How to Help An Angry Child

Right out of the gate you have to do two things. If you are dealing with an angry child, the first thing you need to do is stop and take a big deep breath. When your child’s emotions are high, it is pretty easy to get ramped up yourself.

Your child is in chaos, doesn’t matter what his age is, if he’s not an adult his brain is still growing and most of the time he’s not in control of what’s Happening. You need to bring peace and calm to the table when your child is angry even if you don’t necessarily understand or have a handle on what is happening.

The second thing of the really important things you must do is accept his feelings. It doesn’t mean that his feelings are right, or okay, or the way he is dealing with his feelings are okay. But you have to accept the fact that he has the feeling and it is coming from somewhere. Again, you don’t have to agree with him, but you have to believe that he has feelings and that is okay.

After you’ve had an opportunity to calm down and get a moment too again just sending your brain around the fact that your child’s emotions are valid, it’s time to figure out what you can do to help him.

First, let’s try and take a look to see if we can figure out what is happening, and why. Don’t get frustrated if this is very difficult, or even impossible, because your child is mad. They are not in a rational state and they may be completely unable to help you.

Further, many childhood eruptions or explosions of anger have been in situations that are long and separate from whatever it is that is actually at the root of the emotional implosion. So if you can figure out what’s going on or what’s causing it, great. That will give you a leg up on what’s going on and then what you can do to help your child. But if you can’t, no big deal, you will just pay close attention in the future to see if there are any correlations between certain events and big blow ups.

Another thing that I would do that falls under the umbrella of recognizing your child’s emotions as valid, is to give him or her space to fully have the emotion.

So let’s say you have a child that is angry, and you don’t know why. You could based upon the advice of several well-meaning therapist and other experts, try and distract the child away from whatever he is feeling and to try to bring the otherwise negative episode to a close. Help them move on and get on to a more healthy state of mind and one that is more positive.

I’m not an expert, I’m not a trained therapist or Guru, but I do have kids. And what I have seen in my own experience is that kids have real emotions, and when we try to distract them away from their feelings, that reinforces the idea or the belief that their feelings are not valid or that they are wrong to be feeling the way they are.

Understanding that your feelings are normal and that they should be felt is a critical step in being able to process and deal with them.

Being angry, overwhelmingly so, is overwhelming and confusing enough. If as a parent, we throw in the message to them that not only should they not be angry, but there’s something maybe even wrong with them for having the feeling that they don’t understand, they will not take any steps towards getting a handle on it.

One of the things that I have found that doesn’t always end an angry episode or a tantrum right away, but does have the effect of helping my child deal with his anger in the long-term, is giving him the chance to have the emotion all the way through.

I don’t try to stop the crying. If he’s having a tantrum in the store or someplace else where I’m embarrassed, I simply take him out and just let it vent all the way out.

There was a viral video that went around Facebook a while back that showed a father outside the Walmart or some other store with his daughter. The daughter was snuffling, obviously she had just been crying.

The father was lecturing her on video, and she was maybe three years old, about acting right in the store and how they were coming out of the store until she could act right.

In the comments, lots of people praised this strategy because as parents, we don’t want to reinforce that it’s okay for kids to have meltdowns in the mega store. What parents want children to do in stores is to behave.

But let’s look at stores from the child’s point of view. In most cases the child is strapped into a seat or is not free to do the things they would normally do at home, which is run jump climb and touch everything.

Next the store is full of stimulation. There are people everywhere. In most of these stores, there are tons of lights and sometimes even blaring music. There are bright displays, screens with flashing lights or videos, and all kinds of things on the shelf that a young person would love to touch, or lick, or throw or enjoy in their own way.

They become quickly over stimulated to going to the store. It seems almost inevitable that even the most gentle and well-mannered young person is going to reach their limit. And so what did this father do and other parents praise him for? Marching his child out of the store and lecturing her about behaving right.

The child doesn’t want to be a jerk. Children are inherently good, but they can’t always control themselves, especially in situations that are not set up for them. What the father wanted and was honestly trying to do his best to encourage, was for the child to not act the way she was, to not get overstimulated in the store, to not yield to the own characteristics and impulses of being her own age.

He really wanted her to act with the maturity of someone who was much much older. And when she couldn’t do it, he took her out of the store and communicated to her that expressing her feelings in the way that she did was not okay.

Now what would I do in this situation, if I had a young child in the store who was melting down? Well one of the things that I tend to do as a parent is look at the age and maturity of the child, and then look at whether or not the activity that is proposed is really something that is good for all of us. Does it make sense to take a three-year-old to a Michelin star restaurant? It really doesn’t. All we are asking them to do is to sit still and be bored while adults do their thing, or encourage them to have a massive meltdown and ruin it basically for everyone.

But let’s say that I did have to go to Target and my three-year-old, or almost three-year-old currently, started to act out while we were there, and even had a massive tantrum while we were there.

