Helping Your Child Defuse Anger: Less Anger Means Less Problems

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If parents can help children understand that a better approach to frustration will end in better outcomes, parents will find the child has less anger and solves the daily problems and differences better.

Parenting and Child Anger

My 5-year-old frequently gets angry and her temper seems to be getting worse. Her anger has escalated to the point that she now occasionally hits her sister or playmates.

Anger is a normal emotion and children certainly do get angry. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but children should be taught that anger very seldom leads to any positive results. If parents can help their children understand that a better approach to frustration, which is what generally leads to anger, will end in better outcomes, they will find the child has less anger and solves the daily problems and differences better.

It also is important to teach children they are entitled to be angry, but their anger must never evolve to the point that it impacts someone else. (ie. hitting, biting, etc.) Most likely, the earliest manifestation of anger is temper tantrums at 1 or 2 years of age. A common scenario at this age is when a child gets angry because they have been denied something they want to do or they want more parental attention or involvement. This anger quickly leads to a tantrum. Almost always, the child uses the tantrum as a mechanism to gain parental involvement. If you pick up your child or become involved in any way when she is having a tantrum, she will continue to have tantrums. The best approach is to ignore the tantrum and the child. In this way, she gets no attention and will begin to use other behaviors to gain your attention.

Older children are more likely to get angry in two circumstances. Children involved in some activity on their own will reach a point where they are not achieving what they want and will become frustrated. This may rapidly lead to anger and the child may use unacceptable language they have heard adults use when angry or thrash out at another person. Children also become angry when playing with other children. When a group of 3 or 4 year olds is playing with toys, it is almost inevitable that one child will want a toy another child is not willing to give up, again leading to anger. In this case, it's not unusual for children to resort to physical contact with the others.

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If this occurs, the angry child should be given a timeout and removed from the situation. Parents should do this in a calm, non-threatening way and explain that although it's alright to be angry, one's anger cannot impact someone else. Parents also can explain benefits of sharing and can use such examples as "What would you say if Mary took all the toys?" Try to help your child think of a better solution in her next encounter with other children to help gain what she wants. Perhaps rather than demanding something, she can make a suggestion and can ask the other children to play the game her way.

Typically, if children are taught mechanisms to help them cope with anger at an early age, by the time they reach school age they have learned that anger is a quick emotional release that really does not gain any positive accomplishment.

Children also become angry when they are told they cannot do something they wish to do or they are corrected in their behavior. Parents should remain calm and reiterate that the desired behavior is not permissible. Parents may or may not explain why the child cannot have their way. Most parents will find that discussion and explanation of desired behavior and rules goes a long way in helping children control anger and other behaviors.

As always, parents, grandparents and older siblings are the most respected role models for children. If a child sees their parents enacting anger, they are going to imitate the same behavior.

There is the occasional child whose anger and aggressive behavior becomes uncontrollable. Parents should discuss this behavior with the child's pediatrician since parent and child may both need extra help by psychiatrists, psychologists or other mental health experts. Some true mental health disorders are associated with excessive or uncontrollable anger and the earlier these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the more likely a healthy outcome.

The 5-year-old whose anger is getting worse raises the question of "why?" Is she mimicking anger patterns expressed by her respected adults or playmates, or is she not learning other ways to approach her frustrations and anger?

Released by Arkansas Children's Hospital

This page is updated on March 15, 2013

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Comments

My son will be 3 in February and throws things whenever he gets upset. It doesn't matter if he is tired, hungry, or not getting his way, he just picks up anything that isn't nailed down and starts throwing. He has broken many valuable items and has hit both me and my husband with items that were less than soft. I feel like I'm being abused by a toddler. How can I stop this behavior? Ignoring it hasn't been working.
My son is 5 years old, and he has a very bad temper. He hits, yells, and says some really mean things. I am 6 months pregnant and when my son doesnt get his way, he has gone as far as to kick me in the stomache. I've tried everything I can think of to stop it but nothing seems to work. Any suggestions?