NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Children and Anger

Children and Anger


          Children become angry in a variety of situations. An infant's hungry cry, a toddler's temper tantrum, a preschooler's angry push, a school-ager's hurtful taunt, or a teenager's hostility are all vivid reminders that anger is no stranger to childhood.

          Anger is part of life. Sometimes life hurts. Sometimes life is not fair. All children will experience anger in one way or another. All children will learn how to cope with their anger--sometimes in a way that is "helpful" and sometimes in a way that is "hurtful."

          We live in a violent world. Some children live in violent families or communities; others see violence graphically depicted on TV. It may be hard to believe, but the average child in the U.S. witnesses 45 acts of violence on TV each day.  Added to TV violence are talk shows and music videos that promote and glamorize drug and alcohol abuse which can fuel anger.   Pictures and lyrics of many musical groups present suicide as an "alternative" or "solution” to angry situations.

          All of these influences can have a powerful effect on how children relate to their world and solve problems. In today's world, learning to cope with anger and frustration in a positive way may be one of the most important tools your child learns.

          Children can learn to handle their anger in several ways. Give children several choices so they can pick those that work best for them. Remember that some angry episodes take longer than others to solve.

          Learn to relax.  Anger causes a very physical response from most children. Muscles tense, hearts pound, and stomachs ache. Children can be taught to recognize these physical reactions and learn how to relax. One of the best ways to cope with a harmful physical response to anger is to do something else physical.

Help children calm their anger by using the five senses: touching, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing. Do something physical. Do something with your body, such as stomp your feet (the “Mad Dance”), run around the house, or punch a pillow. Or play with play dough, clay, or bread dough, which can be rolled out, pounded, twisted, and pulled apart. Any of these physical activities can help children focus their anger on something else and calm down.

          Sing an “un-mad” song. Help children make up words to a song or poem that expresses what they’re feeling. Words from a favorite song can be substituted with this “un-mad” song. For example, the words “I’m so mad ‘cause I can’t play. Go a-way, go-away, day!” can be sung to a familiar or made-up tune..

          Taking charge of angry feelings.  Learning how to "take charge" of angry feelings is an important lifelong skill.  "Taking charge" of angry feelings means developing a "bag of tricks" or coping skills that can be used for different situations. Different things work for different children. Parents can help children cope with anger by teaching them to

  • relax,

  • communicate,

  • problem solve,

  • change their environment, and

  • look for humor

          Learn to communicate.  Children can be taught to communicate their feelings in a variety of ways. For some children this may mean talking things over with a friend or caring adult. A stuffed animal or family pet also can be a good listener. Children can often explode in anger, yet not be able to tell you what their anger is all about as their abilities to reason and think logically are not yet well developed.   Teach children to identify their angry feelings by using the following statement: I feel __________ when ____________ because ____________.

For example, "I feel angry when Suzy calls me names because it embarrasses me."

          Learn to solve problems.  Older preschool and school-age children can be taught to problem solve as a "prevention" tool for getting angry. Adults can coach children through the problem solving steps: (1) stop the action, especially if someone is about to get hurt, (2) listen to each other, (3) think of different ways to solve the problem, and (4) choose an idea that everyone agrees on.

          Look for humor.  Humor is a great antidote for anger. Whenever possible, help children to see the humor in a tense situation. Responding to an angry outburst in a calm way with a gentle smile will often help diffuse the anger. Learning to laugh or joke about your own anger helps children put things in perspective.

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