaction to limit setting by adults, to teasing or to seemingly minor criticism by peers or adults. This is a distinct psychological problem in children which is separate from diagnoses such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. It can co-occur with ADHD or learning disabilities, but may also occur separately from these diagnoses.
At this time, the diagnostic manual, DSM-IV*, does not consider anger disorders as a separate category like depression and anxiety. However, many mental health professionals feel it is a category unto itself and are devising treatment strategies for anger problems. Daniel Goleman (in Emotional Intelligence) and John Ratey and Catherine Johnson (in Shadow Syndromes) offer cogent reviews of this literature. Goleman uses the term “anger rush” to describe anger problems in adults, while Ratey and Johnson refer to a shadow syndrome for “intermittent anger disorder” in adults. Anger disturbances in children need to be classified as a discrete psychological problem as well, and they require particular treatment strategies. This article defines the syndrome and outlines effective treatment strategies.
The term anger overload is used to refer to the intense anger response which has been the presenting problem for a number of young children and preadolescents seen in a suburban outpatient practice. There is an intense and quick reaction by the child to a perceived insult or rejection. The rejection can seem quite minor to parents or others. For example, a parent saying “no” to something the child has been looking forward to doing can trigger an intense period of screaming and sometimes hitting, kicking or biting. Another common situation which can trigger anger overload may occur in a game with peers. It can involve a disagreement on how the game should be played or its outcome. Parents often explain to the mental health professional that these reactions have been going on since early childhood in one form or another. It is frequently reported that these children become sassy and disrespectful: they will not stop talking or yelling when they are upset. At other times, when their anger has not been stimulated, these children can be well-mannered and caring.
The problem is called anger overload because it is more severe than a temporary anger reaction lasting only a few minutes. With anger overload, the child becomes totally consumed by his angry thoughts and feelings. He or she is unable to stop screaming, or in some cases, acting out physically, even when parents try to distract the child or try to enforce limits and consequences. The anger can last as long as an hour, with the child tuning out the thoughts, sounds or soothing words of others.
Another significant characteristic is that these children are sometimes risk takers. They enjoy more physical play than their peers and like taking chances in playground games or in the classroom when they feel confident about their abilities. Other children are often in awe of their daring or scared of their seemingly rough demeanor. Perhaps most interesting is that these very same risk takers can be unsure of themselves and avoid engaging in other situations where they lack confidence. A number of these children have mild learning disabilities, and feel uncomfortable about their performance in class when their learning disability is involved. They prefer to avoid assignments where their deficits can be exposed, sometimes reacting with anger even if the teacher privately pushes them to do the work with which they are uncomfortable.
One diagnostic fallacy is to assume that these children have bipolar disorder. Dr. Dimitri and Ms. Janice Papolos recently devoted a full book to the disorder (The Bipolar Child, 1999). The rages of children with bipolar disorder are more intense and lengthy than for the children we are currently discussing. The Papoloses describe (page 13) that for children with bipolar, these angers can go on for several hours and occur several times a day. In children with bipolar, there is often physical destruction or harm to something or someone. In children with anger overload, the outburst is often brief, less than half an hour, and while there may be physical acting out, usually no one is hurt. In addition, children with bipolar have other symptoms such as periods of mania, grandiosity, intense silliness or hypersexuality.
Anger overload is also different from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Children with ADHD have significant distractibility, which occurs regularly in school and/or the home. By contrast, children with brief outbursts of anger often pay attention well when they are not “overheated” emotionally. In addition, children with ADHD may have hyperactive movements throughout the day; whereas children with anger overload only seem hyperactive when they are overstimulated with feelings of anger. Finally, children with ADHD are often impulsive in a variety of situations, many of which have nothing to do with anger.
It is possible, however, for children to have symptoms of ADHD and anger overload. This combination is especially difficult for parents to manage. Behavioral strategies for ADHD are not as effective because the child becomes excessively angry despite efforts by others to focus his attention elsewhere. Sometimes, professionals then tell the parents or teachers that they are not applying behavior modification techniques properly. What may work for a child who has ADHD may not be as effective for a child who also has the problem of anger overload.