The first thing that I would do is what I recommended at the beginning of this article. I would take a deep breath. Then I would look at my shopping and see whether or not it would be possible to make it through the trip or if there was anything vital that I had to get this time. If there wasn’t anything, I think I would just take my child out to the car and just sit with her. I’m not going to lecture her about being jerk in the store. Even though I want to.

I’m not going to use that time to try and teach her anything. Generally if a child is crying, the part of her brain that learns is turned off. So really if I am lecturing a weeping or screaming young person, I’m just wasting my breath.

When a child is far enough gone that she is crying, what she needs at that point is the stability and security of her parents. Now some people will argue that it is wrong to offer comfort to a child who is in the middle of a meltdown, because that encourages children to melt down to get parents attention.

Now let’s unpack that for a second.

If a child is getting all of the love and attention that she needs, do we really think that she would have the meltdown in the first place? Maybe, kids can have tough times all the time. But what sort of world are we in when we use our love and caring as both a sword and a shield? When we use the threat of taking love away as a way to manage behavior?

When you have an angry child, you have a child who is out of control. Like the toddler at Target, a child who is angry, is not in a place where they can learn or be instructed. If your child is in a state where they are yelling, throwing things, breaking things, hurting the others or themselves, this is not the time to try and teach them about what they are doing and how it is right or wrong.

As I noted before, what we really have to do in that situation is give the child the opportunity to have all of the emotion that he’s going to have. That doesn’t mean that you let him destroy your house, or break windows, or hurt others or himself, but you don’t try to artificially end it.

What you can do is just tell him you understand what’s happening, that he’s angry and he needs to let it out. And that he should feel safe to go ahead and do it. And you might not like that, he might yell at you and say things like I don’t need to cry, I’m not crying, I’m not mad, I don’t have feelings, but as long as he’s still in an aroused state, he’s still having those feelings and needs to do what is necessary to get them out.

So when a child is crying, I don’t try and stop him. If he will let me cuddle him or sit with him and pat his back, I will do that. Sometimes he wants me to leave him alone, and sometimes he wants me to stay with him. It’s curious to see how kids act and feel when they are upset. Because if you pay attention, often what they reach out for and need is for you to be there with them and reassure them that it’s going to be okay.

One of my sons will yell and scream at me and tell me that he hates me and he doesn’t want me to be in the room with him and then when I get up to leave, he says mama don’t go.

Now here’s the thing that I want to tell you that I don’t do. I’m not a permissive parent. I’m not okay with kids who call me names, or hit me or do things to hurt their little brother and sister. I don’t let them do those things. So when I say that you have to give the kids space to have their feelings, I’m not advocating for you to let them disrespect the rules of your home and of the family.

No matter what, the child who is angry needs to know that’s the rules of the house still apply in the world that he lived in before he got angry is the one that he still lives in now that he is angry. His mother loved him before he got mad and continues to love him no matter what.

When the big feelings have passed, later that hour, afternoon, evening, day, or even week, you will want to try and talk to your child about what happened.

I’m not talking about telling the child what happened from your point of view, but rather provide your observations of what you heard and what you saw, and then let them know how concerned you were about it and how much you want to help.

If you are not in the habit of talking with your kids about their big feelings, don’t be surprised that if when you try to talk to them, it doesn’t work. Being open and honest and frank with parents is something that has to become a habit. It can’t be forced and it has to be earned.

The child has to feel comfortable that they can talk to you and that while the situation that gave rise to the angry feelings might not have been okay, the fact that he had the feelings and lost control was okay.

After all, kids have big feelings.

And truthfully the only way for them to be able to learn to process them and to respond to adversity, is to have those big feelings in difficult situations. If you have a child who never has meltdowns, who never has a hard time, who never ever does a single thing that is wrong, I think you may be in a situation where the child might not be challenged enough, or you may be removing obstacles from their path too often.

If we’ve learned anything about helicopter parenting and the impacts of all of this hover style parenting that we’ve seen in the last 10 to 20 years, we know now that kids desperately need to fail, and to have the experience of being challenged and having the opportunity to rise to that challenge.

Children must experience discomfort, they have to go through feelings of challenge, grief, frustration, sadness, and yes, even rage. Without these experiences, as an adult the child will be having these feelings for the first time, and this can happen in a place where it is not acceptable, such as in front of a professor in graduate school, or maybe even at the grocery store.

You may have came to this article looking for some sort of secret sauce to stop your child from having anger issues. I’m sad to report to you that there isn’t one.

Your child has feelings of anger, and in many cases, the person who needs to learn to deal with the anger is not the child, but is instead the parent. Parents need to stop taking the feelings of their children personally.

When a child is angry, they are not thinking. Children do not have the adult level of mental capacity to scheme and manipulate us. But when we treat them like they do, and treat them like they have the adult ability to manage strong feelings like anger, we are setting ourselves up to have a tough time and this prevents us from really responding to our child’s angry outbursts in a healthy or appropriate way.

If we cannot be calm when the child is storming, we only add to the storm.

And this isn’t good for anybody.

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