Working With Your Angry Child
“My son is 5, he is a very smart and determined little boy, but when he gets mad, he is really mad. He throws things, hits things (including me), screams at the top of his lungs, or says horrible things. I feel like a terrible parent, what do I do with him?”
Well let’s start with the basics, kids and adults alike just want to be loved and feel good. So when we don’t, we can struggle with how to express ourselves. Typically when a child becomes angry it is because he/she doesn’t know how to ask for what they need and/or accept the answer if you tell them no.
Many times with children, you can see the upset coming, if you can catch it before it becomes full blown you may save all of you a lot of pain. IF you can catch it, ask them to come and sit with you, have them climb on your lap, then talk with them about the good things they do/did and have done. Tell them that you can tell they are starting to get upset, and you know they are strong enough to find positive ways to ask for what they need. If they are unable to have what they are needing, this is ok as well. Talking with them about a logistical reason can help. We often don’t give kids the credit they deserve, as they are so much smarter than acknowledged for. Be honest with them (within reason and appropriateness).
If you child is still unable to keep it together and calm down, your number one responsibility is to stay calm and not join in the rage. This is SOOO hard, but try to allow them to express their anger. After they have calmed down, taken a nap, or enough time has gone by that we are past the upset, they will come around. Talk it over with them, ask what they could do different next time, and how you can do things better next time to support them. Then LET IT GO. Don’t rehash it, shame them, and embarrass them. Instead, let them know you know that the next time they are upset they will handle themselves differently.
Lastly, let’s talk about following through. First, don’t pull out the threats at the get go. If you are threatening to take important things away and holding that over their heads, eventually they will not find it as important and will stop sharing the things that are important to them with you. Secondly, only threaten to take away the important things when it is really severe and you have exhausted all other options. Start with space, then add an hour of quiet time, then add a couple of hours, and so on. IF it still doesn’t work, grounding for the day, 2 days, and then… missing the party, not going to a sleep over, etc, etc. My point is, transition into it. Stay calm and remember they have the same feelings adults do, they just are as familiar with them, and don’t know how to process and express them appropriately.
With calmness and love,
Lori Poland has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years specializing in trauma, attachment, relationship and families and children. Lori has extensive education and experience in infant mental health, child and adolescent and marriage and couples work. As Executive Director of EndCAN, Lori is dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect.
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