Another diagnostic category which can be differentiated from anger overload is oppositional defiant disorder. Oppositional children have a continuing pattern of disobedience to adult demands, whereas children with anger overload are only defiant when their anger is stimulated. The situations which trigger their anger are more restricted. There are certain areas which have special importance to them, such as winning a game, buying a toy or being seen as successful in school. In most other situations, they are described by their parents as sweet and cooperative. Few, if any, oppositional defiant children are described by their parents in this manner.
Treatment techniques: behavioral strategies
When these children first come to a professional’ s attention, there may be a tendency to think that the parents must learn to ignore their children’ s tantrums. But this will not work reliably for children with anger overload. Their angry outbursts will not be extinguished this way. Behavior therapy for these children involves working with the parents as much as, or more than, the children themselves. Parents and teachers can learn strategies to teach their child self-control in a shorter period of time than the therapist can teach the child alone. By coaching the parents, the therapist has an impact on the child throughout the week. In addition, children cannot apply therapeutic strategies themselves at home when the anger is building. They need someone to cue them on what to do – usually a parent or teacher.
The first strategy is for the adult to recognize when the child is about to experience anger. This is sometimes difficult for anyone to predict. However, over time, parents and teachers begin to recognize signs that an angry outburst is impending . The look in the child’ s eyes, the tone of his voice or the tightness in his body tell the adult that the child is beginning to get upset. The time from when the child gets upset to when he shows full-blown anger may only be a few seconds. If it is caught in time, the child is much more likely to achieve self-control than if the adult tries to intervene once the child is overflowing with emotion. It is as if the child’ s brain has reached overload then, and it takes some time to cool off.
One technique to use before reaching this point, is distraction. The parent should try to turn the child’ s attention to something else that is interesting to him/her. It is important that the distraction be interesting to the child – something he/she likes and that involves some action. The child is unlikely to immediately choose a quiet, sedentary activity like reading. A more effective distraction technique is going outside to ride a bike or playing catch. For example, if the family is at a park and the child does not want to leave the swings, then suggest he try the slide – which is an activity with a more natural ending point. Once he comes down the slide, the activity is at a possible stopping point. That is a good time to direct him to the car.
To help motivate the child, some behavior modification mechanism should be in place. Choose incentives and consequences that are brief and preferably immediate. A colorful chart or poster can be used to track two or three behaviors which the child needs to demonstrate during the day in order to earn a reward. Select one or two behaviors and review a behavior plan for these situations with your child.
The basic principle is to offer an alternative behavior that is more socially acceptable than an angry reaction. If the child does not use the alternative behavior, and moves into a rage, a negative consequence may be imposed. The principle for negative consequences is similar to rewards: brief and immediate, where possible. A brief consequence such as being grounded from going outside and/or playing computer games for a few hours (or up to a day long, depending on the severity of the offense) is helpful in getting the child to recognize the importance of using self-control. If, instead of using a strong verbal response, the child hits back when teased, a consequence will send a message better than trying to talk to the child. Children take consequences more seriously than “lectures.” They are more likely to remember a consequence later and to choose a more appropriate response the next time. Parents need to be firm about applying negative consequences because they send an important signal to the child. While such enforcers do not help shorten the immediate anger, they can help lower the frequency of angry outbursts in the future.
Another key principle when applying negative consequences is to eliminate discussion at the moment the child is raging. Giving the child attention, even talking, is a reward for negative behavior. Plus, the child who is raging is not rational at the moment, and the rage is likely to escalate further if consequences are mentioned while he is having a meltdown.
Therapy for ADHD and anger overload
If the child also has ADHD, problems like distractibility in the classroom or failure to complete assignments cannot be effectively dealt with until the child learns how to control his angry reactions. Otherwise, the child will likely react with extraordinary anger when teachers or caregivers give consequences or time outs for not working on or not completing class work. The child may feel criticized or embarrassed and not know how to control these feelings. Once anger control is learned, behavior modification aimed at goals like completing assignments is much more effective.
