Dealing with an angry child can be difficult, especially when it’s so easy to lose our tempers as well. Here are strategies to help you handle it.
We had been so excited to work on the school garden. The last time we came, you couldn’t peel my three boys away from digging and turning the soil. And this time was no different. Other than the occasional snack, they wanted to keep shoveling and pulling weeds.
And then it happened: One of them didn’t want to leave.
Whereas the other two were ready to go home, he wanted to stay and dig. So we did the typical moves: empathized, tried to make the transition light. We even gave him an incentive (“We’ll have lunch right when we get home”).
He finally followed us when he realized we were heading to the van. But once we got there, he burst. I had an angry child on my hands.
Kicking the chair, crying, trying to hit us. And it didn’t get better when we finally got home. My husband had to carry him all the way to the door. I wish I could say we kept our cool, but this isn’t a success story. Rather it’s a learning moment.
Because this is what I learned, in hindsight:
He needs you.
After the tears dried and I’m sorry’s said from both sides, I thought about what happened. How do I still let his temper affect me? Why wasn’t I calm this time? What can I tell myself to better handle this situation?
And one phrase kept repeating itself, He needs you.
How to handle an angry child
So here’s my best advice to you—which is more advice for me—when you’re dealing with your angry child. Don’t think of your child’s anger as a personal attack on you. Or yet another hassle you have to go through (“Great, this just ruined our morning”). Or even that your child is testing your limits.
Instead, remind yourself that he needs you at this moment. All the crying, the not being able to manage anger, this is something he needs to work on… with your help.
Below are a few more tips I’ve since learned about anger management in children:
#1: Stay calm
Keeping our cool is hard, especially when we feel attacked, or our day feels ruined, or when we struggle with anger management ourselves.
But staying calm helps you think clearly. You’re more likely to say the right things and be the supportive parent your child needs you to be.
Staying calm also models the kind of behavior your son can copy. You’re showing him the exact coping mechanisms he needs to learn and develop to manage his own anger.
#2: Accept his emotions are real and normal
At their most difficult times, kids just need to feel heard. They want to know that their feelings are valid and aren’t “childish” (even if to us it can seem like it). All these emotions are normal, for every person and certainly every child.
If your child is receptive, reach out and connect. Don’t lecture or give facts—instead, describe what you see. Let him know he seems upset that he lost a game, or that he has to leave a fun event. Let him know you’re here and will always love him.
And if he allows, hold him in an embrace or touch him like putting your hand on his back. If he isn’t in the mood, then acknowledge that he isn’t, that you respect his space, and that you’re here when he’s ready.
#3: Contain certain behaviors
That said, don’t allow him to continue to hurt, hit, or break things around him. Anger is normal and allowed, but the goal is to help your child regulate the emotion so he doesn’t escalate to explosive anger over every little thing.
Describe physical sensations he might feel so he can be more aware of his anger cues before he explodes. You might say that when we get angry, we tend to feel a rush of emotions coming up from our heart, or shaking our body, and any other cues he might have. In the future, he knows to look out for them and potentially pause before he reacts.
#4: Don’t diminish the reason he got upset
We parents can say pretty insensitive stuff like, “Don’t worry—we’ll just get another one.”
As logical as that may seem to us, it’s not what our kids need to hear. They just experienced an emotion about something meaningful enough to draw that kind of anger out of them. To brush it aside as petty not only takes away the value of the reason they cried, but of their emotions and feelings as well.
Your child needs you to understand the depth of his frustration and that you take it seriously.
#5: Only teach once he’s calm
Once he’s calm, only then should you talk about what happened. Ask him to share what led to his anger or suggestions on what he thinks he can do about it moving forward. Have him tell you what you can do as well that will help him.
Give him constructive feedback and suggestions if he’s willing to listen to them, such as taking a deep breath, watching for cues so he can pause before he reacts to the cue out of habit, using his words, writing it out.
And when everyone is calm, remind your child it’s okay to be mad. We all feel mad sometimes, even though it sucks big time. The mad feelings go away after a while. And we can do certain things to express anger in a better way. Things like using words and saying “I’m mad.” Taking a deep breath. Running to you for a hug.
#6: Evaluate within yourself what happened
Think about how you interact with your child. Have you been saying ‘no’ too often? Maybe this was the last straw from not having a say. What triggered his anger? Could you have transitioned better?
Then, think about what sets you off and makes you angry right back at him. One of the challenges of dealing with your child’s anger is not losing your own temper. I thought about my own triggers, and one of the recent ones is when my kids do something I had just told them not to. I’m better off ignoring the deliberate defiance and than feed into that trigger.
And ask yourself if it’s that big of a deal. I wanted to leave the school garden, but we didn’t have to, at least not right at that moment. I wanted to make it home in time to prepare lunch, but did we have to follow the schedule?
Maybe those few extra minutes was all my son needed to digest the situation and accept it. Maybe he would’ve walked away much calmer if we had given him just five more minutes. Five minutes he could feel were at least his to own.
#7: Prevent anger in the first place
Most of what we’ve discussed deal with anger after the fact, but we can do plenty to prevent it in the first place. Speak with empathy to any of his emotions so he feels understood and heard, even if you’re disciplining. “Fill his bucket” and give him your full attention even for just 10 minutes a day. And try to make him laugh, which can also release some of that tension he may be feeling.
#8: Model anger management
And if we want our kids to have self control and exhibit appropriate behavior, then we need to be the first to model it. Simple as that. It’s hard not to get sucked into the emotional pull of an angry child. You feel angry too, or inconvenienced, or disappointed. But the best way to teach him how to handle anger is to do it properly yourself. Even if it means apologizing after the fact.
I can’t say this is the last time I’ll have to deal with an angry child, or that I’ll never lose my temper again. But I’m learning. And that day taught me an important lesson: He needs me. Beneath the crying and the heightened emotions, my kids need my help to get them through it.
Handling your child’s anger is made even more difficult when your child won’t listen. I’d love to share with you one effective word I’ve found to get kids to listen in this FREE printable handout. Learn about the word, why it works and how to use it (comes with a worksheet, too!).
Get more tips on handling your child’s behavior:
- Why You Shouldn’t Tell Your Child to Stop Crying
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
- The Surprisingly Simple Question You Should Always Ask Yourself before Disciplining Your Child
- How to Respond to Your Child’s Hurtful Words
- Why Time Outs Don’t Work (And What to Do Instead)
Tell me in the comments: When was the last time you had to deal with an angry child? How do you best handle it?