Emotional outbursts, screaming, crying, yelling, aggressive behavior – these are all frustrating, yet normal, parts of a child’s development. Although it can be aggravating for parents to navigate a child’s angry, aggressive moods, allowing a child to experience and embrace emotions – even negative ones – can be beneficial to their mental health and wellbeing.
Sometimes, our child’s behavior shocks us with its intensity. Children expressing anger can be triggering for many adults who have not been taught to express frustration in a healthy way. If you were raised in a family where happiness was expected at all times, you might be caught off guard by your child’s tantrums and meltdowns.
Anger shouldn’t be something to be feared. Children need to be taught how to manage intense emotions and express their feelings in a positive, useful way.
Small children need help managing big feelings
We’ve all heard of the “terrible 2’s,” but challenging behavior can begin much earlier or later in childhood. Young toddlers might begin tantrums shortly after their first birthday, or you might not notice your child’s tendency to have an emotional outburst until he’s well into the preschool years.
Regardless of when your child begins experiencing anger and tantrums, it’s important for parents to teach children healthy coping skills. Instead of ignoring anger or trying to pacify an angry child, you can instead model behaviors to help your child deal with big emotions. Parents can teach kids to work through their big emotions, instead of getting upset whenever their children are frustrated, aggressive, or angry.
Raising kids isn’t easy, but parents can help their children grow into peaceful, confident human beings who are able to identify and express emotions in a healthy way. With a few simple strategies and tools, parents can help support their children through turbulent times and big feelings.
Parents can help their children work through their anger, instead of against it
Young children lack the coping skills to manage their anger, so parents can best help their kids by teaching them simple strategies for combating big feelings.
A parent can teach their child how to:
Identify how an emotion makes them feel.
Assign a label to their feelings.
Talk about their emotions instead of exploding in a tantrum.
Families can help children express emotions by helping the child express how an emotion makes their body feel. Anger might make a kid feel hot, get nervous, make a frown, have a racing heartbeat, clench their jaw, or feel tension in their muscles.
Practice talking about the physical sensations of different emotions, both positive and negative. Help children explore their feelings in a way that is age-appropriate and helpful.
Part of behavior management is to assign a label to feelings. If you observe your child getting worked up about a situation, begin talking to them in a calm, collected manner about the different emotions they might be feeling in that moment.
It is helpful for the parent to maintain their composure while assisting a child in labeling emotions such as anger, depression, disappointment, worry, or frustration. Talking about feelings and emotions is a healthy way for a child to express themselves, without facing the consequences of aggressive actions such as hitting or yelling.
Children lack the ability to calmly identify emotions or have good impulse control. A young child might not understand self image and big feelings. They might struggle to have enough insight to think deeply about a tough situation, which is why parents, caregivers, and teachers at school can have such a big impact on children when they help them deal with big feelings.
If children experience anger that is uncontrollable and leads to violent outburst on a frequent basis, parents might search for a trustworthy therapist or professional to speak to about their child’s concerting behaviors. Your child’s pediatrician might have some good resources to look into when it comes to managing a child’s challenging behaviors.
Parents should attempt to stay calm and manage their own expectations for their child’s behavior.
Parenting often necessitates the need for managing expectations. When caregivers expect children to act like adults, immature behaviors such as the expression of anger through tantrums or aggression can be seen as particularly challenging.
A concept called scaffolding is vital for a child’s healthy growth and development. Scaffolding occurs when a parent or caregiver comes alongside a child and helps them build upon skills in a way that lines up with their developmental capabilities at the time. In terms of anger management, parents can give children useful ways to express themselves when they are angry or upset, such as deep breathing, playing with sensory toys, or changing activities.
For example, if your child expresses anger through throwing toys, you can encourage her to replace this behavior with clenching and unclenching her fists a few times. If your child expresses anger through screaming, you can show him how to yell into a pillow next time he’s upset or frustrated. Scaffolding is all about the way you support your child in their development.