The issue of medication for ADHD has also been problematic at times for children who simultaneously have anger overload problems. Sometimes, stimulant medication will work for both problems, but it can also make it harder for a child to control his anger. In that case, medications other than stimulants should be considered. In some cases, a combination of a low dose of SSRI medication along with a low dose of stimulant medication can be helpful. However, the issue of medication for the dual problems of ADHD and anger overload needs further study.
Cognitive treatment strategies
One important point which affects how a child responds to a provocation is the way he or she percieves the problem situation: does he feel embarrassed, humiliated or rejected? If the child feels an insult to his sense of pride, or feels as if he was treated “unfairly,” he is more likely to exhibit rage. Teaching the child to respond assertively but in a controlled manner helps him not to feel humiliated or put down.
This approach is similar to cognitive therapy approaches, which aim to change the way a person experiences a situation. Sometimes the parent or therapist can suggest to an older child another way to look at the intentions of the other by whom the child feels put down. This is not always effective, as many children will insist on their interpretation of the situation. Instead, the adult helps the child to respond differently so that the child then “feels” differently about herself. By being assertive or learning new social skills, the child is less likely to feel embarrassed and upset.
Teaching the child one catch phrase is an effective cognitive strategy that can be used. For many children, one such phrase is, “everyone makes mistakes.” Children with anger overload often have high standards for themselves without even realizing it. They generally are not obsessive-compulsive by nature, but they also lack the social sense about what normal expectations are for children their age.
For example, one child frequently got upset when he made a written mistake in school. Another child raged when he could not find a puzzle piece, and another when his team lost a baseball game. Teaching these children that “everyone makes mistakes” really helps. They learn to say this phrase to themselves at the time of a mistake. Often we role play this scenario ahead of time in the therapist’ s office. This strategy, like the others we’ ve discussed, takes time to work. The child may not remember to use it when he or she is upset, and once it is finally used, may forget it altogether. But over time, it will become more automatic.
Another useful phrase to use is, “Is this a good risk?” Since children with anger overload are often risk takers, they like to try new challenges, including those that are dangerous or likely to provoke a negative response from adults. One child liked to make jokes in class when someone made a “funny” mistake. His classmates would laugh louder, and the teacher would get angry and give him a consequence. The child felt this was unfair and reacted with anger. The therapist helped the child to see the cause and effect of his actions, and taught the child to evaluate the risk before making his remark. The child also learned to let others take chances and make funny remarks, rather than always taking the lead and getting punished.
Nonverbal cues can also be effective in some situations. A nonverbal cue, such as the adult putting up his hand like a policeman does to stop traffic, is more likely to work when the child is becoming upset rather than moving toward a full-blown rage. Also, the signal needs to be prearranged with the child when he is calm in order to increase the chances that the child will see the signal as benign, not as a punishment.
Future research ideas
For parents, a key factor in working with angry children is patience and practice. The techniques described above take time for parents and children to learn. The child’ s problems are probably related to developmental lags or to subtle neurological deficits. In Emotional Intelligence (1995), Daniel Goleman summarizes research with adults which suggests that the limbic system of the person’ s brain goes into overdrive when anger occurs, causing catecholamines to release. One neurological hypothesis which needs further testing for children with anger overload is whether there is a lag or deficit in their limbic systems, so that catecholamines are released more quickly or in higher concentrations than for other children. Building new behavior patterns is possible, but again takes time. Parents should notice gradual improvements towards the goal of self-control rather than feeling defeated if there is not an immediate change. It is not the parent’ s fault if the child has problems with anger. Often if the parents review their family trees, they will notice some other relative, if not themselves, who had difficulty with anger as a child. In many cases, there most likely is a genetic component. This is not to say that anger overload cannot be changed. Internal mechanisms for self-control can be learned by the child. But the approach must be methodical and requires extreme patience. Parents will feel relieved once they begin using strategies that work and realize that their children are not destined to a lifetime of anger overload.
*The “DSM-IV: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV,” published by the American Psychiatric Association is the standard reference source for mental health professionals.
More information about anger overload in children can be found and answered at Dr. David Gottieb’s blog.
