One of the questions or concerns that parents are bringing to me more and more these days is how to teach their child anger management and what to do when their child loses control of their anger? These parents describe desperate situations where the whole family tip toes around the child with the anger issues for fear that something that they say or do may “set them off”. Unfortunately, some children have trained their parents to give them whatever they want just so a temper tantrum can be avoided. Still others are frightened that the angry child is going to hurt them or they will end up hurting the child in response to the child’s poor behavior.
Here you will find several anger management tips and suggestions that can help get your child’s anger under control. Part 1 will provide anger management tips that are proactive or preventative in nature. Part 2 will address ways to respond when a child loses control of their anger.
Externalize the Behavior – It is often beneficial to help the child with anger management issues to understand that you don’t see them as “the problem” and that it is their angry behavior that is “the problem”.
Externalizing the behavior can help give the child a sense of power and control over the anger and separates the person (child) from their behavior (anger). They understand that there isn’t something necessarily wrong with them but they have some difficulties that they are going to need to learn how to overcome. Some find it helpful to give the behavior a name in order to reinforce the externalization of the problematic behavior. This may sound something like, “It seems that “The Meanies” or “Anger” got the best of you that time. Try a little harder next time to see if you can keep them under control.”
For a younger child one might say, “Logan I really liked how you didn’t let the “Meanies” take over you when your brother took your game. That makes it Logan 1 and the “Meanies” are 0. I hope you win today.” The metaphor of challenging and defeating the problem behavior can further distance your child from the behavior and empower them to overcome their struggles with anger.
Notice the Positive – Reinforce and call attention to your child’s positive behaviors. Too often parents only notice the negative behaviors their children engage in. Often that which gets noticed gets repeated. So, if the only time you are paying attention to a child is when they are doing something wrong, then you may find that you are reinforcing a negative behavior. Some children may subconsciously desire your attention even if it has to be under negative circumstances. An example of noticing positive behavior could be “I really appreciated how you accepted “no” when you asked if you could go to Matt’s house tonight. You should be proud of how maturely you handled it.” Parents who consistently call attention to positive behaviors in their children tend to have better behaved children.
Explore Exceptions – Exploring exceptions to when anger normally would have been a child’s response to a situation but they did not will help a child recognize that they may already have some solutions within themselves that they can use in the future to deal with anger. Ask your child to remember back to the time where you remember they were in a situation where they normally would have reacted with anger but for whatever reason they did not. Ask them to think about what made that situation different? How do they think they were able to control the anger? What did they tell themselves in their head about the situation? Was there something someone else did that was helpful? When you explore exceptions you can help a child draw from past successes they can build upon for the future.
Self-Talk – Teaching an older child about the concept of “self-talk” can help them realize how their own thoughts and beliefs influence their behavior. Most often anger is triggered by what a person tells himself or herself about an event or situation. What they tell themselves about an event controls their anger much in the same way that a thermostat regulates the temperature of a room. If they tell them self the wrong things it is just like turning up the thermostat to heat the room. Take for instance “this isn’t fair” or “they enjoy making me suffer” is self-talk that turns up the heat. However, statements like “I don’t like this but I can handle it” or “they are just doing the best they can and I know they love me” can take them down a better path.
Learning to change their self-talk from statements that get them worked up to statements that reduce negative emotions is an important skill. It is easy for them to talk themselves into anger and blame others for how they are feeling. Whereas talking themselves out of anger and holding themselves accountable for the way they are feeling tends to be the most difficult but more responsible way to behave.
Have a “Crisis Plan” – For some parents what happens when their child begins to lose control of their anger is a sequence of reactionary events that they have engaged in time and time again without positive outcomes. Take the time to develop a plan so that both you and your child will know what to expect from each other the next time either of you notices that they are starting to let anger creep in.
An example of a crisis plan might go as follows: “Logan, I am concerned about the way both of us behave when you become angry. I say things then you yell at me, I yell at you, you become destructive or slam the door as you leave the house and we are not getting anywhere. I want to develop a plan with you as to how we are going to handle the situation if either of us notices that anger is starting to arise in ourselves or each other. Can we do that? Great.”
“I’m thinking that if either of us notices that you are starting to get angry one of us will say, “we need to take a time out” I think I will go to my room. We need to agree to accept the other’s wishes in regards to this. I will agree to accept it if you think we need a time out. Can you? Good. Where would you like to go to cool down and think things over Logan? Okay, I thought your room would be a good place also. Then I think we could decide on an amount of time before we meet back here at the table and talk about our concerns in a calm matter. Do you think 10 minutes is long enough? You think you may need 20? Okay. We will start out with 20 minutes and if we need more then we will adjust the time. Is there anything else that you think would be helpful to include? Well, if you think of anything let me know and we will include it. Let’s practice it one time just so we know how it will play out.”
Role Model – Some children learn best by example so it is important to evaluate whether or not you are providing a good example to follow. How do you behave when things don’t go your way? How do you respond to them when they challenge your authority? What do your children notice about you when you have had a bad day at work? If you become angry and yell, scream and threaten when you are frustrated with someone or some thing, then how can you expect anything better from your children?
The preceding anger management tips can help you reduce and prevent your child from allowing their anger to get out of control in the future. In Part 2 of this article we will explore some anger management tips regarding how you can intervene if your child has lost control of their anger.