It really isn’t easy to handle our children’s rage. Particularly if it recurs, hurts others and breaks things.
I often get asked the question "What can I do to support my angry child?" – so first know, that you are not alone.
Each child and scenario is different but here are five tips that will help us to give our children a better opportunity to acknowledge and deal with their angry feelings constructively.
1. Separate the child from his anger and teach him to say “No” to it.
Your child is not the anger, however bad what he’s done. The anger will go again, to be replaced by other feelings. So, talk about the anger in the third person:
“I don’t like the way you express your anger.” “I love you, not what the anger makes you do or say.”
Some children see their anger as an animal or monster, to which they give a name. They learn to listen to and accept ‘Marnix’s growls, but they learn to train him as they would their pets. This teaches them to take control and responsibility for themselves.
People of all ages love the red elastic bands I give them to wear round their wrists. When they feel the anger rising they pull it hard to feel and remind themselves of their decision to say “No” to the anger.
2. Have a house rule: never enter into a conversation with an angry person
An angry person is a stupid person. Our intelligence is not online, or at least much reduced, when we are emotionally aroused. Our thinking becomes crass and black/white in the process. We have all experienced saying things in the heat of an argument which we regret later.
In our household we have a ‘Time-Out’ sign we make when anyone of us is overcome by strong emotions. Separate your child from the scene for 20 minutes – yes, as much as that! – to help his body settle down again. Teach him to ask for that ‘Time-Out’ himself. Notice what 20 minutes of solitude do to your feelings too.
3. Teach your child to use his breath to calm down
Learn to make the out-breath slightly longer than the in-breath.
The out-breath activates the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do that by using soap bubbles. The slower and longer the out-breath, the bigger the bubbles.
Some children like lying on their backs with a teddy bear on their tummy. When they breathe in, the bear rises; when they breathe out, the bear comes down. Older kids might just want to step out. It helps everyone to make a habit of this.
Practice a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes in bed at night to facilitate the process of sleep.
4. Take lots of aerobic exercise
Modern children are deprived of enough active, outdoor playtime. Their body’s need lots of aerobic exercise, which is a natural way to burn off excess energy and to end up feeling good.
5. Acknowledge the anger and learn to express the feelings differently
Anger informs us. It is there to safeguard our survival. Stories help children come to terms with feelings and how to transform them into positive strength.
Angry Arthur was a great favourite with my children in their early years. Later on the books by Ursula LeGuin illustrated how the destructive force of anger can be transformed to become a force to be reckoned with. Look for the right books and films to help your children channel their feelings and let us know of your household favourites.
If you don't already use some of these methods, start to introduce them into your family and notice the difference in what happens when your child, or you, get angry.
Now, let me know in the comments below, do you use any of these methods and how do they work for you? I would love to hear from you!
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent and the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.