Share on PinterestUpdated: November 3, 2017
Child Rage: How to Manage Explosive Anger in Kids and Teens
By Janet Lehman, MSW
Screaming fights. Destructive behavior. Volatile moods. Do your child’s anger and rage make you feel exhausted and out of control?
In an Empowering Parents poll, Angie S. made the following comment:
“I walk on eggshells around my 15-year-old son. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m afraid of his explosive temper.”
In that same poll, more than 50 percent of respondents said that they end up “losing control and screaming back” when their child’s anger reaches the boiling point.
But responding to your child’s rage with your own anger is not the answer. Rather, you need to have what I call a rage plan so that you know exactly how you will effectively handle the next outburst or temper tantrum. A rage plan puts you in control of yourself and the situation.
The following 5 steps are the basis of this plan:
1. Make Sure the Area Around Your Child Is Safe
Make sure that the area around your child is safe and that no one can be hurt if and when your child lashes out. Remove yourself and any siblings from the area.
Reduce any stimulation in his vicinity. Turn off the TV, lower the lights. The idea is to let your child wear himself out. This step applies to adolescents as well as to young children.
2. Focus on Being Calm
Even if emotions are running high, work to calm yourself down. Talk to your child in an even tone of voice even if you feel as if you should be screaming at him.
Tell your child that his or her behavior is unacceptable and that you’ll speak with him when he’s calmed down.
Model good behavior for your child. Remember, kids learn from their parents, which is another reason you want to remain calm. You’re teaching him appropriate ways to manage stressful situations.
3. Don’t Respond to Name-Calling or Verbal Abuse
If your child is screaming things at you, calling you names, or saying you’re “the worst parent in the world,” do not respond. And don’t take it personally. Simply leave the room or send him to his bedroom.
Also, don’t yell back at your child because it will bring you into his rage and make you the focal point of his anger.
4. Talk Later, When You’re Both Calm
The time to talk is when you and your child are both calm. If he’s yelling in his room, he should not be getting your attention, period.
Don’t worry if it seems as if you’re ignoring the inappropriate behavior. What you are doing is not reacting to the yelling. Or, to say it another way, you are not letting your child’s yelling control your actions.
Later, when things are calm and at the time of your choosing, you can explain to your child that her behavior was not acceptable. Tell her there are better ways to deal with anger than losing control. But do it on your terms, not your child’s terms. After all, you’re the CEO of your household.
You might also have your child make amends if she broke something or hurt someone else. If your child is very young, you may want her to draw a picture that says, “I’m sorry.” If your child is older, ask her to do something more meaningful for the person she wronged.
5. Give Consequences for the Behavior, Not the Anger
Don’t give consequences because your child got angry. Rather, give consequences for your child’s specific inappropriate behaviors, such as verbal abuse, physical abuse, or property destruction.
Your child needs to understand that it’s okay to feel angry. We all feel angry from time to time. And sometimes we yell. We just need to learn to manage ourselves appropriately when we get angry.
In other words, let your child know that anger is normal and that there will always be things in life that make him angry. Then stress that he is responsible for and will be held accountable for all inappropriate behaviors that result from his anger.
Related content: Angry Child? Fix the Behavior, Not the Feelings
If your child has just begun to lash out in rage when angered, this plan going to work fairly well—especially after you go through it a few times.
Your calm and matter-of-fact response is going to teach him that explosive anger is not the way to deal with his frustration. And it won’t get him what he wants.
If, however, the behavior has been going on for a long time and it’s more ingrained, prepare to go through your rage plan repeatedly until your child learns to manage his anger better.
Understand Your Child’s Triggers
Some kids have been engaging in bad behaviors associated with extreme anger for years. This is when you need to learn about your child’s triggers.
Once your child has calmed down, talk with him about his explosion. You can ask him:
“What happened before you blew up today?”
If your child comes home angry and in a volatile mood after school, you might have to call his teacher and find out if there was a problem that day. Ask pointed questions like:
“Was my child picked on? Did he do poorly on an assignment? Was he disciplined in class?”
