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Managing Anger in Children

 

All kids -- like all humans -- get angry. When we feel threatened, we move into fight, flight or freeze. Anger is the body's "fight" response. We also get angry in attempts to maintain our equilibrium. So when our own fear, hurt, disappointment, pain or grief are too upsetting, we tend to lash out. The anger doesn't get rid of the hurt, but it makes us feel less powerless and temporarily numbs the pain. This explains why anger is part of the grieving process. That's true for kids as well, of course. And because kids don't have a context for their upsets, a small disappointment can seem like the end of the world. Luckily, as children's brains develop, they gain the capacity to manage their anger constructively -- IF they live in a home where anger is handled in a healthy way.

But it's better for your child if you help him develop the ability to cope well with anger. Here are some strategies to use.

 

  • Start with yourself. If you're in the habit of shouting at your kids, know that you are modeling behavior that your child will certainly copy. Your child learns from watching you how to handle disagreements and conflict.

  • Set a good example. Children mimic adults so the way you handle your own anger and frustration is sure to affect your child. Model positive coping skills -- like doing something that calms you or getting away from a frustrating situation -- and your child is likely to do the same.

  • Talk it out. Calmly ask your child to explain what has caused her to become so angry. Talking through the issue can help children work through the anger and calm down. If he/she doesn't want to discuss it with you, she may feel comfortable "talking" to a pet, puppet, or imaginary friend.

  • Give comfort and affection. Let your little one know that you genuinely care about his situation and feelings. And never underestimate the power of a hug to make a child feel loved and accepted.

  • Don't send a child away to "calm down" by herself. Our goal when the child is angry or upset is to restore a sense of safety, which requires your calm presence. Remember that kids need your love most when they "deserve it least." Instead of a "time out," which gives kids the message that they're all alone with these big, scary feelings, try a "time in," during which you stay with your child and help him move through his feelings.

  • Praise good behavior. Let your child know that you notice when she deals with her anger in a positive way.

  • Restore connection. Your child needs to know that you understand and are there to help. If you know what's going on, acknowledge it