Having a child that is prone to tantrums and angry outbursts can be exhausting and distressing for any parent. As the child gets older and the behavior doesn’t change, caregivers might start to get angry themselves, which can add fuel to the fire. However, it’s important to realize that although you have lost your patience, role modeling calm, respectful and clear thinking is the best thing you can do to help your child learn how to handle their anger. Years of studies show that it’s important to catch angry behavioral patterns early before bad habits set in and the risk for violent behavior in adulthood increases. Children who are on this path include ones that often argue with their parents, blame others for their mistakes, are spiteful or vindictive, bully others refuse to follow rules or direction from adults and chronically lose their temper.
Teaching your children new ways to better handle their behavior can be challenging but is a hugely important life skill that will help them to experience a happier, more successful and well-balanced adulthood. Online or in-person anger management classes starting as young as 11 years old or 1-1 therapy even earlier can help set your child on a more constructive path. In order for caregivers and parents to begin the process with the child, the first thing is to identify what is triggering the outburst. Just like with adults, for children it may have to do with low self-confidence, a lack of friendships, anxiety about situations going on around them that they can’t control like divorce, or failure at getting something they want or need.
Some things that parents can start doing at home immediately to help the child respond differently include:
1. Help them verbalize their emotions and label their feelings. It’s okay to get angry, we all do, but instead of bullying others or getting all worked up into a tantrum, get them in the habit of explaining how and what they feel. Teach your child to say “I’m frustrated because I have to stay inside and clean up my room while all my friends are playing outside” instead of slamming doors, throwing things or yelling at you about it. Give them the attention they need to have a reasonable discussion about their feelings. Don’t respond to unreasonable behavior.
2. Positive reinforcement. Often children act up because it’s the only time they can get any sort of attention from the caregiver. Stop this tactic in its tracks by responding in a positive way to good behavior. For example, “You were really well behaved while I spoke with the teacher about your homework” or “I like the way you put your toys away. Now your room looks beautiful!”
3. Take a time-out. Teach them it’s okay to give himself or herself a breather from a bad situation by developing an alternate response. They can go into another room, outside in a safe place, go on the trampoline, take a shower, or walk to a different part of the playground until they calm down.
4. Get them moving. Studies show that physical activity can really help kids with anger issues. Encourage them to get involved in a sport they are interested in like swimming, tennis, soccer, basketball or karate. If you don’t have the time for organized sports, go running or bike running together; take them out to the park to play on the equipment or anything to physically burn off energy.