But remember, even if your child had a terrible day at school, it doesn’t excuse his behavior at home. After all, there are other ways to deal with having a bad day than by calling his siblings foul names, screaming in your face, or punching a hole in the wall.
When you talk to your child about his triggers, always ask:
“How are you going to handle this differently next time?”
That’s the real purpose of looking at triggers—to help your child better understand them so he learns to respond differently the next time he gets angry or frustrated.
The most important thing to remember is that helping your child deal with his anger now will help him manage these feelings later on in his life.
Don’t Walk on Eggshells to Accommodate Your Child’s Anger
Many parents of defiant kids walk on eggshells around their children, trying not to upset them. I understand why parents do this. Angry outbursts are unpleasant and you do what you can to avoid them.
But remember, your child isn’t learning to behave differently when you walk on eggshells to accommodate his behavior. In fact, by getting you to walk on eggshells around him, he’s teaching you to behave differently. He’s training you to anticipate his angry outbursts so that you leave him alone or let him get what he wants.
Therefore, don’t alter your behavior to suit your child’s moods. Just have your rage plan ready and respond to your child’s behavior accordingly.
Managing Destructive Behavior
With some kids, their explosive anger escalates until it becomes destructive. If your child breaks his own things during one of his rages, he should be made to replace them with his own money—or go without. That’s known as a natural consequence.
If your child is breaking your things or punching holes in the walls, make him pay to fix the damages
For kids too young to earn money outside the home, use chores to earn things back.
If your child is older, he can get a part-time job. This is a great lesson because your child will see that his behavior caused the problem: he threw his phone against the wall and he has to replace it.
Managing Threatening Behavior
If you are threatened or physically harmed, don’t be afraid to call the police on your child.
Look at it this way: if you don’t do anything to protect yourself, other family members, or your home, what’s the message that’s being sent to your child? He will learn that he’s in complete control. And he will learn that the best way to get what he wants is with threats and physical abuse.
If your child or teen has developed a pattern that includes threats or physical abuse, part of your plan would be saying to him ahead of time:
“If this happens again and I feel unsafe, I’m going to have to call for help. I’m going to call the police.”
Remember, there’s no excuse for abuse.
You Can’t Talk Your Child Out of His Rage
Keep in mind that you should never try to reason with your child in the middle of a rage or tantrum. Any attempt to engage him at that point will just wind him up and reinforce his anger.
Additionally, your child is not listening very well at that time. Your attempts to reason with him, lecture him, or talk about the issue at hand aren’t going to sink in if he’s in the middle of a rage.
Instead, give short, clear, calm directions. Say:
“This is not OK. Go to your room until you can get it together.”
If you have screamed back in the past or reacted angrily to your child, really practice that calm voice. If this is a challenge for you, try practicing what you will say ahead of time. Say it out loud in your car when you are alone. Rehearse the words you will use and your rage plan will be easier to execute.
Related content: Angry Child Outbursts: 10 Essential Rules for Dealing with an Angry Child
Does My Child Have a Mental Health Problem?
If at any point you feel like your child’s behavior is beyond a normal temper tantrum, or if you really can’t hang in there any longer as a parent, be sure to seek the help of a professional.
I want to stress that these behaviors don’t necessarily mean that your child has a mental health problem. Child anger is a normal emotion but one that people usually have a difficult time expressing and responding to.
But, whenever there is a doubt in your mind, talk to your child’s pediatrician or trusted health care professional.
Here are some times when you should seek a professional opinion:
- If your child doesn’t respond even though you are consistent with your plan of action. Often the counselor will help you continue to work on your plan and will reinforce these ideas during counseling.
- If your child’s trigger doesn’t seem to be rational or make sense.
- If your child isn’t able to deal with his triggers, counseling might be in order. If anxiety is the trigger, for example, he will need a better way to react when he feels nervous or embarrassed.
Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t handle things the way you wanted to when your child lost control in the past. Maybe you screamed back or gave in when they had a tantrum or lost their temper.
But none of us automatically knows how to deal with everything our kids do. We make mistakes. We learn.
