Consciously helping children to effectively manage anger

Anger in children: What lies beneath anger? Here. we'll take a look at some effective ways to help your child in understanding and managing their anger.


What is anger? 

Anger is an emotion which can intimidate, confront, and even scare us. But just like any other emotion, anger is one that needs to be felt and expressed. In today's society, we are still trying to unpick the negative narratives surrounding anger, and it is important that we start to become curious about what anger is trying to tell us and how to gain some control over it, in order to prevent behaviour that feels out of control.

How do we support children with anger?

Children’s behaviour can sometimes feel insurmountable, and we feel at a loss of what to do. Rather than 'telling children off' and naming and shaming them as being "naughty" or "disruptive", how can we help them to express anger healthily?

The first thing to note is that anager management is a skill that children need to have the space to learn. In society, we are often taught to suppress our anger and to see it as 'bad', but anger can be an important tool for understanding how we feel about the world around us, learning to assert boundaries and thinking for ourselves. 

Emotional regulation (getting a level of control over an emotional state) and problem-solving are skills we have to learn. When children learn to effectively self-regulate and manage their own stress, their ability to socially interact and their overall empathy towards others increases. Children who cannot self-regulate tend to struggle with interpreting other people’s words, actions, and intentions in social situations, which can lead to them ‘seeing red’ and becoming increasingly reactive and can have a negative impact on their long-term development.

Often, children who are experiencing repeated angry outbursts or behaving in ways which can be interpreted as aggressive or violent, are trying to communicate something. Remembering that 'behaviour is communication' can be helpful when a child’s behaviour feels challenging to understand and manage. Shouting or telling a child off when they are having an experience which is ultimately completely overwhelming for them, is only going to fuel the fire.

Why doesn’t telling off work?

When we experience anger, we go into the 'flight or flight' response. When this happens, the part of our brain that gets activated (the instinctual brain) thinks that we are in a life-threatening situation and therefore it must defend us by screaming/shouting/acting out, etc.

If we as adults get triggered by a child’s anger, we also activate this defence mechanism in our own brains and essentially meet fire with fire.

Acknowledging that anger is an attempt for a child to communicate something which they need or that something is wrong, and consciously staying in our 'cognitive brain' (the part of our brain where we are rational and can intellectualise things), can support them in also activating this part of their brain, enabling them to solve their anger healthily and demonstrating effective emotional regulation.

How do we stay calm?

Trying to problem-solve anger during an angry outburst is never going to work. Steps must be taken to support your child (and yourself) through an expression of anger and to make sense of it afterwards.

Be attuned to their experience 

Attuning to a child’s experience can help to contain the situation before it gets out of hand. Being inquisitive and saying something like "I’m wondering if you may be feeling frustrated/upset/angry right now?", can help to validate their emotion, and show that you care. Children can quickly assume when they are ‘told off’ for being angry that they are the problem, consequently developing negative self-beliefs which essentially fuel more angry behaviour. Letting children know that you can see they are struggling and that you want to help them can reassure and support them to develop their own stress-management tools.

Identify a strategy which helps a child to calm down

It can be helpful to come up with this with the child as they may feel more ownership over the chosen solution and engage with it more. It can be an activity that promotes mindfulness (listening to music/drawing/walking, going to a safe, cosy space) or even scribbling on a piece of paper to express and diffuse their anger before it gets to the point of eruption.

Discussing a calming strategy with a child when they are in a relaxed frame of mind, in the cognitive part of their brain is the ideal time.

Implement their claiming strategy 

Over time, by implementing and repeating their calming strategy, along with naming the anger, and showing curiosity and empathy, you are helping a child to process and contain their anger.

Reparation work

This is also an extremely important part of the process after the angry outburst. An adult-led, curious conversation on why a child became angry in the first place, and naming their triggers.

Example: Gemma gets angry in PE at school and refuses to let anybody else have the football. You as the adult doing the reparation work can become curious rather than reactive as to why the incident happened.

You could say "I’m wondering why you felt you kept hold of the ball in football?"(This gives Gemma the opportunity to reflect on her behaviour.)

I was cross", she may say.

"I see, why do you think you got cross?" (You as the adult are remaining curious and supportive).

Because I wanted to score a goal.”

"I understand. Why didn't you let anyone else have a go?"

Because Alex scored a goal and everyone cheered. I wanted to show everyone I was good at football too.”

We start to understand through a curious conversation that Gemma’s angry outburst and perceived controlling behaviour are reflective of a deeper insecurity/self-belief; that perhaps she does not feel good at football or wants to receive positive praise and attention just like her teammate.

How do I stop being angry with my child?

If your child is struggling repeatedly with anger management, it can become difficult to keep their positive attributes in sight. When children and young people’s brains are developing, they can quickly fall into negative thinking and self-beliefs from experiences in life, which if not challenged, can remain through their adult lives, causing more struggles long term.

If a child is approached during reparation with positive praise as well as intrigue into their behaviour, balance can be restored. Children can start to become aware that they are not inherently 'bad' and that they actually have a lot of positive qualities, which we can start to focus on and grow, rather than merely focusing on the negatives.

Example: Sami wants to lead his group in a project and prove that he is a good team member. However, he has difficulty listening to anything that else anyone says and gets angry when other people express their opinions.

 If you as the adult talk through the situation and start with praise, this can massively support Sami’s view of themselves and the world, and start to lead to new awareness of their behaviour, and choice in response.

You could say "I loved the way you put yourself forward to be a team leader, you must have felt very brave and like a good team member. I’m not sure I understand why you got angry with Tom for telling you what he thought, though, could you explain that to me? Do you think you could have acted in a different way?"

Again, this approach enables a child to reflect in a space where they already feel seen, respected, and equal to the adult doing the reparation work. They are then much more likely to want to work together with the adult to understand, process and challenge their old behaviours to start to manage their anger in a different, more healthy way.

If you'd like more help with managing your child's anger, working with a hypnotherapist can be useful. Feel free to reach out to me if you'd like to learn more. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol BS2 & BS8
Written by Lucy Collins, HDP, DSFH, NCH, NBfM | Solution Focused Hypnotherapist
Bristol BS2 & BS8

Lucy Collins is a passionate Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist working online and in-person (in Bristol) with adults and children. Lucy offers a free Initial Consultation, so why not contact her today to book one in?

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