Responding to Anger in Children
To a certain degree, angry outbursts in childhood are typical developmental experiences and learning to manage these emotions is a normal part of growing up. However, when the anger persists or is extreme, there may be an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. There may be external factors such as family, friendships, or school transitions, but there are also internal factors to consider. For example, thoughts and feelings related to anxiety and a depressed mood can often present as anger in childhood.
To best support your child who is struggling with regulating feelings of anger, consider the following:
1. Remain calm and confident when interacting with your child. Validate their feelings of anger.
2. Model what a healthy expression of anger looks like. Verbalize the thought process in a developmentally appropriate manner so your child can learn through observation. For example, when playing a game together talk about how frustrating it can be to lose. Go on to talk about ways to manage that frustration, such as “I am going to take a deep breath first” or even stretch and shake the anger out. While role modelling an appropriate way to manage anger, try to encourage your child to see different perspectives, such as what it would be like if one person always won or lost.
3. Encourage your child to relax by using strategies such as deep, slow breathing, taking time to calm down in another room if necessary, or using distraction techniques.
4. Collaborate and identify external causes that may be contributing to your child’s anger. If possible, find solutions to reduce the impact these factors are having.
5. Consistently praise appropriate behaviour.
6. Help your child learn about their emotions and encourage body awareness. Encourage your child to share what sorts of feelings and thoughts they are having.
7. Develop problem-solving skills, including how to manage anger in appropriate ways. These ways can include mindfulness and breathing techniques, visualizations, exercise, creative means, and explaining anger to others when it will not lead to an outburst.
8. Ask for help. A psychologist or counsellor can work with you to create some strategies that are a good fit for your child and family.
Holding a safe, consistent, and calm space for your child are great first steps in supporting them in regulating their anger. From this safe base, strategies that are the best fit for your child can be identified and worked on.
Breathing exercises for children with anxiety and/or anger: https://www.mindfulmazing.com/10-breathing-exercises-for-kids-with-anxiety-or-anger/
Activities for parents and kids: https://parentswithconfidence.com/anger-management-activities-kids/
Child Mind Institute. (n.d.). Angry kids: Dealing with explosive behavior. https://childmind.org/article/angry-kids-dealing-with-explosive-behavior/
Sukhodolsky, D. G., Smith, S. D., McCauley, S. A., Ibrahim, K., & Piasecka, J. B. (2016). Behavioural interventions for anger, irritability, and aggression in children and adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 26(1), 58-64. https://doi.org/10.1089/cap.2015.0120