So give yourself a break work on your rage plan for the next time your child explodes. Be patient and persistent and you can manage these outbursts and restore peace to your home.
Handling children’s anger can be puzzling, draining, and distressing for adults. In fact, one of the significant problems in dealing with anger in children is the similar feelings that are often stirred up in us. We as parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators need to remind ourselves that we often did not learn how to deal with anger as a fact of life during our childhood. Frequently, we were led to believe that to be angry was to be bad and were also made to feel guilty for expressing anger.
It’s easier to deal with children’s anger if we get rid of this notion. Our goal is not to repress or destroy angry feelings in children–or in ourselves–but rather to accept the emotions and to help channel and direct them to constructive ends.
Parents and teachers are encouraged to allow children to experience all of their feelings. Adult skills can then be used to show children acceptable ways of expressing their emotions. Strong feelings cannot be denied, and angry outbursts should not always be viewed as a sign of serious problems; in fact, they should be recognized and treated with respect.
To respond effectively to overly aggressive behavior in children, we need to have some ideas about what may have triggered an outburst. Anger may be a defense to avoid painful feelings; it may be associated with failure, low self-esteem, and feelings of isolation; or it may be related to anxiety about situations over which the child has no control.
Angry defiance may also be associated with feelings of dependency, and anger itself may be related to sadness and depression. In childhood, anger and sadness are very close to one another. It is important to remember that much of what an adult demonstrates as sadness is often expressed as anger by a child.
Before we look at specific ways to manage aggressive and angry outbursts, several points should be highlighted:
- We should distinguish between anger and aggression. Anger is a temporary emotional state caused by frustration; aggression is often an attempt to hurt a person or to destroy property.
- Anger and aggression do not have to be dirty words. In other words, in looking at aggressive behavior in children, we must be careful to distinguish between behavior that indicates emotional problems and behavior that is normal.
- In dealing with angry children, our actions should be motivated by the need to protect and to reach, and not by a desire to punish. Parents and teachers should show a child that they accept his or her feelings while suggesting other ways to express their emotions. An adult might say, for example, “Let me tell you what some children do in a situation like this…” It is not enough to tell children what behaviors we find unacceptable. We must teach them acceptable ways of coping. Also, it’s essential to find ways to communicate what we expect of them. Contrary to popular opinion, punishment is not the most effective way to teach children what behavior we want from them.
Responding to the Angry Child
Some of the following suggestions for dealing with the angry child were taken from The Aggressive Child by Fritz Redl and David Wineman. They should be considered helpful ideas and not be viewed as a “bag of tricks.”
Catch the child being good.
Tell the child what behaviors please you. Respond to positive efforts and reinforce good behavior. An observing and sensitive parent will find countless opportunities during the day to make such comments as “I like the way you come in for dinner without being reminded;” “I appreciate your hanging up your clothes even though you were in a hurry to get out to play;” “You were really patient while I was on the phone;” “I’m glad you shared your snack with your sister;” “I like the way you’re able to think of others; and “Thank you for telling the truth about what really happened.”
Similarly, teachers can positively reinforce good behavior with statements such as:
- “I know it was difficult for you to wait your turn, and I’m pleased that you could do it.”
- “Thanks for sitting in your seat quietly.”
- “You were thoughtful in offering to help Johnny with his spelling.”
- “You worked hard on that project, and I admire your effort.”
Deliberately ignore inappropriate behavior that can be tolerated.
This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the child, just the behavior. The “ignoring” has to be planned and consistent. Even though this behavior may be tolerated, the child must recognize that it is inappropriate.
Provide physical outlets and other alternatives.
It is vital for children to have opportunities for physical exercise and movement, both at home and at school.
Manipulate the surroundings.
Aggressive behavior can be encouraged by placing children in tough, tempting situations. We should try to plan the surroundings so that certain things are less apt to happen. Stop a “problem” activity and substitute, temporarily, a more desirable one. Sometimes rules and regulations, as well as physical space, may be too confining.
Use closeness and touching.
