angry child sits of pavement shouting

How to Respond to an Angry Child – A Step-by-Step Guide

This post about responding to an angry child  follows on from my previous post Anger in Children – What’s Really Going On?  You might find it helpful to read it first.

 

To be honest, angry people scare me.  I feel myself shutting down when one of my children starts shouting and stamping at me.   I don’t know what to do when another person is angry because I’ve never been allowed to get angry myself.  As a child, my anger was judged as “disrespectful”.  As a teacher, I had to “be professional”, always calm and reasonable.  In romantic relationships, my anger has often been ignored.

I know I’m not the only one whose anger has been silenced.  It is socially unacceptable to express anger, for women in particular.  But, when unacknowleged and unexplored, anger can become harmful to us, turning into depression, addiction and any number of illnesses & destructive behaviours.  Although our behaviour may be “unreasonable” when we get angry, we get angry for a reason that is asking to be addressed.  When I realised this, I was able to stop judging my boys for their anger and begin to learn how to help them through it.

 

STEPPING THROUGH ANGER – THE PROCESS

I wanted to find a way to allow my boys their feelings and empathise with their perspective while also upholding one of our highest values – respect for others.   I have found that the best thing to do in angry moments is to get really present.  This helps me to tune in to what’s really going on with my boys when they can’t understand and express how they’re feeling for themselves.

It also helps me to remind myself that, once we reach anger, most of us, no matter how old we are, are not in a position to be reasoned with.  So we cannot appeal to our child’s reason in the midst of their anger and we have to help them to get through it before we help them to learn from it.  So, here’s how I have started going about this –

  1. Acknowledge how your child is feeling. Eg. “You’re disappointed that you can’t go to James’ house today, you really wanted to go”.   If we only see anger and we’re not sure at this stage what our child’s primary emotion is, (the real reason they’re angry), we can acknowledge their anger.
  2. Allow your child their feeling. Don’t try to talk them out of being angry, distract them from it or criticise them for it. Being with them through all emotions is the nature of unconditional love.   This can be hard to do, especially in the company of others because we often feel embarrassed that all eyes are on us to see how we’re going to deal with our “naughty child”.  In such moments, I focus on staying present with my child as if no one else were around.
  3. If your child becomes disrespectful, either verbally or physically, state the expectation. Eg.  “It’s not ok to hit your brother, it hurts”.  We need to be brief here, not letting the setting of this boundary distract us from what’s really going on for our child.
  4. Give your child what they need to get through their anger. Some need a hug, others need space. My Thomas responds well to the assurance of a cuddle and calms himself down quite quickly on my lap.  My Jake needs space and only gets more enraged if I engage with him about the situation, so I might say to him, “I’ll be in the kitchen and we can talk about it more when you’re ready”.
  5. Help your child to understand and cope with their primary feeling. Once they are calm, they are in a better position to talk about what was going on for them.  Their primary feeling is the one that looked like anger but was actually something else. Eg. I find that my boys’ anger is often actually towards themselves when they feel regretful about how they have behaved.  So, in such a situation, they may really be wanting to apologise or make good with the other person.  Here our children can begin to learn how their emotions are their spiritual barometers (More on this in my post Anger in Children).
  6. Identify a strategy our child can use to calm themself down when they feel themselves getting angry in future.  Here, we can emphasise that it’s important to express their anger but that they need to do so respectfully.  We can offer suggestions, but, our child chooses for themself a way to calm down so they’re able to share their feelings respectfully.  Eg. asking for a hug, going to their room and having it out on a pillow, doing something they enjoy eg. bike ride or Lego, taking 5 slow tummy breaths.  In future, we can remind them of it at step 4.

Throughout this process we are not trying to control our children or to punish them but to teach them how to manage their anger and its underlying emotion.  How we go about each step will depend on our child’s stage of development and particular needs.  We also need to take a long-term approach, not expecting that, having gone through these steps with them a couple of times, that they will be able to manage their emotions independently – that’s our intention for our 18-year-olds but probably not our 5-year-olds.   And helping anyone in a state of anger is rarely neat and tidy.  I hope this framework is helpful but, in a state of presence, we ultimately each need to follow what our intuition tells us to do in the moment.

 

IN SUMMARY – BECOMING UNSTUCK

No more hiding from angry children for me.  No more punishing, placating, pleading and all those other things I used to do because I didn’t know how to respond to their anger.  I’ve found that taking this time to write a few posts about anger has made me far more comfortable with it and has enlightened me as to what would really help my boys when they’re angry.  I will leave you with this quote –

“The more you try to push a child’s unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them.  The more comfortably you can accept the bad feelings, the easier it is for kids to let go of them”.  A. Faber & E Mazlish, “How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk”, p42

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – Do you have a strategy for helping angry children to share with us?  Comment below.

 

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