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Angry Child Outbursts: The 10 Rules of Dealing with an Angry Child

by Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor
Angry Child Outbursts: The 10 Rules of  Dealing with an Angry Child

Mikayla, age 13, has just been told she can’t go to her friend’s house. “You need to clean your room first,” says her mom, “You promised to do that, remember?”

Mikayla gets in her mother’s face and screams, “You’re the meanest mom in the world! I hate you!” She turns and runs into her bedroom, slamming the door.

“That’s it! You’re grounded, young lady,” her mom shouts back. She’s left feeling exhausted and defeated, and unsure if she’s done the right thing.

Don’t challenge your child when he’s angry—that’s just like throwing a match onto a pile of firecrackers.

If you’re a parent, odds are you’ve been there. Why do we often engage in shouting matches with our kids—or freeze up, not knowing what to do—when an angry outburst occurs? Read on to learn the 10 rules of dealing with an angry child.

1. Don’t yell or challenge your child when he’s angry.

Many times parents deal with angry outbursts by challenging their kids and yelling back. But this will just increase your feeling of being out of control. The best thing you can do is remain calm in a crisis. Think of it this way: Even if you get into a car accident and the other driver jumps out and is furious at you, if you can remain calm, they will probably start to relax and be reasonable. But if you come back at them with an aggressive response, and say, “What are you talking about, that was your fault,” the tension just stays at that heightened place. So don’t challenge your child when he’s angry—that’s just like throwing a match onto a pile of firecrackers. Just wait until he calms down.

Related: Is your child or teen’s anger out-of-control?

2. Don’t try to reason with your child when he’s in the middle of a tantrum, tirade or angry outburst.

Many parents I talk to fall back on logic when their kids are angry. After all, as adults, we reason through things to defuse tense situations. This is always a challenge with kids because they don’t have the same capacity to stop and reason like we do. So when you’re dealing with your angry child, you have to leave that verbal place where you feel pretty comfortable and use different techniques. Saying, “Why are you mad at me? You were the one who forgot your homework at school,” will only make your child angrier. Instead, wait until he calms down and then talk it through later.

3. Pay attention to your physical reactions.

It’s important to watch your physical reactions because your senses will tell you “Yikes, I’m in the presence of somebody who is very upset.” You’ll feel your heart start beating faster because your adrenaline will be heightened. Even though it’s difficult, the trick is to act against that in some way and try to stay calm. Remember, you’re lending your children your strength in these moments; you’re showing them how to handle anger.  By staying calm, you’re not challenging your child by yelling back and engaging in a power struggle; this only escalates the tension. And paying attention to your own reactions will also help your child pay attention to himself because he won’t need to worry about you or your emotions. When you don’t respond calmly, your child will work even harder at his tantrum to try to get you to pay attention.  So you really have to tap into some solid parenting skills to handle the outburst quickly and effectively.

4. Don’t get physical with your child.

Sometimes on the Parental Support Line we hear from parents who have lost it and gotten physical with their kids. I took a call from a dad whose teenage son mouthed off to his mom, and the father shoved him. The fight escalated. The son would not speak to his father because he felt his dad should apologize to him; the father, on the other hand, felt that his son caused the problem and worried that his authority would diminish if he apologized. I advised him to say, “I lost control and it was wrong for me to shove you. I apologize.” That’s it; end of story. You don’t go into your child’s role in that situation at all because it is an attempt to place the blame on someone else for your actions. Rather, you want to teach your child how to take responsibility and make a genuine apology. Don’t worry—you will have other opportunities to work with your child around being mouthy or defiant. But it’s important to be a good role model and address your role in the fight going south. Remember, if you get physical with your child, among other things, you’re just teaching him to solve his problems with aggression.

Related: Fighting with your child all the time?

5. Take a different approach with younger kids.

If your small child (eighteen months to age four) is in the midst of a temper tantrum, you want to move ever so slightly away from him, but don’t isolate him completely. When small kids are upset, you want to help them to start to learn that they can have a role in calming themselves down. You can say, “I wish I could help you calm yourself down. Maybe you can lie on the couch for a little bit.” So have them calm down until they feel in control. By doing that you’re asking them to pay attention to themselves. So instead of, “You have to sit there for ten minutes by yourself,” it’s more of, “When you feel better and you’re not upset anymore, you can come on out and join us.” You can also give them a choice. You can say, “Do you need time to go into your room and get it together?” Again, don’t challenge them when they’re in that mode.