Move physically closer to the child to curb his or her angry impulses. Young children are often calmed by having an adult come close by and who expresses interest in the child’s activities. Children naturally try to involve adults in what they are doing, and the adult can be annoyed at being bothered. Very young children (and children who are emotionally deprived) seem to need much more adult involvement in their interests. A child about to use a toy or tool destructively is sometimes easily stopped by an adult who expresses an interest in having it shown to him. An outburst from an older child struggling with a challenging reading selection can be prevented by a caring adult who moves near the child to say, “Show me which words are giving you trouble.”
Be ready to show affection.
Sometimes all that is needed for an angry child to regain control is a sudden hug or other impulsive show of affection. Children with severe emotional problems, however, may have trouble accepting affection.
Ease tension through humor.
Kidding the child out of a temper tantrum or outburst offers the child an opportunity to “save face.” However, it is essential to distinguish between face-saving humor and sarcasm, teasing, or ridicule.
Appeal directly to the child.
Tell him or her how you feel and ask for consideration. For example, a parent or a teacher may gain a child’s cooperation by saying, “I know that noise you’re making doesn’t usually bother me, but today I’ve got a headache, so could you find something else you’d enjoy doing?”
Help the child understand the cause of a stressed situation. We often fail to realize how quickly young children can begin to behave appropriately once they understand the cause of their frustration.
Use physical restraint.
Occasionally a child may lose control so completely that he has to be physically restrained or removed from the scene to prevent him from hurting himself or others. This may also “save face” for the child. The child should not view physical restraint or removal from the scene as punishment but as a means of saying, “You can’t do that.” In such situations, an adult cannot afford to lose his or her temper, and unfriendly remarks by other children should not be tolerated.
Encourage children to see their strengths as well as their weaknesses.
Help them to see that they can reach their goals.
Use promises and rewards.
Promises of future pleasure can be used both to start and to stop a behavior. This approach should not be likened to bribery. We must know what the child likes–what pleases him–and we must deliver on our promises.
Limits should be clearly explained and enforced. Children should be free to function within those limits.
Tell the child that you accept his or her angry feelings, but offer other suggestions for expressing them. Teach children to put their angry feelings into words, rather than fists.
Build a positive self-image.
Encourage children to see themselves as both valued and valuable people.
Use punishment cautiously.
There is a fine line between discipline that is hostile toward a child and discipline that is educational. DO NOT use physical punishment. Use time-out instead.
Model appropriate behavior.
Parents and teachers should be aware of the powerful influence of their actions on a child’s or group’s behavior.
Teach children to express themselves verbally.
Talking helps a child have control and thus reduces acting out behavior. Encourage the child to say, for example, “I don’t like your taking my pencil. I don’t feel like sharing just now.”
The Role of Discipline
and conscientiousness while using reasoning. Poor discipline involves punishment which is unduly harsh and inappropriate, and it is often associated with verbal ridicule and attacks on the child’s integrity.
As one fourth-grade teacher put it: “One of the most important goals we strive for as parents, educators, and mental health professionals is to help children develop respect for themselves and others.” While arriving at this goal takes years of patient practice, it is a vital process in which parents, teachers, and all caring adults can play a crucial and exciting role. To accomplish this, we must see children as worthy human beings and be sincere in interacting with them.
Adapted from “The Aggressive Child” by Luleen S. Anderson, Ph.D. published by the Children’s Bureau, ACYF, DHEW. (Reprinting permission unnecessary.)
How to deal with a very angry child
Anger is a powerful emotion and it can be quite alarming to see your child in the throes of rage. However, remember that it’s completely normal and acceptable for children to feel angry from time to time. Supernanny expert Dr Victoria Samuel gives some tips for how to deal with a very angry child
Why is my child so angry? Anger often relates to a child feeling misunderstood, falsely accused, unfairly treated or insecure. It’s common for anger to conceal other more vulnerable feelings, and angry outbursts often reflect more than just what has happened in the immediate situation. The analogy of a volcano captures the way in which difficult feelings (frustration, hurt and injustice) can build up inside over time, with pressure accumulating to the point that a minor annoyance can easily trigger your child to ‘erupt’ and ‘blow their top’.
