Seven Steps to Dealing with Anger in Children

By Debasmita Sinha


You are at the billing counter at a supermarket when your five-year old child tells you that she wants a particular toy. You say, “Next time.” She decides to express her disagreement by sitting down on the floor, wailing and thrashing. Or your seven-year old one has been trying to build a Lego structure but just cannot get it right. After some time he gets up, kicks what he had built and stomps off. It is a disconcerting moment of parenting when your child gets angry and throws a temper tantrum.

Here are seven tips to help your child manage his or her anger.

1. “It is okay to feel angry; it is smart to not say or do anything right away”

Let the child know that this feeling is called anger and it is normal. Everyone feels it from time to time. It’s not a bad thing to feel anger, it’s okay! However, sometimes when you say or do things when you are feeling like this you may end up hurting others or yourself or messing favourite things.

2. “How can we go from being Hulk to Bruce Banner?” or “from angry Elsa to calm Elsa?”

Next step would be trying to teach your child that there are ways to diffuse the intense feeling that he is experiencing. There are three ways to do that. First, by being aware and expressing the emotion. This can be done through talking to a trusted adult, or with himself using statements like “I am feeling angry.” Secondly, by accepting the emotion and allowing a safe outlet. This involves the child going to a dedicated place like his room or the backyard and letting out the surge of emotion by running, bouncing a ball, punching a sack or anything that helps him feel lighter and is safe. Lastly, by using calming techniques like taking deep breaths and counting them or holding arms spread out and shaking them or relaxing muscles or listening to calming music would be helpful.

3. When feeling angry, think. “I am feeling angry because I….”

We all tend to focus on the emotion more than what caused it. When we do get around to thinking of the cause we tend to pin it on something or someone other than ourselves. If we ask children why they are angry they too are likely to respond by saying because, “You didn’t get me a toy” or “He was teasing me”. It would be helpful if we could make them understand from childhood that anger or frustration is caused partly by our own thinking. For example, “I am angry because I thought you will get me a toy but you didn’t.”  At the same time it would shift their focus from the emotion itself to the situation that triggered anger.

4. “If there is a problem, fix it or ask for help”

Often anger stems out of a problem situation which might be making the child feel helpless or frustrated. Dealing with the emotion and calming them down alone will not be effective in diffusing anger if the problem persists. At such times we can talk to the child and help him identify the problem and also find ways to solve it on his own.  We can use imaginative experiential methods or plain old storytelling to facilitate problem solving. Not only will this help cope with frustrating situations but also it will enhance the ability of problem solving skills in children.

5. “What does Mamma or Papa do when they get angry?” Set realistic examples.

All children look up to their parents for behavioural examples. If you or your partner gets angry often, it is a good idea to examine and, if needed, modify your own reactions to anger and frustration. It will confuse the child if you act a certain way and ask him to act in another. The best way to teach children something is by doing it yourself.

6. “Would you like it if someone behaved this way with you? If not, then don’t behave this way with others, even if someone you know does.”

We live in a society where anger is often glorified and sometimes anger has benefits. Consider these examples, “My father had such a temper everyone listened to him” or “All men in our family have a temper” or “The moment I became angry and threw a temper they did my work in a jiffy!” Also in some cases if a family member has anger issues it is minimised by saying, “He is under a lot of pressure” or “It is her nature, she does not mean to hurt” or “He can’t help it, it runs in the family.” All such statements send out the message that it is okay or helpful or sometimes a matter of pride even, to be angry and throw temper tantrums. If this happens to be the case then the best course would be to talk to the child directly about how this aspect of a certain family member’s behaviour is best not emulated. Making excuses or sweeping such subjects under the carpet may create confusion in the child’s mind.

7. Focus on positive practices.

Having said that, a predisposition to anger to a large extent is hereditary if there is a family history of angry temperament or hypertension, or even otherwise, it is a good idea to inculcate positive practices like mindfulness, meditation, exercising, and asking for help. These will help the child in the present as well has equip him to cope with greater challenges the future may hold.

One key factor in learning is consequence. Allowing the child to experience the consequence of his or her actions further reinforces the learning. For example, if a toy is broken in anger, replacing it immediately, will tell the child that his anger did not cost him anything.  Lastly, children learn best when all adults are in agreement about parenting practices and they are told the same thing, each time, by all adults at home. Using the same statement may further simplify the learning and following process for the child.

In spite of doing everything right your child may not show changed behaviour immediately. We need to be patient and consistent. If the problem is severe or persists despite your efforts getting professional help is a viable option.