This is not a crisis, it’s normal
While it is unpleasant for your child to feel so angry and painful for you to see him suffer, an angry incident is not a major crisis in your life or his. It is a normal part of childhood. Don’t panic, and don’t mirror the anger by shouting or showing fear. Signal compassion but also normalize the situation by remaining your ‘normal’ self.
There is a reason
Even very small children don’t get angry for no reason. Try to find out what set off the child’s anger with a perspective of doing something about it later.
It’s ok to feel anger
Anger is part of the normal range of human emotions. Are you ok with your own anger? Are you ok with the ways you express it? If you find it difficult to tolerate your child’s anger, then it could be helpful to seek the help of a counselor in order to find out what is going on inside you. Maybe it has something to do with the way you were treated when you got angry as a child.
If you have enough mind space to focus on your angry child, try the following strategies:
Acknowledge the child’s feeling
Help your child by naming the emotion (anger) and tell them that you understand what they feel. Don’t tell them to stop being angry or that their feelings are unacceptable.
Don’t get angry yourself
Perhaps the most important tool in coping with a child’s anger.
If you think about it, your child is already upset and disoriented. If you get angry yourself, you are taking away the most important support your child has: your own calm and reliability. However angry your child gets, you are the backbone of their sense of safety. They need to see and sense that you are not overwhelmed by the situation and that you can manage emotional chaos. They also need to know that you don’t reject them because they are angry.
Set limits to actions, not emotions
Say, ‘It’s not ok to hit me or others’. Don’t say ‘stop being angry or upset’. Say, ‘It’s not ok to call the other child names’. Provide alternatives for your child to express his or her feelings. Encourage them to find better ways of releasing their physical energy.
Don’t abandon your child
Don’t send your child away ‘until you are calm again’. This sends the message that they are doing something wrong by having a natural emotional response. A response that they have trouble managing, and that they need to learn how to manage. A learning journey that often takes many years.
Stay with your child and be open to talking about the emotion and its origin. Often feelings of disappointment and frustration feel overwhelming to a child.
Don’t walk away yourself. Your child needs to know you are not removing your love and support.
- Don’t laugh or belittle your child’s experience
Remember that while this is not a crisis for you, it could feel like one for them. Say, “Yes, this is tough”,or “I know you wanted this toy, but you may not have it right now”, “Yes, the ice cream is finished.”
Just as important as talking to your angry child is listening to them. Small children may repeat the same sentence again and again – ‘I wanted that cookie!’ Let them. Hear them out. You can discuss it later.
- Create context and memory
Regulating emotions is a learning process that happens along the development of the brain. Both reinforce each other. When your child has calmed down, try to construct the story of this incident together with him.
‘“First you lost your shoe, then you didn’t get what you wanted. You yelled, you were angry. Now you feel calm again.”
This helps the child to put together a structured narrative, understand cause and effect, and recognize the emotion when it occurs again.
You may find that your child can apply this new knowledge to others, maybe even to you! ‘Mommy, you are angry!’ – a remark like that is proof of successful anger management with your child.