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10 tips for dealing with an angry child

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Shawn Franklin, MSN, BSN, RN

You tell your tween daughter that she can’t go to her friend’s house until she cleans her room. She gets in your face and screams, “You’re the meanest mom in the world! I hate you!” She runs into her bedroom and slams the door.

“That’s it! You’re grounded!” you shout back. Now you feel exhausted, defeated and wondering how you could have handled that differently. Here are some ideas:

  1. Remain calm. If you deal with an angry outburst by yelling back, you will feel out of control. So don’t challenge your child when she/he’s angry — it’s like throwing a match into a gas can. Just wait until your child calms down.
  2. Throw logic out of the window. Trying to reason with your child during a tantrum or angry outburst is useless. Kids don’t have the same capacity to stop and reason like we do. Wait until your child calms down and then talk it through later.
  3. Take your blood pressure. You don’t need to literally take your blood pressure but you do need to monitor your physical reactions. By staying calm, you’re not challenging your child by yelling back, engaging in a power struggle and escalating the tension.
  4. Don’t get physical. If you get physical, you’re teaching your child to solve problems with aggression. If you do lose your temper, apologize but keep it simple. “I lost control and it was wrong. I apologize.” Don’t go into your child’s role in the situation or play the blame game. Show your child how to take responsibility and make a genuine apology.
  5. Try a new approach. During a tantrum of a young child say, “I wish I could help you calm yourself down. Maybe you can lie on the couch for a little bit.” Instead of making a timeout a punishment, give the child a choice. “Do you need time to go into your room and get it together?”
  6. Don’t be a deer in headlights. Some parents freeze up when their kids act out. Some parents renegotiate with their child during tantrums. But if you renegotiate, you’re teaching your child that it’s worth it to act out. Make a conscious choice not to get into an argument and not to give in.
  7. Punish bad behavior — not the anger. For example, if your child calls you a bad name during an angry outburst, give him a consequence later for that infraction of the rules. But if all your child does is stomp around and yell about how life isn’t fair — let that go. Kids need to feel that they have a safe place to let off steam.
  8. Make the time fit the crime. Giving harsh punishments in the heat of the moment is a losing proposition. Don’t try to force your child to stop by increasing the severity of the punishment — it just makes your child more angry. Ask yourself, “What do I want my child to learn?” You want your child to learn how to not throw a fit every time he/she has to do something he/she doesn’t want to do. You want your child to learn self control.
  9. Give yourself a timeout. The easiest way to avoid escalating the situation is to walk away. Come back and interact with your child later when you are both calm.
  10. Be a role model. Admit when you’re angry and say that you need some time to calm down. Remember, you’re teaching the lesson of how to manage anger.