Dr Martine Prunty
How to Help Kids when they are Angry
Getting angry is a normal part of life, particularly when we feel an injustice has occurred. For little kids, this anger can feel really big and sometimes overwhelming, which can lead to aggressive behaviours. As parents we can help to coach our kids to manage these big emotions. Here are some steps to help:
It will help if you change the way you are interpreting your child’s anger. This is their way of telling you they are distressed. Help them to know that you understand this big feeling (even if you don’t agree with the issue).
Some ways of empathising may be by saying:
“I’m really sorry that happened…”
“If that had happened to me I would feel really upset as well”
But what if your child is angry at you? Some suggestions are:
“I’m sorry you feel like that and I wish it didn’t have to be this way…”
“I can see how upset you are…”
What about when nothing seems to work and they are in a full blown tantrum? Remember the 4 Ds:
D – distance – Try and remove them from what is causing the problem
D – distract – This is often met with resistance but you can use your empathy to communicate your understanding then suggest you take a break together to do some other activity (eg puzzles, ball game, TV, etc).
D - Disappear – Inform your child that you are going into another room to do a job and will come back in a few minutes. Sometimes this can help diffuse the situation as some kids calm down quicker without an audience. Remove any dangerous objects before you leave the room.
Then when things have calmed down
D – decide – help them problem solve so they feel like they are better equipped should that problem arise again. This may include ignoring comments they perceive as “mean”, coming to speak to you before things escalate, working out another way to share toys, etc.
Use Logical Consequences
Discuss consequences for aggressive and mean behaviour. It is still important that kids know limits about what is okay to do when they are angry. At some time when everyone is calm, let the child know that even when they are really angry, it is not okay to hit people, throw things or do whatever it is you think is not OK. If possible consequences should be a natural result of their behaviour and applied gently and compassionately. For example, if they throw the toys, take them away for a set period of time (eg 10 minutes). If they hit, then remove them from others for a period of time so they “can’t hurt anyone else”. Make sure you discuss these consequences in advance and remind them often, and make sure if you have done this, then you follow through all the time – consistency is key.