Posted: January 7th, 2011 by Michele Borba
Parenting advice if your child has anger issues or bullies due to inability to handle impulses. Tips to help kids find healthier ways to control intense feelings, aggression and inappropriate outbursts
Shouts and screams
Ticked off at the littlest thing
Quick to anger
Low frustration threshold
Sound familiar? They are typical behaviors of quick-to-anger kids. But don’t forget that anger isn’t always displayed as an outbursts. Some kids hold their intense feelings inside.
Anger is normal, but how a child displays anger can be appropriate or inappropriate. My goal is always to help parents teach children healthier habits to deal with upset feelings and anger. Teaching kids a new way to cope with their intense feelings is not easy–especially if they have been in the habit of using a quick temper to deal with their frustrations. But it is doable. Here are steps and strategies to help your child learn healthier ways to display anger and cope with upset feelings.
Step 1. Identify Your Child’s Anger Warnings
Explain to your child that we all have our own little signs that warn us we’re getting angry, and that we should listen to them because they can help us stay out of trouble.
Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs she may have that tell her she’s starting to get upset. For example: “Looks like you’re tense. Your hands are in a fist. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?” Other signs:
Each child has different signs.
The key is to identify your child’s unique anger signs.
Anger escalates quickly. If a kid waits until he is in “Melt down” to get himself back into control, he’s too late—and so are you to try and help him. Watch for your child’s signs! They come split seconds before that meltdown.
Each of us have our own unique “anger warnings” and your child is no different. If you want proof, ask your child what your sign is.
Believe me, most kids chime in and identify their parents’ signs: “You always do that weird thing with your eyes, Mom!” Or “You always put your glasses down on your nose, Dad!”
Kids know our signs. The trick is helping them recognize their signs.
Step 2. Recognize Potential Anger Triggers
Every kid has certain cues that trigger deeper frustrations and unresolved conflicts that may resort in angry outbursts. For example: Your child may feel unappreciated in your family, may feel inadequate in a competitive classroom environment, or may suffer from low self-esteem.
The key is to identify what causes the anger in your kid and help him be aware of it when it occurs. What are your child’s unique anger triggers?
Once you create that list, ask yourself if anything on there can be reduced or cut so as to temper that anger. For instance:
Can you and your spouse vow to have those arguments in the backyard or elsewhere and not in front of the kids?
If that violent video game seems to be triggering your child’s outbursts, what about replacing it with a healthier alternative?
If your child is too upset on that soccer team, does he really need to play?
Watch for your child’s unique triggers that cause him to be irritable, frustrated and upset. Cut those things that can be reduced.
Step 3. 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 emotion vocabulary to express how they feel, and you can help your kid develop one.
Here are a few emotion words: angry, upset, mad, frustrated, agitated, furious, apprehensive, tense, nervous, anxious, irritated, furious, ticked off, irate.
When your child is angry, use the words so that he can apply them to real life:
“Looks like you’re really angry. Want to talk about it?”
“You seem really irritated. Do you need to walk it off?”
Your goal is to have your child be able to label his upset feelings to you – without the inappropriate outburst. And when he does, acknowledge and reinforce it!
You will have to honor your child when he does share an upset feeling, “I’m so angry!!!” Let him vent. It’s better to share the emotion then to hit or have an outburst. He needs someway to express those angry feelings appropriately!
Hint: If your child is nonverbal, you may want to consider teaching a nonverbal gesture or sign language to help him express the feelings.
Step 4. Teach Healthy Anger Management Skills
There are many strategies that kids can learn to help reduce intense, unhealthy anger. Not all strategies work for all kids. The secret is to find the technique that works best for your child and then practice, practice, practice until it becomes a habit.
Here a few of the most successful anger management techniques I’ve taught kids.
~ Tear anger away.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.
~ Use self-talk. Teach a simple, positive message your child can say to himself in angry moments. For example, “Stop and calm down.” “Stay in control.” Or “I can handle this.”
~ Teach abdominal breath control. Teach the method with your kid sitting in a comfortable position, her back straight and pressed into a chair for support. Show your child how to inhale slowly to a count of five, pause for two counts, then slowly breathe out the same way, again counting to five. Repeating the sequence creates maximum relaxation.
~ 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.”
~ Don’t rule out creativity! Some of the best ways to kid’s anger are not in any psych book. I visited a special education classroom and saw one of the most innovative anger management techniques. The teacher tied bungy cords to the bottom of the a ten-year old’s desk. The girl’s body was in constant movement. Anger outbursts were frequent and uncontrollable. The child put her feet on the cords to soothe her vibrations and reduce the stress. And they worked!
~ Draw away your anger. Another teacher found giving a young boy sketch pad helped him “draw away his anger.” Some kids then take the paper depicting their anger, tear it into tiny pieces and toss it away.
Find what works for your child to calm down. Then turn that new way into a habit!
Step 5. Use time Out When Inappropriate Anger Persists
Children who are quick to anger often need an adult to help calm them down. So create a place where your child can go to regulate his behavior. I suggest you ask your child to help create that spot. A child must be removed from any social setting for aggressive behavior (that’s “Time Out”).Remember to stay calm yourself.
If you yell or scold, an angry child only gets angrier. Your child needs you to stay in control so he can stay in control.
Just calmly state: “That’s hitting. You can’t hit when you’re angry. You need to go to Time Out.” (Or call it the “Calm Down” spot).
Step 6. Create “Time In” Spots to Help Alleviate Outbursts
Replacing inappropriate anger is a slow process. An angry child needs much more “Time Ins” (positives moments) than “Time Outs.” Look for those moments to acknowledge your child’s attempts — even fleeting ones — to try and stay in control.
Your ultimate goal is for the child to recognize he is getting upset and needs to take his own “Time Out.” Help your child create a spot where he can go to “stress down” or “relax.” Better yet, have your child create his own spot! When that stress starts to kick in, you or your child recognizes those anger sign showing up, or your child is in a situation or with people who often trigger his outbursts, give him an out.
“Easy to anger” kids can go from Code Green to Code Red in seconds. Stay calm and direct him to a “stress-free zone” or a place that is away from the stress scene. Remember, your own anger or stress can trigger your child’s anger. Kids mirror our behavior.
I suggest to parents that they set up a spot that is quiet but not punishing. Set it up (your kid can help) with a beanbag, an MP3 player with soothing music, playdoh, a koosh ball–anything your child feels is helpful and calming. Encourage your child to go to that “calm down” spot.
And when your child says, “I’m getting angry!” celebrate! He is beginning to learn self-control!
If anger persists, becomes more intense, is a safety issues or is impacting your relationship with your child or his relationship with others, seek the help of a mental health professional. Something else could be causing this problem.
Learning anger management skills to replace those inappropriate outbursts and aggression may take time. Hang in there!
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.
You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips in my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
For more specific solutions, anger signs to watch for in your child, the stages and ages of anger development in child, latest research on anger, please refer to The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
Portions of this article were adapted from the chapter, “Anger” in this book.