Many parents send angry children back to their room to “calm down.” After all, what else can they do? We certainly can’t reason with our children when they are furious. It’s no time to teach lessons or ask for an apology. They simply need to calm down first.
If we send an angry child to their room, that child will indeed calm down, eventually!
Meanwhile the child will also get some messages along the way such as:
- No one is listening to what’s upsetting him.
- No one is going to help him solve the problem he is experiencing.
- Anger is bad.
- He is being bad because he feel anger towards his parents.
- His anger scares his parents.
- He is on his own when it comes to managing his feelings in a responsible way as his parents don’t seem to know how to help him.
- When he is angry, the best thing to do is to stuff his feelings inside and be quiet. (Of course, that means they’re no longer under your conscious control, and will burst out again soon in so many way you cannot possibly imagine.)
Most of the feelings above if not all are bad. No wonder so many of us develop anger management issues earlier in our childhood that gets carried into our adulthood, whether that means we shout at our kids, throw tantrums with our partner, or over-eat to avoid acknowledging our anger.
But what can we do about it?
We can help our children learn to manage their anger responsibly to say the least.
Most of us have a hard time picturing what that looks like. Quite simply, responsible anger management begins with accepting our anger but refraining from acting on it by lashing out at others.
There’s always a way to express what we need without attacking the other person.
In fact, when we’re willing to stop and notice the deeper feelings under our anger, we find hurt, fear and sadness.
If we allow ourselves to feel those emotions, the anger melts away. It was only a reactive defence.
This is one of the most critical tasks of childhood, learning to tolerate the wounds of everyday life without moving into reactive anger.
People who can do this are able to work things out with others and manage themselves to achieve their goals therefore we call them emotionally intelligent beings!
Children develop emotional intelligence when we teach them that all their feelings are okay, but they always have a choice about how they act.
So how do you do that when your child gets angry?
# No fight or flight!
You read that right! Keep yourself from moving into “fight or flight” by taking a few deep breaths and reminding yourself that this is not an emergency situation.
This models emotional regulation and helps your child feel safer, so the child doesn’t have to fight so hard after all.
It goes without saying, listening is a skill. Try to see it from your child’s point of view.
Often, when children don’t feel heard, they escalate and go into a frenzy.
By contrast, when your children feels understood, they will begin to feel calmer even when they don’t get their own way.
Always acknowledge the anger, and the upset underneath that. The more compassionate you can be, the more likely your children will find their way to the tears and fears under the anger: “Oh, luv, I’m sorry this is so hard…You’re saying I don’t understand you…that must feel so terrible and lonely.”
Remember, you do not have to agree, and more importantly you don’t have to disagree either. Just acknowledge the truth in the moment. Once your children will feel heard, their dynamics of truth will shift.
# Don’t be offended
Don’t get hooked by rudeness and personal attacks, your children are your own flesh and blood after all.
Parents are often hurt and take personal offence when their children scream or shout at them.
But your child doesn’t actually hate you, or want a new mom or dad, or whatever the child is screaming for.
You child feels hurt and scared and powerless, so he is pulling out the most upsetting thing he can think of, so you’ll know how upset he is.
You can respond by saying something like “Ouch! You must be so upset to say that to me. You know you can always tell me why you’re upset. I’m always listening.”
Your child is not “behaving badly” or “winning” he’s showing you in the best way he can in that moment just how upset he is.
As he realises that he doesn’t have to raise his voice or go on the attack to be heard, he’ll develop the capacity to express his feelings more appropriately over time.
# Knowing the limits
Set whatever limits are necessary to keep everyone safe, while acknowledging the anger and staying compassionate. “You’re so upset! You can be as angry as you want, and hitting is still not OK, no matter how upset you are. You can stomp to show me how angry you are but, No hitting!”
#Knowing the situation
If your child is already in a full meltdown, do not talk and empathise to reassure him that he’s safe. Don’t try to teach, reason or explain.
When he’s awash in adrenaline and other ‘fight or flight’ reactions it’s not the time to explain why he can’t have what he wants, or get him to admit that he actually loves her little sister.
Your only job in that moment is to calm the storm!
Just acknowledge how upset he is: “You are so upset about this…I’m sorry it’s so hard, when you’re ready we can talk.”
# Understanding the dynamics
Did you know that tantrums are nature’s way of helping immature brains let off steam?
Children don’t yet have the frontal cortex neural pathways to control themselves as we adults do. (And please note that we don’t always manage our own anger very well, even as adults!)
The best way to help children develop those neural pathways is to offer empathy, while they’re angry and any time they’re upset.
It’s actually good for our children to express those tangled, angry, hurt feelings.
After we support our kids through a tantrum, they feel closer to us and more trusting. They feel less wound up inside, so they can be more emotionally generous. They aren’t as rigid and demanding.
# Knowing our own self
Anger is only a defence against threat. It comes from our “fight, flight or freeze” response.
We often overreact as if our child is a threat because we’re carrying around old stuffed emotions like hurt, fear or sadness, and whatever’s happening in the moment triggers those old feelings.
In other words, your angry child really is not a threat to your safety or well-being.
This also explains why your child overreacts with rage to something minor, while your child may be super threatened by something in the moment, it may also be that he’s lugging around a full emotional backpack, and just needs to express those old tears and fears.
A new disappointment can feel like the end of the world to a child, because all those old feelings come up rushing at the same time.
# Making it easier
Make it safe for your child to move past anger.
If they feel safe expressing their anger, and we meet that anger with compassion, the anger will begin to melt.
So while we accept our children’s anger, it isn’t the anger that is healing. It’s the expression of the tears and fears beneath the anger that washes out the hurt and sadness and makes the anger vanish.
That’s because once your child shows you those more vulnerable feelings, the anger is no longer necessary as a defence.
# Give surety
Stay as close as possible. Your children need an accepting witness who loves them even when they are angry.
If you need to move away to stay safe, tell him “I’m keeping us both safe, so I’m moving back a bit, but I am right here and whenever you’re ready for a hug, I’m right here.”
If he yells at you to “Go away!” say “You’re telling me to go away, so I am moving back, ok? I won’t leave you alone with these scary feelings, but I’m moving back.”
# Your own safety first
Keep yourself safe. Kids often benefit from pushing against us when they’re upset, so if you can tolerate it and stay compassionate at the same time, that’s fine to allow.
But if your child is hitting you, move away!
If he pursues you, hold his wrist while keeping your tone completely normal and say;
“I don’t think I want that angry fist so close to me. I see how angry you are. You can push against my hands, but no hurting, I am always up for a chat why don’t we talk and see if we can resolve this problem by working on it together? How does that sound to you?”
Our children don’t really want to hurt us it scares them and makes them feel guilty. Most of the time, when we move into compassion mode and they feel heard, they normally stop their hitting business and start crying business instead and that’s when you have to assure them that everything is OK and you are there for them.
# Be tolerant
Don’t try to evaluate whether they are over reacting. Yes of course they are!
Remember that children experience daily hurts and fears that they can’t verbalise and that we don’t even notice. They store them up and then look for an opportunity to “discharge” them.
If your kid has a meltdown over their favourite cup and there is no way you could go up to your car to get it out, it’s OK to just lovingly welcome his meltdown. Most of the time, it isn’t about the cup, or whatever the child is demanding.
When children get cranky, whinge and impossible to please, they usually just need to cry to reset themselves back to their earlier happier state.
# Start the acknowledgement
Acknowledging his anger will help him calm down a bit. Then help him get under the anger by softening yourself.
If you can really feel compassion for this struggling young person, she’ll feel it and respond.
Don’t analyse, just empathise, You really wanted that; I’m so sorry, you’re the best boy/girl.” Once you recognise the feelings under their anger, they will more than likely pause and stop lashing out.
You’ll see some vulnerability or even tears. You can help them surface those feelings by focusing on the original trigger:
“I’m so sorry you can’t have the _____ you want at this time luv. I’m sorry you find this unpleasant.”
When our loving compassion meets their wound or hurt, that’s when they collapse into our arms for a good cry. And all those upset feelings evaporate.
# Talk and avoid lectures
After the child is calmed down, you can have a chat while resisting your urge to lecture at the same time.
Tell a story to help him put this big wave of emotion in context.
“Those were some strong feelings…everyone needs to cry sometimes…You wanted….I said no…You were very disappointed…You got so angry….You were sad and disappointed….Thank you for showing me how you felt….”
If your child is not interested and just wants to change the subject, let him.
You can circle back to bring closure later in the day or at bedtime, while you’re tucking them in.
Most young children WANT to hear the story of how they got mad and cried, as long as it’s a story told in a way that they don’t connect it with a lecture.
It simply helps them understand themselves, and makes them feel heard.
# Be Influential
What about teaching? You don’t have to do as much as you think. Your child knows what he did was wrong.
It was those big feelings that made your child feel like it was an emergency, so he had to break the rule about being kind.
By helping your child with the emotions, you’re making a repeat infraction less likely to occur.
Wait until after the emotional closure, when you’re reconnected, and even then, then keep it simple.
Recognise the fact that your child wants to make a better choice next time, and align with that part.
No shame and blame will ever work long term. Be sure to give your child a chance to practice a better solution to his problem.
“When we get really angry, like you were angry at your sister, we forget how much we love the other person. They look like they’re our enemy. Am I Right? We all get angry like that and when we are very angry, we feel like hitting and hurting the other person that we should love, and later once we are calmer we’re sorry that we hurt someone we dearly loved. We wish we could have sat down and used our words to resolve the problem. I wonder what else you could you have said or done, instead of hitting?”
Accepting emotions like this is the beginning of resilience.
Gradually, your child will internalise the ability to weather disappointment, and learn that he can’t always get what he wants, but he can always get something better, someone who loves and accepts all of him, including the yucky parts like disappointment and anger.
He’ll have learned that emotions aren’t dangerous after all and they can be tolerated without acting on them, until they pass.
Gradually, he’ll learn to to verbalise his feelings and needs without attacking the other person even when he’s furious.
You’ll have taught him how to manage his emotions. And you’ll have strengthened, rather than eroded, your bond with him. All by taking a deep breath and staying compassionate in the face of rage.
Sounds saintly, we know, and you won’t always be able to pull it off.
But every time you do, you’ll be helping your child grow the neural pathways for a more emotionally intelligent brain. And you’ll be gifting yourself a lot less drama to deal with and a whole lot more love to gain.
Get your job started today
Post a Child Minding Job now & get live quotes from your local helpers!