Posted: August 7th, 2009 by Michele Borba
REALITY CHECK: Does your child have difficulty controlling his anger? Does he resort to using aggressive behaviors such as biting, hitting, spitting or fighting? Does he yell or quickly lose control? If so, you’re not alone. Over the years I’ve received hundreds questions from parents, and by far the largest number deal with how to help kids handle anger.
Yelling. Fighting. Hitting. Tantrums. Biting. Sound familiar? They are typical behaviors of quick-to-anger children. But don’t forget that anger isn’t always displayed as an outburst—some kids hold their intense feelings inside. Unreleased anger and pent-up frustrations can lead to anxiety and even depression.
Here are a few signs that your child may have an “anger issue”:
- Frequent angry outbursts, even over minor issues
- Unable to explain feelings when upset
- Trouble calming down when frustrated or upset even to the point of hyperventilating
- Resorts to using physical aggression such as hitting, fighting, kicking, shouting, spitting, swearing, tantrum
- Doesn’t seem to care about animals’ or people’s feelings
- Doesn’t accept responsibility for his aggression; blames others
- Needs reminders, coaxing or reprimands to control temper
- Trouble bouncing back from frustrations
- Acts without thinking
- Behaves recklessly
- Super sullen, silent and holds in feelings
- Talks, writes or draws pictures about violence
If you want your kid to handle anger more appropriately then he must learn substitute behaviors to relieve that pent-up energy. Some parents swear that learning the deep breathing yoga techniques helped their kids manage their anger. The trick is to find what works for your child so he can learn how to take control of his temper and use the same tip each and every time. Each child is different so it’s best to use the trial and error approach: teach a strategy and then watch to see how your child responds. If the strategy and your child seem to “click” then focus on that one technique by practicing it again and again until your child can use it alone. That may take time, so hang in there. You should see a gradual diminishment of the anger as your child gains self-control and applies the “anger replacer” skill.
Here are a few solutions that help kids handle their hot feelings in healthier ways:
1. Develop a feeling vocabulary. Many kids display aggression such as kicking, screaming, hitting, biting because they simply don’t know how to express their frustrations any other way. They need an emotional vocabulary to express how they feel, and you can help your kid develop one. Here are a few words to start with: angry, upset, mad, frustrated, agitated, furious, apprehensive, tense, nervous, anxious, irritated, furious, ticked off, irate. Once your child learns emotion words, encourage him to “talk out his anger.” Beware: Your child might yell, “I’m really angry!” Or blurt out: “You make me so mad.” Do not discipline him. It’s exactly what you want him to do so he learns to express his anger instead of lashing out or holding the anger in.
2. Use self-talk. Teach a simple, positive message your child can say to himself in stressful situations. For example: “Stop and calm down,” “Stay in control,” “I can handle this.”
3. Pound it out. Pound clay, hit a pillow, shoot baskets, punch a punching bag, throw rocks at a wall (away from people), hit a wall with a foam bat. Help your child find the most effective way to calm his temper, and then encourage him to use the technique.
4. Go to a calm spot. Ask your child to help you set up a place where he can go to gain control. Put a few soothing things such as books, music, pens, and paper, and then encourage him to use the spot to cool down.
5. Tear your anger into little pieces. Tell your child to draw or write what is upsetting him on a piece of paper. Then tear it into little pieces and “throw the anger away.” He can also use the concept by imaging that his anger is slowly leaving him in little pieces.
6. Teach: “Stop and breathe.” Show your child how to inhale slowly to a count of five, pause for two counts, and then slowly breathe out the same way, again counting to five. Repeating the sequence creates maximum relaxation and reduces stress that can turn into anger.
7. Teach “1 + 3 + 10”. Explain the formula: “As soon as you feel your body sending you a warning sign that says you’re losing control, do three things. First, stop and say: ‘Be calm.’ That’s 1. Now take three deep, slow breaths from your tummy. That’s 3. Finally, count slowly to ten inside your head. That’s 10. Put them all together and you have 1 + 3 + 10, and doing it helps you calm down and get back in control.” (Teach a younger child use DRAGON BREATHS. Blow your anger out just like a dragon!)
8. Imagine a calm place. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. The second your child feels his body warning signs kick in, tell him to close his eyes and imagine the spot, while breathing slowly.
Calming a hot-temper is not only teachable, but also essential for growing up in a sometimes violent, unpredictable world. Besides, eliminating this behavior will do absolute wonders in creating not only a child who is far more enjoyable to be with, but also a more peaceful family. If you’re consistent you’ll be able to help your kid learn a healthier way to handle his anger. So don’t wait and don’t give up! (And one more thing…make sure you are calm when you teach your child the tip!)
Get more Parenting Solutions by following @MicheleBorba on Twitter or at http://www.micheleborba.com.
Portions of this article are adapted from Michele Borba’s latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) which is available for order now: