Everyone has to deal with feelings of anger and frustration. While these feelings are normal, it is important to teach kids how to appropriately deal with them. Parents and kids can work as a team to come up with strategies to handle anger and frustration. Working together to prepare a plan in advance will help your child learn how to calm down and discuss why these feelings occurred. Once your child finds a calm-down technique that works best for them, encourage them to use that strategy whenever they start to feel upset or angry.
THE TODDLER YEARS: NEWBORN TO 2
Prepare - Observe what calms your toddler. Is it snuggling up with a parent? What toys does your child play with quietly? Make note of what is calming for them and use these types of activities when they get upset.
Act - Children this age do not understand their feelings. When they become frustrated and angry, use a calming technique you have observed. Sing a song, snuggle up with a book, get out a new toy or start a new activity. Remain calm and use a soothing voice while speaking to them.
Discuss - Think about what caused your toddler’s anger and discuss with other parents or caregivers what may be common frustrations for your child. If a toy is causing your toddler to become angry, remove the toy. If they are overtired or hungry, adjust their mealtimes and bedtime. During the toddler years, tantrums are a normal behavior and may happen frequently. Try to remember that tantrums is one of the ways toddlers are able to communicate their feelings. Be patient and know this stage will pass as your child matures and their vocabulary develops.
THE PRESCHOOL YEARS: AGES 3 TO 5
Prepare - On a calm day, talk with your preschooler about different types of feelings, giving names to those feelings. Some parents find a chart or photos helpful when explaining. Discuss appropriate behavior when your preschooler gets angry and talk about actions to help them calm down. Calming suggestions for preschoolers may include drawing a picture, playing with toys, doing a puzzle, singing and dancing to music, running on the spot, jumping or hugs. “With my five-year-old, slow deep breaths help. Then, when he can talk, we discuss what has upset him,” says mother Sherrie Hoffman.
Act - When feelings of anger begin, in a calm voice, ask your preschooler to try one of the techniques discussed earlier. Remind them that you will talk about it when they are calm. Do not feed into their actions unless they are working on becoming calm.
Discuss - Later, when they have calmed down, ask them to share why they became angry, and come up with ideas of how to prevent this situation in the future. Remind them that it is normal to feel angry at times, and let them know you are proud of the way they used a certain technique to calm down.
THE SCHOOL YEARS: AGES 6 TO 11
Prepare - Together, discuss common triggers of anger for your child. Talk about the differences between appropriate and inappropriate anger. Talk about the importance of using a calming down technique when needed, and come up with a technique that helps calm your child. Ideas for this age group include going to their bedroom and listening to their favorite tunes, kicking around a soccer ball or screaming into a pillow.
Act - When your child becomes angry, calmly let them know that you see they are upset and would like to talk about it when they have settled down. “We don’t talk about a problem until they are calm. And if they get worked up while explaining what is wrong, then we take deep breaths until they are calm again,” says Rachael Kennedy, mother of five.
Discuss - When the child has calmed down, listen to their frustrations. Let them know it is okay to feel angry. Ask them how they could have handled the situation differently, and come up with solutions as a team. And when they do handle their anger in an appropriate way, praise them.
THE T(W)EEN YEARS: AGES 12 AND UP
Prepare - At this age, your t(w)een may be aware of what sets them off, and so may you, too. Try to problem-solve how to avoid situations that make them angry. Come up with ways that they can calm down on their own. Ideas for this age include taking a walk, tidying up their room, listening to music, journaling, taking a shower or a relaxing bath, or calling a friend to vent.
Act - Calmly mention that you see they are angry and ask them to please take a break from the situation until they can calm down. Give them space unless they want to talk and be patient. If appropriate, leave them alone in the house to calm down.
Discuss - Later, after everyone is ready, discuss what happened. Problem-solve what a solution could be now or in the future. Come to a compromise about what could be different, and ask your t(w)een for as much input as possible.
The goal of these techniques is to teach kids that all feelings are normal, even anger. Teaching these techniques gives kids the tools they need to deal with anger in an appropriate way and teaches them how to use problem-solving to work through a frustrating situation.
Sara is a wife and a mother of six children.
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