While chatting with other parents, and brainstorming positive parenting techniques for their specific challenges, I started to notice a pattern.
One topic came up again and again. It seems that how to help an angry child calm down is something hitting the top of a lot of parent priority lists.
Angry outbursts can feel scary, sudden, and overwhelming. It’s hard to know what to do at the moment, especially if you don’t have a good plan already in place.
I know this because we’ve been there too.
The thing about anger is that the emotion itself isn’t bad. Just like any other emotion, it has its purpose.
The goal isn’t to get rid of anger, the goal is to help our children learn anger management techniques. To teach them how to handle the anger and use it in beneficial ways.
Can you think of a time when anger was the push you needed to make something right? Or when anger drove you to complete something important? Anger can be a very powerful resource… if you know how to control it.
How to Help an Angry Child Calm Down
Acknowledge the anger
The angry moment is triggered by something, but it’s often the need to be heard that can throw the moment into a full-on blowout. The anger builds and builds because no one seems to understand. Luckily, this is one of the easiest tips to implement.
Become a narrator of the situation. Explain the facts and make sure your little one feels heard. Focus on the emotion and be careful not to condone any unwanted behavior.
“I can see your mouth is tight. I can see your hands are clenched. Are you feeling angry?” “I heard your voice from the other room. It sounded so much louder than usual. And now that I can see your face, I can see that you are very angry. Am I right? Are you angry?”
The idea of this is to defuse the situation first and help your child calm down. Tackle the issue of hitting, screaming in someone’s face, or unkind words for later. (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.)
Tip: This is a great time to use breathing. If you work on breathing techniques regularly and keep these free calm-down printables handy, they will work even better when you really need them.
Hold off on the problem.
Problems are not solved in the heat of the moment. Before talking about the problem, everyone needs to calm down.
That might mean that everyone else needs to pause. If the problem is over a toy, remove it until the angry party (or parties) can talk calmly.
If the problem is with you or something you are requesting… take a break from it. A power struggle or yelling match isn’t going to get either of you what you want.
I’ll send you over to conflict resolution for children for tips on actually solving the problem once everyone is ready.
Make it easy to come out of the anger.
Rejoining the situation following an angry outburst can be difficult. For every child, it will be different, for every situation, it will be different.
It might be hard to come back because of embarrassment over how they reacted, they might now feel sad, they might still be a little mad, or it might be for a different reason entirely.
Something that works well for us is writing notes and sliding them under the door.
We write things like:
“It’s been a few minutes. Are you ready to join us again? Check yes or no.” “I’m still mad.” “Okay, shall I come back and ask again, or just leave you to come out when you’re ready?”
OR “Hey, your brother has been waiting a while to play with the truck; it’s time to decide what’s next. Do you want to be a part of the decision?” “Yes, but I’m not ready to talk about the yelling.” “Okay, we can talk about that after the problem is solved.”
(If your kids aren’t old enough for words, try pictures.)
Come back to the anger.
It’s important to talk about what happened once the moment passed. Depending on what happened, you can wait or handle it as soon as the problem that caused the anger is handled.
If other people are involved, it probably needs to be handled immediately.
“When you were very angry, you hit your sister. That was not okay. Let’s find out what she needs from you.”
OR “When you were yelling, you said something to me that was hurtful. Can you think of something kind to say to me please?”
OR “You threw the chair, and it needs to be picked up. Please take care of that before starting to play.”
It might be best to wait until later in the day or even the next day to talk about how it felt to be angry. Losing control does NOT feel good.
Talking about how your little one felt in the moment, just before the blow-up and after, will be the first step in understanding that they can actually have control!
Prepare for next time.
If you have a child who has angry outbursts, then you know what types of things trigger them. It may take a little thought to find a pattern, but most likely, there is one.
A great example is: he gets very angry when he loses a game OR leaving someone’s house always ends in an angry outburst because she’s having fun.
Of course, there will be times that you aren’t expecting, but for those times you know it’s coming… try to have some anger management techniques prepared.
Having a calm-down space is a great idea too. That way you can offer it as a choice for calming down independently. Some great tools to try for this space are a calming sensory bottle, some meditation books like Meditation Is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids, or a favorite blanket.
Offer understanding, support, and ideas.
Anger management is a skill, and it has to be practiced.
We aren’t looking for perfection on this; we’re looking for improvement. Remember that changes in routine, sleepiness, and hunger can affect anyone’s mood.
Be understanding when your little one slips up. And point out any positive you can find. “Wow, you calmed down really fast! Did you do something differently this time?”
The best techniques will come from your kids.
Go ahead and offer ideas to get your little one thinking. But support any ideas they might have too. If your son suggests going to his room to calm down, remind him of that during the next blow up. “Hey, do you remember last time we talked about ideas for calming down? You mentioned going to your room might be helpful. Would you like to try that? We’ll be right here once you’re calm.”
Imagine how empowering it will be for your little one to feel in control of these strong emotions! And what an incredible life lesson you are giving. It can almost make you excited to hear screaming down the hall… almost. 🙂
One last note. If you notice that these angry outbursts are more frequent than normal think about what big changes or struggles might be looming overhead. I call those Umbrella Feelings and sometimes tackling them is the real solution.
Anything to add? Tell us what success you’ve had helping an angry child calm down in the comment section.