Angry Kids: 7 Things Not to Do When Angry Kids:

by Kim Abraham LMSW and Marney  Studaker-Cordner LMSW

Stop and think for a moment: When your child or teen is in the throes  of a  tantrum or an all-out rage, what is your initial reaction? Do you get  angry  yourself and start yelling, do you freeze and say nothing, or do you become   frightened and give in? Maybe your answer is even, “All of the above, depending   on the day!” You are not alone. Dealing with childhood anger and explosive rage   is one of the toughest things we are faced with as parents. Not only is it hard   to do effectively, it’s exhausting and can easily make you feel defeated, even   if you don’t lose your cool.

We all know the above reactions (yelling, freezing and giving in)  aren’t  helpful, but why exactly is that so? Simply put, if you freeze and do  nothing,  lose control and yell or give in to your child’s demands, he will know  that he  can push your buttons—and that it works. Even if your kid can’t put it  into  words, on some level he understands that if he can scare you or wear you  down  by throwing a tantrum, he’ll get his way.  As soon as your child realizes  you have certain  weak spots, he will continue to use them, because now he has a  handy tool he  can use to solve his problems. Instead of facing consequences or  being held  accountable, he’s figured out a way to get off scot-free. Here’s the  good news:  Learning to overcome your knee-jerk reactions of either freezing or  becoming  angry and “losing it” will be the start of turning around your  relationship  with your child—and the first step in teaching him appropriate  ways to manage  his temper.

Related:  How to manage your defiant child’s meltdowns.

Don’t get us wrong, as therapists and parents, we know firsthand  how  difficult this task can be—but fortunately we also know what really  works to manage angry  kids. Before we tell you some techniques you can use in  the moment (and  afterward) to turn this pattern around in your family,  understand this: anger  is always a “secondary emotion.” What this means is that  another unpleasant feeling is always underneath  an angry or enraged response;  anger just leaves us feeling less vulnerable than hurt or fear do.If you can stop and remember that something else  affected  your child first, whether it was disappointment, sadness or frustration,   you will be one step ahead. Another key point to understand is that  anger serves a  purpose. It lets us know something’s wrong in the same way  burning your finger  lets you know the stove is hot. It hits quickly and the  reaction is immediate:  Your child is disappointed he can’t go to his   friend’s house and kaboom, you have a fight on your hands. (We’ll explain how   to get to the bottom of these emotions later.)

Keeping all of this in mind, here are 7 things for you to avoid doing  when  your child is angry.

1. Don’t get in your kid’s face: When your child is having  an explosive anger  attack or enraged response to something, do not get in his  face. This is the  worst thing you can do with a kid who’s in the middle of a  meltdown. As long as  your child is old enough, we would recommend that you not  get anywhere close to  him. You have to remember that kids with explosive anger  are out of control.  The adrenaline is pumping and all rationale has left the  body. They are in  fight or flight mode, about to blow up. How close do you  really want to get to  that? By getting in there with your child, you will  likely only further ignite  their anger. And if you try to say something to them  in the middle of it,  you’re just going to fan the flames. We often feel like we  have to stand right  there and handle the meltdown with our kids. But if  nobody’s getting hurt and  it’s not a life-threatening situation or safety  issue, it’s better to back off  and give them some distance. After all, if you  saw an angry stranger in a  store, you wouldn’t go up to him and start yelling  or rationalizing, would  you? You’d probably leave the area as soon as  possible!

Related:  How to give fail-proof consequences to ODD kids.

2. Don’t react out of emotion. When your child is angry,  rather than reacting out of emotion,  which will escalate things, do whatever  you need to do to step out of the  situation. Walk away, take some deep breaths,  and try your best to stay  objective and in control. Take a time-out if you need  one (and if your child is  old enough for you to leave the area). Use some  phrases to remind yourself, “I’m  going to respond to this logically instead of  emotionally. I’m going to stay on  topic. I’m not going to get off track.” You  might also remind yourself, “One  step at a time. None of this is going to  happen overnight.” Part of our job as  parents is to model how to handle  emotions appropriately. (Easier said than  done, we know!) When you’re upset,  your job is to show him good ways to deal  with the emotions at hand.

