Child Development: 9 Ways to Help Kids Learn to Manage Anger
Diagnosing Anger-Management Issues in Children
When my 11-year-old son was 6 years old, I started noticing his inability to communicate or process his anger. He seemed to hold in his emotions all day at school and the second he stepped foot into our car to head home, he'd come unglued. A friendly hello, smile, question about his day, or kind look from his parents—the people he felt the safest with—was all it took to unleash the pent-up frustration he seemed to have inside. I knew he had a problem when he started throwing things and ripping up prized possessions, like his brother's artwork, that he knew was important.
At first, I thought something was horribly wrong at school. His teachers were surprised to hear my queries as they said my son was "perfectly behaved" all day long. The other carpool parents were equally as surprised and said he was their best behaved carpool kid and was mostly quiet as a mouse. I volunteered in the classroom and my husband watched from afar at recess to see if we could detect if anything was going on, such as bullying. All observations left us more confused as his school-day experience seemed to be nothing but positive.
Seeking Anger Management Help for Your Child
We finally visited with a therapist, who point blank asked my son whether he liked school or not. On a scale of from the ground (1, negative) to the sky (10, positive), he referred to school as "the clouds" (higher than a 10). A the same time, he identified some negative things taking place. What we discovered was that he was misunderstanding social cues. For example, if he said something funny and the kids in class started laughing, he thought they were laughing at him and that something was wrong with that. But, he'd hold in his embarrassment and wouldn't process or communicate any negative feelings he had during the day in an effort to protect his higher-than-a-10 school experience. The second he saw us and once away from the school, it was like a light would go off and he'd explode, letting out all the frustration he had bottled up throughout the day.
The therapist helped us to better understand our son as well as know how to talk to him. And, a couple of books were life saving as well. (See the Resources on Anger Management for Children section for more information.)
Differentiating Between Anger and Violence
We have learned a lot about helping our kids navigate their emotions since that time. One of the most important being to help your child learn to differentiate between the emotion and the behavior associated with the emotion. For example, anger, just like excitement, is a perfectly normal emotion to feel and children shouldn't be made to feel bad or choose to feel bad for having it. But just like you wouldn't want your child to inappropriately demonstrate her excitement, you also wouldn't want your child to act out on his anger in ways that hurt himself, others, or things around him.
Helping your child learn to identify their emotions and define the behaviors associated with them can be powerful. Once they are aware of the difference and are tuned in to what they are feeling, they can take steps to stopping unhealthy behaviors. Here are a few tips to help them gain awareness:
- Help them identify what triggers angry feelings in them. Help them recognize that anger often masks the feeling of fear, disrespect, embarrassment, failure, or other such emotions.
- Have them take note of and share with you the signs that tell them they are getting angry. Kids often get sick to their stomachs, get headaches, clench their fists, or perform other regular behavior when they start feeling angry. The sooner they can see this behavior in themselves, the sooner they can exit a potentially negative situation.
9 Tips to Helping Your Kids Prevent and Manager Their Anger
- Build their self esteem.
- Engage them in some physical activity.
- Encourage them to talk it out with you or with someone they trust. Make sure to have them express how they feel in a healthy, assertive way.
- Buy them a journal and have encourage them to write out their feelings.
- Have them do something constructive with their hands (something that wouldn't be harmful to others or to property).
- Have them count slowly to 100 (and backwards from 100 if they still need help calming down).
- Remind them to calm themselves down through positive self talk.
- Model positive behavior to your children, especially when it comes to managing anger in a healthy way.
- Monitor their video, TV, movie, and gaming. Ensure they view the least amount of violent behavior possible.
Resources on Anger Management for Children
I highly recommend two books we have used many times over the past 5 years: "How to Take the Grrrr Out of Anger," by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis and "A Volcano in My Tummy," By Eliane Whitehouse. I like these, because they are written on a level that is easily accessible for both children and adults. The former has simple lists, cartoon characters, and action steps for resolving anger issues. I have often read it together with my son or even have assigned him chapters to read on his own. The latter is more text heavy in parts, but has lesson plans great for group discussions (for classrooms or entire families) with simple, illustrated worksheets to help kids work through basic anger management tips.
Lots of online resources are available as well, including these posts/websites:
- Taking Charge of Anger found on KidsHealth.org
- Train Your Temper found on KidsHealth.org
- Anger Management for Every Age via BabyCenter.com
In addition, Signe Whitson, a licensed social worker with over 10 years of experience, the Chief Operating Officer at the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute, and author of "How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens," has shared these posts on helping children communicate effectively and deal with anger and passive agressive behavior:
- Communication: 3 Ways to Help Kids Develop Assertive Expression Skills
- Teenagers: 3 Ways to Help Kids Improve Their Communication Skills
- 5 Ways to Help You Interact Effectively With Your Daughter
- 3 Ways to Express Emotion Effectively
- Positive Parenting: Looking Beyond a Child's Surface Behavior
- Ways to Effectively Confront Passive Aggressive Behavior
- What is Your Anger Expression Style (Quiz)
What resources and tips do you have for helping children manage their anger and communicate effectively?