6. Don’t freeze up.

Some parents freeze up when their kids throw tantrums or start screaming at them. The parent is emotionally overwhelmed and becomes paralyzed with indecision or gives in to the child. If you’re this type of person, you may find that sometimes your child will get angry on purpose to engage you; they’ll bait you by throwing a fit or saying something rude, because they know that this will cause you to give in. So your job is to not take the bait—don’t get angry, and don’t give in.

I think parents sometimes have a tendency to renegotiate with their child in these situations. Often, they’re having a hard time managing their own emotions and so they don’t know how to coach their child properly in that moment. But remember, if you give in and renegotiate, even every once in a while, you’re teaching your child that it’s worth it to act out.  Instead, let them calm down and try to coach them to use their problem-solving skills later. In my opinion, once you start doing that, you’re not passive. You are making a conscious choice to not get into an argument. You’re saying, “I’m not going to renegotiate; I’m going to be calm.” Although it may not seem like it on the surface, all of those choices are actions—you are making a choice not to give in.

Related: Don’t negotiate—learn how to communicate so your child will listen.

7. Give consequences for the bad behavior, not for the anger.

When your child throws a tantrum, starts screaming and really loses it, make sure you give him consequences based on his behavior and not on his emotions. For example, if your child calls you a foul name during his angry outburst, give him a consequence later for that infraction of the rules. But if all he does is stomp into his room and yell about how life isn’t fair, I would let that go. Kids get angry just like we do; they need to feel that they have a safe place to let off steam. As long as they’re not breaking any rules, I think you should allow them to have that time to be angry.

Related: Consequences not working?

8. Don’t give overly harsh punishments.

Giving harsh punishments in the heat of the moment is a losing proposition. Here’s why: Let’s say your child is angry. He’s having a tantrum and shouting and screaming at you. You keep saying, “If you don’t get it together, I’m going to take away your Wii for a week. Okay now it’s two weeks. Now it’s a month…do you want to keep going?” But to your dismay, your child keeps escalating; the more you try to punish him in order to force him to stop and get control of himself, the worse he gets.

We have a name for that kind of discipline: It’s called “consequence stacking.” What’s really happening here is that the parent is losing emotional control. I understand that it is hard to tolerate it when your kid is upset—we don’t like it. But what you want to try to ask yourself is, “What do I want my child to learn?” And the answer might be, “I want him to learn how to not throw a fit every time he has to do something he doesn’t want to do. I want him to learn that when he gets upset, there’s an appropriate way to get out of it.” The worst thing you can do is join him and get upset yourself. Harsh punishments that seem never-ending to your child are not effective, and will only make him angrier in that moment.

9. Take a break.

On the Support Line, I’ll often ask parents who call about their child’s angry outbursts the following question: “When you and your spouse are mad at each other, what do you do to calm down?” Often, people will say they take a break and do something on their own for a little while until they can calm down and talk it through. This technique also works with your child, but parents often don’t think of it because they feel they should have control over their kids. But remember, when somebody is angry, you can’t reason with them and you can’t rush it. The bottom line is that if you stay there in that anger and keep engaging each other, it will not go away—it will just get bigger.  So take a break and come back and interact with each other later when everyone is calm.

10. Role model appropriate responses when you’re angry.

I also tell parents they should try to role model dealing with their own anger appropriately in front of their children. What are some good ways to do that? Say, “I’m getting frustrated—I’m going to take a break.” or “I can’t talk to you right now; I’m really upset so I’m going to wait until I’m calm. I’m going to come back and we’ll talk later.”

Admitting that you’re angry and you need some time to calm down is not a weakness; it takes a lot of strength to say these words out loud. Remember, you’re teaching the lesson of how to manage your anger, and that’s exactly what you want your child to learn.


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Carole Banks, MSW holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of New England. She has been with Legacy Publishing Company for four years working on the Parental Support Line and writing for Empowering Parents. Carole has worked as a family and individual therapist for over 10 years, and is the mother of 3 grown children and the grandmother of six.

READER'S COMMENTS

this is a great article!! I have a 15 yr old son and he has serious anger issues and these articles help me to help him. thanks

Comment By : Phyliss

This is all fine, but what do you do when that child goes to their dad's house (ex husband) refuses to come back and sits on the computer posting attacks online and witing a letter to the editor saying that I abandoned him and am a terrible mom? To top it off...I am running for City Council so what he said has made the newspaper.

Comment By : Lynda

I agree with your approach but if you refuse to engage and the child just follows you forever asking and asking and asking sometimes louder with each ask, what do you suggest?

