When a child is defiant, angry, and emotionally overwrought, the decisions you make and the response you give will not only impact your relationship with your child but also affect the chances of that behaviour happening again.
While seems obvious that most children respond well to a home where clear boundaries, consistent routines and calm parents give them confidence and predictability, in the real world this can be harder to achieve than it sounds.
If your child’s anger is causing major problems and emotions are running high at your house, here are some strategies to help your angry child manage their big feelings.
1. Don’t give in
The key to managing a child’s meltdown is resisting the temptation to end the tantrum by giving your child what they want. When your child ‘loses their schnitzel’ and you give in, you teach them that tantrums work, and you set your child and yourself up for future emotional outbursts that could be even more damaging.
2. Stay calm and be consistent
When you are in control of your own words, and actions, you’re much better equipped to manage your child’s big feelings and follow through with consistent consequences. Harsh or angry responses from grown-ups tend to escalate a child’s aggression, be it verbal or physical. It’s not easy to stay calm when your child is exploding, but by taking a moment to breathe and really think about what your next word or action will be, you’re also modelling and teaching your child the type of behaviour you want to see from them.
3. Recognise ‘MBAs’ for what they are
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘Minor But Annoying’(MBA)? If grown-ups noticed every single silly, thoughtless thing that children did, we would never stop saying words like ‘No!’and ‘Don’t do that!’ For some children, any attention, even negative attention such as a reprimand, can reinforce their actions. If you can, ignore minor misdemeanours. As the grown-up, you are the one who can make an informed choice about the battles you choose to fight with your child.
4. Notice your child when they’re behaving well
When you ignore minor misbehaviour, and ‘notice’ when your behaviourally fragile child is behaving well, you increase the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated. Very specific praise, such as ‘Well done! You calmed yourself down” is better than generic praise like “Good job!”. Unexpected and labelled praise is one thing that all kids love to receive. It helps them to know exactly what they have done right and encourages them to behave in that way again.
5. Be consistent with consequences
Just like Double Demerit points that are advertised to drivers during peak travel periods, your child needs forewarning about the consequences for negative behaviours. When the rules for your family are clearly laid out and everyone knows what they are when things are calm and harmonious, you will have a much better chance of guiding your child through emotionally charged situations. Kids are clever and will very quickly see through any inconsistencies in your approach to consequences. For this reason, all of the grown-ups in your family need to support one another when implementing them. Regardless of whether your agreed consequences are things like ‘taking a break’, the removal of a favourite toy or ‘time in’, every caregiver in your family needs to follow the process.
6. Talk later.
Children are like a cup, and when their cup is full to overflowing with big feelings like anger, there is no point trying to reason with them. Your words are very likely the very last thing that they can manage at that moment, and if the situation has upset you too, you’re probably not in the best space to think logically either. Give your child (and yourself) time to allow the wave of emotion to subside before having the ‘What happened?’ and ‘Why did you do that?’ conversation. Controlling your own feelings and having conversations when everyone is calm will be much more effective and a powerful lesson in anger management for your emotionally volatile child.
7. Teach your child to use ‘calm down’ tools
Did you know that it is scientifically impossible to be calm and angry at the same time! While it’s often not easy to calm down when emotions have been running high, teaching your child how to do this is a lifelong skill. Deep breathing has been shown to be the single most effective tool that any person can use to relax their muscles, calm their mind and bring their heart rate back to normal. When your child is able to return to a calm state after feeling angry, they will be more able to think clearly. Some ideas include:
Medication won’t necessarily fix defiant behaviour or aggression, however, when prescribed by the right professional for the right clinical reason, it can reduce the symptoms of conditions that affect children’s emotional regulation. If you suspect that your child has ADHD, Anxiety, and other disorders that impact their behavioural responses to tricky situations, you may wish to speak with your doctor about medical supports that could provide a foundation for supporting your child’s anger management.
If your child’s emotional volatility is playing havoc with their happiness and your family’s life, the team at Kids First Children’s Services is here to help. Located in Sydney’s northern beaches, our team of child psychology, speech pathology, occupational therapy and early intervention professionals is here to help you find solutions to the problems that are affecting your child and family.