3. Don’t jump to conclusions about your child’s anger. Your  child may not be wrong for feeling upset.  There may be some justification for  his anger, even if the behavior is not  justified. When parents tell us they’re  upset with their child for being angry,  we say, “Is it not okay for him to ever  just be disappointed and unhappy and  mad? Because everyone feels that way  sometimes.” Remember that people can be  justifiably disappointed and may  present that in an angry way. If your child  can’t be respectful in explaining  his viewpoint, then you’ll need to leave him  alone until he calms down. You can  say, “I understand you feel angry; I’m sorry  you feel that way.” Then leave it alone until he’s cooled off. If it  turns into a temper  tantrum where he’s saying foul things, breaking objects or  hurting others, then  that’s when you want to address the behavior. You can’t in  any way control the  way your child feels about things—all you can do is give  him consequences and  hold him accountable for his behavior. Getting mad at your  child for being mad  will only escalate the situation.

Understand that it’s normal for kids to get angry. We all get  angry. In  actuality, it’s not anger that’s the problem, it’s the resulting  behavior. Kids  have notoriously low frustration tolerances. Just because your  child is angry  doesn’t mean it has to turn into an unrecoverable situation.  Don’t expect your  child to always be happy with you or like you or your  decisions. Accept that it  goes along with the territory that sometimes they’re  going to be angry with  you—and that’s okay.

Related:  Constant battles with your child? How to stop the power  struggle.

4. Don’t try to reason with an angry child. Avoid trying to  hold a rational conversation  with your angry child; it’s not going to work. If  she’s disappointed about  something and you try to reason her out of it, it’s  probably only going to make  things more heated. Don’t try in the moment to get  your child to see it your  way because you don’t want her to be mad at you. When  you jump in and try to  make her see it your way, it really isn’t helpful. And  you’re going to come  away from that more frustrated yourself, especially with  ODD kids. They’re not  going to have any of it and will turn the tables and try  to rationalize with you in order to get their  way. Instead, just  give everyone a cooling off period. You can say, “I can  see that you’re really  upset; we can each take a timeout and get back to this  later.”

5. Don’t give consequences or making threats in the heat of the   moment. Along these same lines, wait until everything  has calmed down before you give consequences  to your child. If you try to  punish her when emotions are running high, chances  are you will cause further  eruptions. You might come back later and say, “You  were really angry. I’m  wondering if there was one part of how that went that  you wish was different.  What could you do differently next time?”

You might also think about whether or not consequences are really  necessary  after a tantrum. Sometimes, parents will give consequences to kids just  for  blowing up. We’ve had kids come in to a therapy session and tell us that   they’ve lost all of their privileges because they’ve had a tantrum. Let’s say a   teen girl slams the door and mutters something under her breath on the way out   before going for a walk. When you look at it objectively, a child who’s working   on her anger has actually handled it fairly well—going for a walk to cool down.   In this situation, you might decide to forego consequences. While every family   has different rules about what is allowed and what isn’t, there should be some   latitude to allow your child to express anger appropriately. Again, don’t give   consequences for feelings, give them for inappropriate behavior.

Related:  How to give consequences that really work.

6. (For older  kids) Don’t miss a chance to talk  with your child later: If it’s appropriate and if your child is old   enough—and seems willing to talk about what made them so angry—try sitting down   and discussing it. You can say, “You were really mad earlier, but I’m just   wondering if that came from you feeling so hurt about what happened at school.”  Wait to hear what your child says, and really listen. Don’t interrupt or preach.  If they do open up, try asking open-ended questions like, “What do you think   you could do to handle it better next time?” Or, “Is there anything I could do   that would be helpful to you?”

Most of the time when older kids or teens throw tantrums or lose  control,  it’s because they have very poor problem-solving skills. They haven’t  yet  learned to solve their underlying problems in healthy ways, so they scream,   break things, and call people names. Problem-solving skills don’t come   naturally—they come with practice. Sometimes by talking to your child and   finding out what’s going on, you can guide them to those problem-solving  tools.

Related:  Oppositional and Defiant Child? Help for parents.

7. Don’t lose sight of your goal: Always ask yourself  what  you’re aiming for as a parent. What is your end goal? One of  our most important jobs is to show them  appropriate, healthy ways to behave as  we give them some problem-solving tools.  It’s not only important to discipline  our kids, but also to teach and to guide  them. Sometimes lessons don’t require  a consequence, but are rather an  opportunity to talk and help your child come  up with a better way to handle the  situation next time.



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