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Understanding Anger in Children

How do we know when a child is angry? They show us with words, gestures, facial expressions, and behavior.

Children are not very good at hiding feelings. They are emotional people with unsophisticated ways of communicating their needs. A 2-year-old child who is frustrated may cry, kick, or throw something. A 4-year-old child may shout, “I hate you, poopy head!” and we’ve all witnessed the eye roll of an irritated preteen.

As we teach our children socially acceptable ways to express feelings, we want to make sure they are comfortable with a full range of emotions – not just the “good” ones. It’s important to help our children figure out how to handle the normal and natural feeling of anger. When we dismiss, minimize, or punish our children for expressing anger, it doesn’t disappear. It often goes underground and shows up as aggression, apathy, or resentment. On the flipside, out-of-control language or behavior doesn’t resolve the problem and can escalate into greater conflict.

What’s the plan for anger?

Anger in all its intensity happens. We can increase our children’s emotional quotient and help them successfully navigate anger by responding with composure and compassion when they are upset.

Try these parenting tips:

  • Model composure, problem-solving, assertive communication, and conflict resolution strategies.
  • Help your child identify how anger feels in the body. “How does irritation feel different than rage? Where in your body do you feel it?”
  • Acknowledge your child’s right to feel irritated, frustrated, or upset. Feeling understood helps.
  • Set some ground rules. It’s OK to be angry, but you can’t hurt yourself, another person, or the environment.
  • Give your child options for releasing angry energy. Shake it off, stomp it out, or take a walk.
  • Teach young children to communicate anger with words, like “I am mad. I am very mad! I am mad and a little sad.”
  • Teach older children to identify the feeling and the cause. “I feel frustrated when I’ve got so much homework that there’s no time to hang out with my friends. I feel annoyed when I’m watching a good show and my brother keeps interrupting me.”
  • Anger is great for identifying problems, but not great for solving problems. When your child is calm, ask them, “What do you think you could do when you’re feeling angry? Do you have any ideas for problem-solving?”

Our kids are works in progress. There’s plenty to be mad about in the grown-up world, too. Remember, the time we invest in teaching them now will help them succeed in the future.

Check out the CHKD Community Connections calendar of webinars and workshops for more parenting support.

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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

About Michele  Tryon, CCLS Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.