Family, Kids & Relationships

How to deal with kids’ tantrums, anger and aggression — at all ages

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A kid’s anger can be difficult for parents to deal with, especially if they were never taught how to manage their own anger when they were kids themselves. It can become even more unmanageable when kids get so upset that they become aggressive, kicking or biting, throwing things, or screaming. This can happen during a typical toddler tantrum or when kids are older.

These resources and tips will guide parents through identifying, managing, and diffusing a child’s anger —

Identifying your kid’s anger level

If your typical coping strategies aren’t working when your child is angry or throwing a tantrum, they may be too angry for those particular strategies to have an impact. Identifying what their anger level is can help you figure out which coping strategies could work best in the moment. 

This Anger Thermometer is a helpful tool families can use in moments of anger to identify their anger level and the most appropriate coping skills to diffuse those big emotions. You can go over the different levels of anger with your child, talking through the signs they notice in their own bodies when they’re getting upset. Then look at the suggested coping techniques, circle any that your child thinks they want to try and add any others they might like. There’s even a printable version you can keep handy.

Then, when your child starts to get upset or you sense a tantrum coming on, you can use the thermometer as a tool to help them determine which level they’re at and what they can do to calm down. Over time, they’ll start to recognize the signs that they’re starting to get angry, and have tried-and-true ways to turn things around before they get overwhelmed.

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5 steps to follow when your kid is angry

The following steps can help turn a moment of anger into a moment of calm —

  1. Get on their level. Recognize that behavior is communication — and that your child may lack the skills, language, or maturity to tell you what’s wrong in any other way right now.
  1. Get your own emotions in check. It’s so important in these situations to stay calm. It can be really difficult, especially during a severe tantrum or aggressive behavior, but this models what emotional control looks like for your child, and avoids escalating the situation more.
  1. Give them a safe space. Have a safe place set up without any objects they can throw or break. Make sure they know that going there is NOT a punishment, it’s so they have space to work out their feelings.
  1. Work on coping skills. Put together some calming supplies (crayons and paper, or stress balls, for example) and remind your kid about coping strategies. It’s best to teach them coping strategies ahead of time when they’re NOT upset so you can more easily say, “Go get your calm-down box” or “Remember your dragon breaths” when they ARE upset.
  1. Offer praise! Praise your child when they express their emotions calmly or calm themselves down after a tantrum or outburst. Positive reinforcement will help those lessons about emotional regulation become a lifelong habit!

What to say to your kid when they’re angry

There will be times when they aren’t ready to use their coping skills, you’re away from your supplies (most parents are haunted by memories of toddler meltdowns in the store), or the usual strategies aren’t working — in which case you can try to intervene with some helpful phrases. Instead of telling them to calm down or stop what they’re doing, say or ask what they CAN do to process their anger in a healthy way.

Here are some phrases you can say to help children manage their anger and aggression —

  1. “Walk away from her when you feel angry.”
  1. “Ouch! Hitting people hurts. You can hit this pillow as hard as you want, though.”
  1. “What could you do instead of kicking?”
  1. “If biting is making you feel better, try crunching these pretzels.”
  1. “Let’s stomp to get all the mad out!”
  1. “Would you rather rip this paper or pop bubble wrap?”
  1. “I’m here for you. Let me know when you’re ready to get wrapped in a big hug.”

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