Everyone has to deal with feelings of anger and frustration at times. While these feelings are normal, it is important to teach kids how to appropriately deal with them. Parents and kids can work as a team to come up with strategies for these situations.
Unfortunately, many kids have never been given the opportunity to think of those other ways to calm down. They keep getting into trouble because the only behaviors they know are inappropriate ways to express their anger.
Working together to prepare a plan in advance will help children learn how to calm down and discuss why the feelings occurred. Once the child chooses his ‘calm down’ technique, encourage him to use the same strategy each time he starts to get angry.
Here are some examples of this technique for each age group.
The Toddler Years (ages 0-2)
Prepare: Observe what calms your child. Is it snuggling up with a parent? What toys does he play with quietly? Make note of what is calming for your child and use these activities later when the child is upset.
Act: Children of this age do not understand their feelings. When the child becomes frustrated and angry, use one calming technique you observed. Sing a song, snuggle up with a book, get out a new toy, or start a new activity. Remain calm yourself and use a soothing voice while speaking to the child.
Discuss: Think about what caused the child’s anger and discuss with other caregivers what may be common frustrations for your child. If a toy is causing the child to become angry, simply remove it. If the child was overtired or hungry, adjust meals and bedtime. During the toddler years, tantrums are normal and may happen frequently. Try to remember this is one of the ways that toddlers are able to communicate their feelings. Be patient and know that this stage will pass as the child matures and their vocabulary develops.
The Preschool Years (ages 3-5)
Prepare: On a calm day, talk with your preschooler about different types of feelings, giving names to them. Some find a chart or photos helpful when explaining. Discuss appropriate behavior when angry and talk about actions to help them calm down. Calming suggestions for preschoolers may include drawing a picture, playing with cars, doing a simple puzzle, singing and dancing to music, running, jumping, or hugs. Sherrie Hoffman of Hiawatha, KS says “With my five year old, slow deep breaths help. Then, when he can talk, we discuss what has upset him.”
Act: When feelings of anger begin, ask them, in a calm voice, to try one of the techniques discussed earlier. Remind them you will talk about it when they are calm. Do not feed into their actions unless they are working on becoming calm.
Discuss: Later, ask the child to share why they became angry and come up with ideas of how to prevent the situation in the future. Remind them it is normal to feel angry at times and let them know you are proud of the way they used the techniques to calm down.
The School Years (ages 6-11)
Prepare: Discuss common triggers for your child and come up with a plan of how to handle them.Talk about the difference between appropriate and inappropriate anger. Like the preschool age, come up with a technique that helps calm the child and plan to use it when needed. Ideas for this age group could include: going to their bedroom and listening to their favorite music, kicking a soccer ball, swinging on the swingset, or screaming into a pillow.
Act: When your child becomes angry, calmly let them know that you see they are upset and would like to talk about it when they are calm. “We don’t talk about a problem until they are calm and if they get worked up while explaining what is wrong then we take deep breaths until they are calm again.” says Rachael Kennedy, mother of five.
Discuss: When the child has calmed down, listen to their frustrations. Let them know it is okay to feel angry and praise them for handling it well. Ask them what could have been different and come up with solutions as a team.
The Teen Years (ages 12 years and up)
Prepare: At this age the child may be aware of what sets them off and so may the parent. Try to problem solve how to avoid situations that make them angry. Come up with ways that they can calm down on their own. Ideas for this age include taking a walk, tidying up their room, listening to music, journaling, taking a shower or bath, or calling a friend to vent.
Act: Calmly mention that you see they are angry and ask them to please take a break from the situation until they can calm down. Give them space unless they want to talk and be patient. If appropriate, leave them alone in house to calm down.
Discuss: Later after everyone is ready, discuss what happened. Problem solve what a solution could be now or in the future. Come to a compromise about what could be different and ask them for as much input as possible.
The goal of these techniques is to teach kids that all feelings are normal, even anger. Teaching these techniques gives kids the tools they need to deal with anger in an appropriate way and teaches them how to use problem solving to work through a frustrating situation.
It is no secret that our behavior as parents affects our kids. How a parent deals with feelings of anger can have a huge impact on how our children will react when they feel angry. Here are some tips to model appropriate behavior when those feelings occur:
Tips to Help Parents Cool Down
Take some deep breaths
Keep a calm voice
Use calm body language (no slamming doors or stomping around)
Diffuse anger by doing a calming activity (tidy up, take a walk, splash water on your face)
Fake it until you make it
Make a commitment in advance to keep your cool
Think about how your actions affect your kids
Acknowledge that it is normal for children to push your buttons
Try to see the humor in the situation
Words by Sarah Lyons
Photos by Jesse Brown Nelson
Thank you to Ms. Emmalie for coming to our photo studio and causing a ruckus with some very good screams!