Young children often don’t have the right words to express what they are feeling, and often this can lead to anger – which they can portray in a physical or verbal manner.
Angry children can be extremely difficult and exhausting to deal with. We can’t expect children to be completely calm all the time – after all, no one is perfect and even adults have trouble managing their anger.
Here is some advice we have compiled to help you with dealing with your child’s aggression and assisting them to calm down.
Working out Complex Feelings
Most of the time, the aggression your child is displaying is not deliberate – they just may not have the right words to explain their feelings or wants and hence, can lash out in other ways. Anger is a normal feeling, we all feel it from time to time when things don’t go our way.
Most of us have had years of experience dealing with anger, which is what your child will eventually grow into. In the meantime, help them figure out exactly what it is they feel and how to express that with their words. Try asking them questions like, “Were you angry?. “Do you feel sad?” or “Were you scared of something?”
It’s also important that you help them work through their feelings from a young age. Be attentive, listen to them, ask questions and explain things to them if they are confused. Not only does this help them understand and make sense of what they want and feel, but it also encourages them to be more open and builds positive relationships.
Use soft language such as “Take it easy”, “Don’t let that bother you”, “Try not to give up”, “It’s okay” and “Take some deep breaths”. Try and look beyond the anger, and figure out if there is a bigger root to the problem. Often, anger comes from other feelings such as feeling threatened, hurt or sad. Look at their surroundings and see if something could be setting them off. Work out how to solve what’s making them angry and offer alternate solutions.
Teaching Kids about Empathy
Little kids are often unaware of the impact their words and actions have on others. It’s our job to teach them that if they behave in an inappropriate manner (such as hitting, biting, scratching someone, pulling hair, yelling at someone or saying something rude in anger) that this has an effect on others. Calmly ask them how they would feel if someone was to do that to them, and why it is they wouldn’t like it. Then explain that it is the same with other people. Saying something along the lines of, “Imagine if your sister bit you, you wouldn’t like that, would you?” This instils a bit of empathy in them and hopefully makes them realise their actions have consequences.
Understanding and Setting Limits
Acknowledge their anger, but let them know that it is not okay for them to unleash their anger in physical ways so that everyone is safe. Give them alternate options for them to express how they feel. Saying something along the lines of, “I know you’re angry, and you’re allowed to be as angry as you want – but you’re not allowed to hit, no matter what.” This way they know that you understand how they feel, but also know the limits.
Tell them that you are sorry that they are angry. You don’t always have to explain yourself, e.g. “I understand you’re angry because you wanted that toy, and I’m sorry you can’t have it.” In the heat of the moment, there often isn’t much use trying to evaluate, explain or rationalise as children don’t have the same complex thought processes as adults, and are only focused on things in the moment. You can talk to them after they’ve calmed down, as it is hard for children to listen and think rationally when they’re angry.
Countdowns and Activities
If your kid is prone to emotional outbursts, give him/her ways to deal with this. Brainstorm some solutions, either alone or with them that would help when they get into a situation that makes them angry. Countdowns are a widely suggested option where you can teach your child to count in their head before they get mad, giving them some time to cool down. You can also teach other self-coping techniques such as mottos they can repeat to themselves, including “I need to relax” or “I won’t let this bother me”.
Other suggestions include activities to do after your kid has had a meltdown to help them calm down a bit. Quiet time activities such as reading, crafts, building blocks, doing a puzzle etc. are great options. You can even encourage your child to do a quiet activity when you feel a tantrum coming, diverting their attention to something else instead. It may not always be the solution in the heat of the moment, but is a good way to allow them to let go of their anger afterwards.
Kids Learn From Others
Everyone knows that young children tend to model their own behaviour after those they see. In most cases, kids learn from their parents so it’s imperative that you manage your own anger. If you get physical when you’re angry, chances are your kids will too. Before trying to help your child work through their anger issues, you need to ensure you have done the same for yourself.
As with anything else, it’s important to be a good role-model for your children. When you’re peeved off about something, let them know, but also show them how you’re dealing with it in a calm and responsible manner, such as taking a break or waiting it out until the aggression passes. Remember, they’re learning from you, so next time you’re angry about something, think about how you act in front of your children and whether you’re behaving how you would want them to.