Tip 1: Increase Emotional Awareness
The more you can encourage your child to express difficult feelings, the less emotions will build up and overflow into angry explosions.
What to Do
To be able to express emotion, children first need to be aware of their feelings. You can improve your child’s ‘emotional literacy’ by beginning to increase the amount you talk about anger and other feelings.
As frequently as possible try to refer to your own and other people’s feelings and guess at, reflect back & question your child’s feelings:
- “That man on TV looks annoyed”
- “Your sister is ‘stupid’? I wonder if you’re feeling cross that she interrupted our special time together”
Tip 2: Stay Calm
Children are like barometers for the emotional climate around them: if you’re stressed, they will be too, if you’re relaxed, so will they be.
Schedule in relaxing time for yourself on a regular basis. If it’s difficult to get time alone, club together with other parents and set up a babysitting rota. If you get to recuperate once in a while, it will be much easier for you to respond calmly to your child’s meltdowns. Calm responses will help contain your child’s anger whilst angry ones will make your child more enraged.
Remember that the way you manage your own angry feelings will impact on how your little one deals with his.
If your child hears you hurling abuse at the driver that just cut you up, don’t be surprised if you hear a stream of insults when his sister has grabbed his favourite toy!
If you’re feeling really wound up, don’t forget that time out is useful for adults as well. Make sure your child is safe and remove yourself for the situation. Breathe deeply and slowly and tell yourself: “keep calm!”
Tip 3: Accept Feelings and Redirect Angry Actions
Dismissing difficult feelings (e.g. “hey it’s not a big deal, calm down”) can be counterproductive; your child will be left simmering about both the original source of frustration as well as not being understood.
The secret is to: a) accept and acknowledge your child’s angry feelings and b) direct her towards an appropriate outlet for expressing her intense emotion. When feelings are accepted, your child will feel more understood, less in need of trying to convince you of their standpoint and therefore calmer. When feelings are expressed, the build of emotion inside is avoided and so explosions become less likely.
Identify and name the feeling that is behind your child’s rage
- “Wow Jamie, that made you upset”
- “You’re disappointed we have to leave now?”
Show understanding by guessing at your child’s wishes
- “You’d like it if your brother asked you before borrowing your stuff?
- “Wouldn’t it be great if we could stay longer?”
Encourage appropriate expression of feelings or problem solving
- “Show me how you’re feeling by… using words / drawing a picture / hitting this cushion / ripping up this scrap paper”
- “What would be a better way to solve this problem?”
Tip 4: Use Clear and Consistent Consequences To Limit Aggressive Behaviour
Your child needs to learn that although anger is ok, aggressive behaviour is not.
Get down to your child’s level and, using a calm, low but firm tone which indicates displeasure, clearly tell him what he has done wrong. Try not to shout as this suggests you have lost control.
- “Katie, it is not ok to hit your brother”
If your child stops behaving aggressively, give her lots of praise. If, however, she continues her inappropriate behaviour after you’ve given a warning, impose a clear consequence, such as the naughty step or withdrawing privileges.
If you are worried about the escalating nature of your child’s anger and nothing works over a period of weeks or months, there may be underlying issues which require professional help. Within the NHS, your GP would be your first port of call.
Calming your kids: how do you tame a wild child? It’s common for young children to express themselves physically when they don’t have enough words to say what they want or need. But there are some things you can do to ease their aggression.
How to Get Your Child to Listen: Children’s selective hearing is a big source of frustration for parents! A child who is defiant, stubbornly refuses to cooperate and ignores simple requests can make every day feel like an uphill struggle
Need help to get the naughty step in action in your house? Billy was so badly behaved, his parents were sceptical that this discipline technique would work at all. But, within no time, Billy learns to sit on the step for the full two minutes.
How to handle anger positively with your kids…Everyone gets angry with their kids at some time or another – it’s normal – it’s healthy – it’s a fact of life. Kids know just what buttons to push and they push them! Supernanny expert Sue Atkins gives her tips on how to positively channel that anger, so that you and your family come out unscathed.
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