How to respond when your child gets angry

Although temper tantrums are a natural part of development, it can be alarming for parents to see children giving displays of anger and rage.

It’s entirely natural to want the episode to end as soon as possible which is why many parents relent and give the child what they want at the time (especially if it’s in a busy supermarket!)

However, that simply teaches the child that causing a scene gets them the results they want and ultimately, encourages the unruly behaviour.

Here are a few things to try the next time your child loses their temper:

Don’t rise to the bait

As hard as it might be, try not to react to what they’re saying or doing. If they learn that they can get a rise out of you, they’ll understand that it gives them control. Instead, continue talking to them in a calm, measured tone so they know that you’re in charge.

Show them how you want them to behave

Parenting is not an easy job but if you want your children to behave well, you have to do the same. They learn their social cues from you so if they see you erupting with rage at a small inconvenience or cursing loudly at heavy traffic, they will eventually do it too.

Tell them you understand how they’re feeling

Children’s outbursts are often a cry for attention so if it happens, instead of getting rattled yourself, lower yourself to their level and talk to them gently. Making them feel heard and understood will help diffuse the situation faster than rising to the bait.

Don’t force them to apologise

Although you may want them to apologise immediately, it’s better in the long run to help them understand why they’re in the wrong. Try asking them ‘what can we do to make things better?’. By letting them come to the right conclusions themselves, they’ll be more likely to implement them in future.

Acknowledge any effort they make to reconcile

Your child will not do what you want them to do all the time. However, even if it’s not exactly what you hoped for, it’s important to acknowledge when an effort is made! Hopefully by praising their effort, it will encourage them to make even more of an effort next time.

Once they’re calm, explain how their anger makes others feel

Children can only relate to how they feel inside so it’s up to you to explain how their anger makes others feel. Say something like, ‘it makes your brother sad or scared when you shout at him’ or ‘I know you don’t mean to but when you throw things, you could hurt someone’.

A child’s brain is not fully developed until they are 25 years of age. So, when they are young, and get angry or throw a tantrum, it is impossible for them to take any advice or learn anything about their actions when they are in this meltdown mode. That is why it is important to first work on calming them down, and then once they are calm, to explain why their actions will not get them what they want.

Click here for information on how to help your child express their anger in safe and even creative ways!

To know more about where anger comes from and what is going on in your child’s brain when they are angry, check out Daniel J. Siegel’s book ‘The Whole Brain Child’.

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