How to Help an Angry Child Calm Down: Anger Management Techniques

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.

Anger can feel scary & overwhelming. Knowing how to help an angry child calm down is the first step in anger management for children. You got this!

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.)

Anger can feel scary & overwhelming. Knowing how to help an angry child calm down is the first step in anger management for children. You got this!

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.

Things like games for kids that teach mindfulness or positive behavior books can help set up expectations before any issue arises.

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, best feelings books for kids, and some meditation books like Meditation Is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids, or a favorite blanket.

A DIY mini Zen garden would be a great addition to the space. Making it together could open conversations about what situations this garden could be used at a time when everyone is calm.

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.

18 Comments

  1. Thank you Jill! This helps my issues a lot. I just have to remember them. Since I’m already a subscriber, can I get the printable conflict res list?
    So grateful,
    Annalisa

    1. Yes Annalisa! go to the conflict resolution post, click to print the steps and enter your email. You’ll get them in your inbox right away. (Also, I’m so glad this is helpful.)

  2. Thanks for the information and activity on anger. I have copied it to use with my grandchildren and students I teach in Bible class. very much needed.

  3. Hi Jill,
    Thank you for these tips! I will try to put them to use in the future. Unfortunately, my kids have frequent anger outbursts, so I hope they become fewer as time goes on. I did want to say one thing about when to talk about anger, and how the child felt in the moment. I know by experience that if we don’t address it quickly, my kids will forget what they said or how it felt, and I’ll get a blank stare and/or “I don’t know.” I get this especially when they want a situation to just be over quickly! Any advice on handling it calmly but within just a few minutes of the incident?

    1. Hi Kristine 🙂 Yes talking about it as close to the anger as possible is best. I try to stay close by (while still giving the kids space) and bringing it up as soon as the anger as subsided.

  4. Great tips. Preparing for the next time — I find myself doing this one a lot. My big problem is getting my little guy to not hit when he’s mad.

  5. Hi Jill,
    Having practiced those Tips a lot with my Kids ended up in a frustrated “Mom, I don’t want to look for a solution! I want my…”
    Kids are really fast in understanding patterns natively. And my Kids completely understood, that compromises always go in Hand with giving something away.
    I need to adopt my own patterns over and over again. Because what worked yesterday will not work tomorrow. Your list is a good start -on a long path 😉

  6. Love this post- thank you! I loved your note about encouraging and noting a child’s successes. This has been critical in helping our daughter overcome her anger. Also, offering to put perfume on her calm down stuffie has been helpful. She sees it as a treat and according to my father, there is something uniquely distracting about smells, or even the discussion of them!
    Another thing I want to add is that some children who struggle more than others might benefit from an assessment. My daughter has adhd and giftedness and according to the psychologist, both are associated with comforted conditions such as anxiety, depression, and perfectionism (giftedness only). Having both conditions makes it especially hard for my 7 year old to calm down. The assessment has been helpful in and of itself, but also gives us chess to other resources at school that she wouldn’t otherwise have.

  7. Thanks for the probable solutions…looking to better managing situations. What if the child is so angry on something outside the house and in a large gathering….outburst of tears and no listening to what I had to say.

    1. Hi Shruti. Parenting in front of other people is so hard. I would still follow the same actions (perhaps whispering so that it’s a little more private). Remember that you aren’t looking for perfection in every situation, you are looking to teach your child to techniques to handle anger.

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