John Cowan - How Do l Help My Angry Child?

Publish Date
Friday, 5 February 2016, 1:03PM
By John Cowan

Sometimes you can spot the anger bubbling up – you can see a fight brewing between siblings or your’re noticing thunderous looks on their face – and you might be able to head it off and prevent it boiling up into a full rage. A distraction can work well: “Hey, come and help me put these things away.” 

But if the anger does boil up, how do you deal with it?

First of all, intervene if they are fighting. A good line with kids is. “You hit, you sit! Both of you, on the floor, now! No, further apart so you can’t reach each other.”

There will be two issues to deal with: their anger, and the problem that provoked the anger. Could I suggest it is very hard to deal with the problem while the anger is raging.  So deal with the emotion first.

If they are angry, it is important first to acknowledge it: "I can see that you’re really angry!"

Then give an instruction that will help them do something with the emotion and cool down. Often something physical will really help like sweeping the drive or running around the house. One strange one that really works is ,"Go and run your hands and wrists under cold water"  – I don’t know why it works, maybe it does literally cool down their hot feelings, or perhaps it just distracts them.

I've heard some people suggest pounding pillows or boxing a punching bag, but I tend to think that is more like rehearsing violence than cooling off.

For a really stressed child who needs support when they feel out of control, cooling off may require you to hold them closely and firmly.

Giving them ‘cooling time' in their room can work well with some kids but not others – try it and see if it works. Where ‘time out’ is really useful is when you are both angry – you and your child. It’s not just him that needs the cooling off time, you do as well.  By the way, when we’re talking about ‘cooling time', I don’t mean all day in solitary confinement – just five or ten minutes to settle the hot feelings.

Giving children a choice can help their brains from ‘fighting’ mode to ‘thinking’ mode:  "Do you want to cool off in your room, or in that chair or by sitting next to me?" . 

When they have cooled down – and you have too – then you can start to talk about the issue that provoked it.

There’s lots more to handling anger. Check out our website

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you