How to Help Your Child Deal with Anger and Other Strong Emotions
If you’ve ever stood by feeling helpless — or even afraid — while your child was overcome by feelings of anger and rage, you’re definitely not alone. Many parents aren’t sure exactly how to best cope when their child lashes out — and when that anger is accompanied by depression, aggression, substance abuse or violent behavior, dealing with an angry child transforms from a frustrating experience to a potentially dangerous one.
First, know that anger is a natural emotion, and one that we all feel sometimes. Emotions such as rejection, disappointment and frustration lead to pain; for youth who aren’t able to quite control their emotions yet, anger offers a defense against these deeper, unpleasant feelings. In other words, a child may default to anger in order to avoid feeling pain, essentially using rage as a type of offensive maneuver.
But most of the time, going on the offensive really isn’t necessary — and kids who default to anger too easily end up getting in trouble. That’s where parents come in. Teaching your child ways to cope with painful emotions before the fact provides him with skills he needs to deal with anger in a productive, safe way.
These 5 tips will help you to help your child learn to deal with anger and other strong emotions.
1. Understand anger. Let your child know that feeling angry is normal and allowable — the key lies in how he acts upon those feelings. In fact, when done properly, expressing emotions is a positive. Encourage your child to express his emotions verbally, no matter what those emotions are, instead of allowing them to build up inside and transform into anger. Be prepared to listen without judging, as your child needs to feel safe and heard in order to let his feelings out.
2. Increase emotional awareness. In order for your child to express his emotion, he must be able to identify his feelings. Increase his emotional literacy or awareness by talking about feelings with him more often. Model empathy and open the lines of communication by expressing your own feelings, and by reflecting others’ feelings back to him. For instance, if someone honks at you while driving, you might note, “That driver must feel frustrated.”
3. Model appropriate behaviors. Your child looks to you for guidance on how to respond and react to the world; no matter how old they are, you are still their role model. Show them how to manage anger through your own actions. Remaining calm, expressing your feelings and exercising control over your own anger teaches powerful lessons. If you’re cursing at the driver who just honked at you, your son is learning to react with anger, as well. And if you’re really overcome, model what might just the be most valuable coping behavior of all: Taking a “time out” to breathe deeply and let your rage subside.
4. Identify triggers and warning signs. What sets your child off? Does he have any tells — a red face, a twitching eye — that signals that he’s about to blow? Uncovering his triggers — and learning to avoid them when possible — can avert a potentially explosive situation. Recognize signs that indicate your child has reached his limit and allow him to exit to a safe space where he can calm down.
5. Discover healthy outlets. Work with your child to develop healthy outlets for that anger. Sports, bike riding, hiking, doing art, or even pounding on a pillow a few times can offer a release for pent-up emotions and provide an outlet for negative energy.
Remember, as a parent, your child looks to you to figure out how to act — and that includes how to deal with anger and other strong emotions. These tips will help your child learn to manage his feelings, and help strengthen the bond between you at the same time.