Have you got one of these children – the one who angers easily, who flares up, who erupts – even unpredictably sometimes. Being the parent or teacher of one of these children is exhausting because sometimes the anger can feel intensely personal and hurtful. And even though, as a big grown up, you tell yourself that it is just the words of a child, it’s still difficult not to become enflamed yourself and to snap back in anger.
What do you need to know about the angry child?
Little brains are learning – so much! They’re taking in massive amounts of information, they are sorting, stacking, shaping information from their internal world and from their external world. For some children, this can feel overwhelming and anger is a way to make people back away.
We would have all felt horribly frustrated by not being able to complete a task, get our own way, have our needs met at some point. As adults we can talk ourselves down, step away and have a break, distract ourselves – but children often don’t have those regulatory resources at hand. Learning how to manage emotional overwhelm takes a long time – and for some emotionally combustible little souls it’s a long climb to emotional mastery.
10 ways to calm an angry child
#1 – Manage yourself first – step away, step out, step back. Take a breath and remind yourself that your child is still learning – and most importantly, they’re learning from you. If you blow a gasket you’re reinforcing their angry emotional response.
#2 – Reassure, reassure, reassure – “You’re safe, let it out, calm down.” Anger is an all-consuming and quite frankly scary emotion for anyone to experience.
#3 – Offer suggestions – “Would you like space or a cuddle?” It’s confusing being so very angry that no rational thought can penetrate. Asking and not telling gives some control back to the overwhelmed child.
#4 – Shield the child – from the eyes and attention of others. Is there somewhere safe to withdraw to where the anger can diffuse without the eyes of others. Children find it difficult to de-escalate under the watchful pressure of others – grandparents included.
#5 – Validate the feeling – “It’s OK to be angry.” Usually the first meant-to-be-helpful attempt by an adult is to diffuse the anger. Often, children simply want reassurance that their big feeling has been seen and understood.
#6 – Teach a calming down skill – “Let’s do some bubble breathing together.” Teaching a technique to get that oxygen flowing to the brain and all the tense muscles makes sense. Breathing like you’re blowing a bubble, breathing around an imaginary square – whatever the technique, try and practise it while the child is calm so that it’s an automatic go-to when they start to heat up.
#7 – Stay connected – “I love you.” 3 very powerful little words that tell the child who is absolutely our of control that you’re still there and despite their behaviour you still love them.
#8 – Become a detective – “I wonder if…” Anger can be triggered by many things – hunger being one of these. For the child who is angry – it can be sometime like a tsunami and they might not even know where it comes from. “I wonder if you’re hungry / tired / frustrated…” is helpful to identifying the cause of the anger – which means that next time there is a better chance of it being headed off earlier.
#9 – Be predictable – “I am going to …” – When anger is the filter, it’s helpful to know clearly what others are doing around you so that these actions aren’t misinterpreted and inadvertently contribute to even more anger. “I’m going to stand over here and wait.” Or “I’ll stand outside your door until you’re finished screaming.” Tells your child very clearly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Try not to use too many words.
#10 – Use distraction – “Woah – have a look at…” Diverting attention from the crisis at hand is often enough to interrupt the pattern of the child. Make it exciting, use your tone of voice – and if you have to use technology. Sometimes distracting a child with a screen is enough for their little brain to calm down and reset.
Anger is a very contagious emotion. Think about crowds of people who act in often violent ways, well outside their normal, everyday moral code and method of operating. Why? Because we are influenced by the moods of those around us. Just like being in a stadium full of excited people – that energy is contagious and even if you’re not a fan of the band or the sport, you find yourself drawn in and lifted up. Anger is no different – so when your young one is angry often it’s difficult not to match and mirror that feeling. Calm yourself and then calm your child.
No child enjoys being out-of-control angry – it’s exhausting, often embarrassing and always scary. Using the 10 tips is a great start in learning to work with your child towards better emotional self-regulation.
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