It’s not easy when your kid loses the plot and the younger the child, the harder it is to control. I’ve written before about the importance of teaching your child empathy and to recognise their emotions, to help them feel more in control of their feelings.
What happens when that fails though and your child is furious? It’s all too easy for them to resort to shouting or even violence in order to manage the overwhelming emotions they’re experiencing.
Anger management techniques for children can give them some alternative strategies for coping and even young toddlers can learn some basic anger management.
Is your child in or out of control?
First thing’s first – is your child aware of what he or she is doing? ‘The Whole Brain Child‘ talks about this in more detail, but essentially there’s a difference between a child who has become overwhelmed by emotion and isn’t making conscious decisions and one who is still in control.
In the first instance, the amygdala is the part of the brain in control – it’s the primitive, emotion-driven fight-or-flight centre and is usually the part of the brain responsible for your toddler’s complete and utter melt-down over a bread-stick being snapped in half (yes, we’ve all been there).
If your child is being ruled by their amygdala then anger management techniques won’t help. Your child isn’t making conscious decisions and has been totally overwhelmed by their emotions. This is why anger management for toddlers can be difficult. Before you can start thinking about anger management, you need to help them to gain control again.
You can do this by distracting them, comforting them or, at worst, sitting with them and waiting for it to pass. Once they have calmed down enough to talk then you can move on to discussing boundaries and anger management techniques.
A child who is angry but in control is using the more developed parts of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, meaning that he is still making conscious decisions. A child in this phase can take in what you’re saying and respond to suggestions. If you watch your child closely then you’ll learn to recognise when he is in or out of control of his temper.
Obviously one of the best ways for children to manage anger is to not be overwhelmed by it in the first place. Mindfulness techniques can help with this, both by helping them to recognise their emotions and helping them to control and release them.
There are also several resources online. Cosmic Kids is a great starting point for mindfulness anger management for toddlers through to primary school age children and the ‘peace out’ section is very calming.
Older children may prefer more advanced guided relaxation techniques like the example shown in the video below.
Mindfulness is a useful skill to master and the younger they start it, the easier kids will find putting it in to practice when under pressure.
Regular exercise is one of the best things for mental health and reduces stress, improves mood and reduces irritation. Daily exercise may help reduce levels of anger, so encouraging exercise in children who struggle with controlling their temper may help.
It doesn’t really matter what sort of exercise, just find something that your child enjoys!
Build exercise in to your child’s daily routine to reduce their baseline anger level and hopefully lead to fewer explosions.
Exercise can also provide an immediate boost to mood and help release anger, so it’s a useful technique to use when your child is losing their temper. This can be as simple as running on the spot or doing jumping jacks – my daughter’s personal favourite is jumping on her bed!
Find strategies for coping with anger that work for you and your family
It would be lovely if our children never felt anger or if they felt it and then expressed it by calmly talking things through, but it’s unrealistic. Everyone gets angry, it’s normal, and we have to acknowledge that and teach our children that feeling angry is fine – what they do whilst angry may not be.
There’s a really interesting concept discussed in ‘How to talk so little kids will listen‘ – all feelings are permissible, but some actions have to be limited.
This sounds really obvious, but I actually found it a hard concept to put in to practice. If my daughter, L, tells me that she hates her friend Sarah from nursery, my automatic response is to say ‘you don’t hate her, you’re really good friends’ and then of course we just end up with her getting increasingly angry and shouting ‘I DO hate her’.
I’ve had to learn not to try to overrule L’s feelings but accept that she can be angry at her friend and give her space to express that feeling, rather than trying to shut it down. We have much better conversations if I recognise her feeling and give her space to tell me about it, instead of arguing about how she feels!
However, that doesn’t mean that she can behave however she wants.
Shouting, physical violence or damaging property are not allowed in our house and L is very clear on that, even if she sometimes forgets. Instead, we’ve had to find other ways that are acceptable for us to express our anger – and that doesn’t just mean L. Shouting at your child for shouting at you is unlikely to teach them not to shout next time they’re angry, kids copy what they see!
Sit down with your child at a time when you are calm and talk about what they can do that is an acceptable way to cope when angry. L and I do this by sitting down after an argument and talking about what we both did wrong and how we could do better next time that we feel angry. It doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes shout at each other, but we acknowledge that it’s not the best response.
This is a really personal decision for you and your kids – what is fine in one family (e.g. shouting) may not be in another. Some of the techniques that L has chosen for managing her anger are throwing pillows and soft toys on the floor, jumping on the bed, deep breaths and running up and down the hallway.
She also has a pink glittery ‘feelings book’ with special crayons. She draws in this book when feeling something strongly and she draws a picture that matches her mood – one ‘angry’ drawing was just lots of deep black lines across the paper. Again, it’s giving her an outlet to show how she feels. Older children may prefer a diary or journal that they can write in.
When she is really, really angry then L calls me ‘poo poo’ because I told her it’s OK to say this to me when she’s ‘super-angry’, but only ever to me. That might sound silly but she’s 3 and she needs to have something that can really express how angry she feels.
The funny thing is that she went through a stage of calling lots of people ‘poo poo’ when angry (a delightful habit that she picked up at nursery), but since we agreed a time when it’s OK for her to do it she never does it to anyone else and she saves it for when she wants me to know that she really is furious!
Decide what is acceptable behaviour for your children and what isn’t and make this clear, but try to allow them a real outlet for their anger – we all need a way to vent!
Give your children the tools now so that they will have them to use in the future
I hope that you’ve found these anger management techniques for children helpful, but remember that the younger the child, the more often she will become overwhelmed by her anger and forget to use all the helpful strategies that you have put in place.
Don’t get discouraged if your child still loses the plot sometimes, most adults still lose their temper on occasion. Difficulties arise when children (or adults!) don’t have any other coping skills and so fall back on aggression when their anger takes over. The more you practice anger management with your kids, the easier it will become for them to use it when they need it.
Learning how to process and express emotions is a valuable tool for all children, even young toddlers, and will hopefully stand them in good stead for the future, when we want them to be responsible adults in control of their anger!
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