Managing Anger: helping your child to learn how to calm down

Seeing your child angry and distressed can lead most parents to feel a sense of powerlessness. You may have tried a number of different approaches to help your child calm down to no avail.

In this blog we will be looking at the topic of anger in children in more detail and also some tools to help you feel like you can support your child during those difficult times when they feel out of control.

What is anger?

Anger is a normal and core emotion and we all experience this as a normal part of life. It is not unusual for your child to feel angry from time to time. Anger can also be a response to threatening circumstances or loss. It can be a secondary emotion to sadness or loneliness.

All children can become angry but if a child is becoming frequently angry or the severity of their angry outbursts are a concern then this highlights an area that they could benefit from further support.

The physical response to anger is the heart beats faster, their breathing is affected (can be shortness of breath). Your child might also experience tension in their body and feel their stomach churns.

Why might my child be experiencing anger that they are struggling to control?

Often children with anger problems may have other underlying difficulties such as with communication and it is useful for these needs to be addressed and supported in the home and at school.

Bullying and friendship problems can also be factors that can be considered if your child is displaying angry and out of control behaviour. They may be feeling stressed or fearful about a situation. It can be helpful to talk to them and to their teachers to gather further information that may shed light on this.

Behaviours are a form of communication and if your child is losing control when they become angry and is destructive and aggressive this suggests they do not have the skills to manage their emotions.

When children lose control of their anger this can be detrimental to their relationships with their peers, other family members and at school.

How to manage anger: tips to help your child calm down

  • It can be helpful to support your child to develop their abilities to problem solve and manage conflicts. This can be through discussion going over scenario’s and also reinforcing their efforts. Supporting your child to utilise assertiveness rather than becoming aggressive.
  • If your child has had an angry outburst it is recommended that you wait until they are calm before approaching them to talk and reflect on the episode.
  • It can be helpful to look at what the triggers are for the angry episodes for your child. Do they become irritable when hungry, is it after school when they are tired? Are they bored or upset? It can sometimes be in response to a request to do a task/chore? This can help you identify patterns and perhaps put strategies in place such as providing a snack immediately after school or giving them a countdown of 20 minutes before you want them to help set the table.
  • Help your child to also identify their triggers independently and what they can do to calm down at these times (breathing exercise, counting backwards to 10, going to a quiet place, going to their room, doing a physical activity).
  • It is helpful to encourage your child to discuss and support them in labelling their emotions and help them identify the physical signs of anger (heart racing, feeling tense). This increases emotional literacy and helps them develop an understanding of how they are feeling and is part of the building blocks for emotional self-regulation for your child.
  • Modelling calm behaviour to your child and demonstrating how you want them to deal with stressors is one of the most effective ways of helping your child to manage their anger. Actions are more powerful than words and your child is observing you and taking their cue from you too. If you can manage your anger around your child they will also be able to learn from this.
  • When discussing the angry outburst it can be helpful to ask questions and support your child to see things from the perspective of others. This can also help them to develop empathy towards their peers and other people.
  • In order to support you child it can be helpful to reinforce the behaviour you want to see more of (for example they are being helpful) by giving verbal praise and having reward charts. Consequences that are brief should also be in place such as withdrawing privileges and this is most helpful when it is in the moment, relevant and in proportion to the behaviour.
  • Creating a home environment and relationship that demonstrates consistency and calmness can be very beneficial for your child.
  • Keeping your child engaged in activities and reducing boredom or downtime can be helpful if your child is more energetic or seeks activity.
  • Mindfulness techniques are becoming more popular within the mainstream. It is becoming recognised that these techniques can help not only develop mental wellbeing but also help your child become more grounded in the moment. Your child may learn to feel more relaxed and calmer.

In summary we have looked at anger in children and what could be leading to your child feeling out of control when they feel angry or irritable. A number of techniques you can use to support your child have been mentioned and these can be useful to support your child.

Please leave any comments to let me know what you find helpful with your child when they feel angry? What helps them calm down?

Recommended reading: 

Greene, R. W. (2014). The explosive child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children. Harper Paperbacks.

Whitehouse, E. & Pudney, W. (1996). A volcano in my tummy: Helping children to handle anger: A resource book for parents, caregivers and teachers. New Society Publishers.

Huebner, D. & Mathews, B. (2007). What to do when your temper flares: A. kids guide to overcoming problems with anger. Magination Press.



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