Parents can aid their children in co-regulation with their emotions.
When children experience stress, they need to learn how to regulate their bodies. Young children may have a difficult time processing the way they feel, so adults can help them by co-regulation.
Parents can help their child navigate difficult emotions such as anger by using co-regulation. Allow your child to express frustration without engaging in dangerous behavior. Parents can enable their children to develop the skill to understand how their bodies shift from stress to calm. Although a young child might not have the words to express how they feel, parents can still give their child tips for how to calm their bodies.
Give your child clues to look out for when they are feeling worked up. A sign of anger might include:
Rapid heart rate
Wanting to scream
Help your child understand how an emotion feels in his body. Then, give him strategies for calming down during turbulent times. Parents can help their children practice deep breathing, giving them a hug, holding their hand, massaging their back, sitting with them, or other related calming techniques. These are all ways for a family to practice co-regulation.
Parents can model coping skills and impulse control for their children
Children should be encouraged to express, rather than suppress, difficult emotions like anger.
Regardless of your upbringing and the way your family dealt with anger, it is important for kids to know that anger is an acceptable emotion. Caregivers should talk to their children about how anger and frustration are natural emotions and not something to be feared or cast aside.
Expressing anger in a disciplined, assertive manner can be helpful. Through plenty of practice, children can learn to express their frustration in a way that communicates their needs without hurting others.
Parents might struggle with their own issues around anger, so it might be difficult to work through anger with a child. Adults should be aware of their feelings and avoid becoming overwhelmed by their child’s emotional outbursts. The best thing a parent can do is stay calm and talk their child through their big feelings, and start to prepare to talk to their child at the first sign of anger.
Caregivers should also avoid attempting to talk their child out of an expression of anger. It might be tempting to want your child to be happy and calm all the time, but this just isn’t a realistic expectation. In the same way that an adult might become flustered or frustrated, kids can also experience these feelings.
Parents can read articles on how to help their child navigate difficult emotions. If a caregiver struggles with their own difficult feelings, they could search for a licensed therapist or mental health professional to give them some coping skills they can then pass on to their children. Parents and children can work together to learn to express emotions in a healthy way.
Some healthy ways parents can encourage their children to express anger include:
Having children rate their anger level on a scale of one to five, with five being the most worked up and one being just mildly frustrated.
Creating a calm-down corner filled with soft pillows, fidget toys, activity books, and serene colors.
Practice deep breathing exercises.
Repeating a calming mantra.
Going for a brisk walk.
Tensing muscles and then releasing the tension.
Doing some high-intensity exercises.
Hitting a punching bag.
Yelling into a pillow.
Pretending like you’re blowing up a balloon.
Teaching your child to visualize a peaceful location.
Practicing mindfulness, meditation, and stretching.
Getting t a journal to document feelings.
Allowing your child to take a break in their room.
Listening to some music together.
Jumping on a trampoline or with a jump rope.
Cutting or ripping up scrap papers.
Popping bubble wrap or fidget popper toys.
Squishing up play dough or clay.
Pushing your palms together and then releasing them.
If you’re struggling and not sure how to access a therapist, consult your child’s pediatrician or school counselor for a list of professionals they’d recommend speaking to.
It is important for caregivers to follow through on consequences for angry behaviors that are overly aggressive or disrespectful. Time outs work well for young children, and taking away privileges (such as video games or social media) works well for older children.
Children look to their families as a model for normal behavior. Through co-regulation and coping skills, kids can learn to express difficult emotions without fear of consequences or judgment.
With time, patience, and guidance, children will develop the skills necessary to navigate big feelings like anger.
Although the emotional outbursts can be difficult for parents to deal with, anger is a normal part of a child’s development. Instead of trying to fix your child’s mood, teach them to embrace their feelings and work through them.
At the first sign of anger, parents can step in and help their children work through their feelings. By talking about how it feels to their body, and giving them positive coping mechanisms to work through stress, caregivers can enable children to have strong emotional health.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.