Comment By : DO

I am raising my 3 grandchildren and in a custody battle a 6 yr old girl and twins 4 a boy and girl the court ordered visitations and this really messed with the little boy who has big anger out bursts thanks for the article I will apply this to him,

Comment By : Lorelle

Well written and accurate with regard to the analysis of an event. Helps parents to "role-play" how they respond in advance of the next event. With practice, a well-reasoned and controlled response will begin to become automatic. Two thumbs up for a great resource.

Comment By : Charlie

* Dear DO: Thank you for your question. It can be so frustrating when kids push the limits like this. For children 4 years old and up, we recommend setting a verbal limit such as, “ Continuing to ask me is not going to change my answer,” or “Following me is not going to get you what you want.” Then, coach your child to go calm down. At this point, your child may continue to follow behind you and many parents choose to spend some time in another room until things have quieted down. Other parents who have teenagers will sometimes leave the home to run an errand or go for a walk so long as it is safe to do so. If you cannot leave the situation, than you must simply remain calm and do your best not to respond to your child until he or she has calmed down.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

* Dear Lynda: I can’t imagine how frustrated you must be right now. This is a very challenging situation, and I wish I had a simple answer that would help you. The really tough part is that you can’t make your son come home, and it’s very difficult to hold him accountable while he’s at his dad’s house if dad is not on the same page as you. It might be best for you to seek the guidance of some local support, such as a divorce support group or counselor, to help you through this. You can search for support in your area by visiting www.211.org. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

#4 states - "Do not get physical with your child", which I understand for various reasons.....but what if your child gets physical with you??? this is the problem I have had here recently and more than once.......

Comment By : Gina

can hardly wait to try this. my 5 year old... going on 25, is wearing me out with her screaming, fighting, manipulating all the time.

Comment By : worn out mom

Good article. The only thing I see differently is the escalating consequences. I think that CAN be an effective tool when the consequences start low and increase slow, and the consequence is in itself a prompt for thinking about the behavior. We often use writing. And when you escalate in a calm manner, "Well, that's ten more "I will be respectful to my parents" our experience is the child gets it under control and gets back on track.

Comment By : Eugene

* Dear Gina: It is very challenging when children become physically abusive. When a child becomes physically abusive to you, we recommend that you try to move to a safe space and that you call the police for assistance. We want to send children a clear message that there is no excuse for abuse and it will not be tolerated in your home. Calling the police sends that message and assures that everyone is safe. You might find it helpful to contact your local law enforcement team through their non-emergency number to inquire about how such calls might be handled and how the agency can support you. Here is an article James wrote on this topic for more information: Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child? Assaultive Behavior, Verbal or Physical Abuse, Drugs and Crime.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

excellent article. I am a psychiatric nurse and have applied many of your techniques with my own children. Ultimately, it makes for a calmer household. Thanx

Comment By : webster

Thank you for this great article. We often negotiate with our son and now he does it with his teachers. I thought we were doing the right thing. Your article will change our approach. Thanks.

Comment By : V.

Great article.Do I give back something I took away from my 7yr old when he calms down and apologizes?But does it not give him the message that "its okay to get angry and when I say a sorry and calm down I will get it back?"

Comment By : engee

* Dear ‘engee’: Thank you for your question. It sounds like you are unsure of how to give effective consequences, as many parents are. The thing is, it is okay for your child to get angry. We all experience emotions; it’s a matter of learning how to deal with these emotions in an appropriate way. The idea here is to teach your child how to calm himself down when he is upset. What you might do, instead of simply giving a lost privilege back for a simple apology, is require him to have a problem solving conversation. Ask him, “What was going on for you right before you got angry?” This will give you his perception of the problem. Once you know the problem, you can talk with him about a different solution- what can he do to calm himself down? Come up with a plan; you can even have him write it down. Once this is done and he has apologized, then you can give back the privilege. This is one example of a task-oriented consequence that will help your son learn the skills he needs to handle his anger in a different way. Here is an article that contains more information on problem-solving with children: Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior. Good luck to you as you continue to work on this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I try to stay calm, but most of the time, my daughter does not respond to that. She is upset no matter what and she slams doors, calls names, and refuses to do anything she is told. I have no idea how to teach her to calm down herself.

Comment By : Jen

i am raising my 15 year old grandaughter. she has been sent off to jail 3 different times she has been to a girls accadamey she is home now on a ankle monator. In the 8 months shes been gone you would think she would have changed with all the theropy. but not dont know what to do with her .She hates athority she always talks in a loud voice, she is driving her 16 year old sister and 13 yr. old brother crazy with the way she always disraspects her family and others. I am on a fixed income and can not afford the program that is offered. But reading the suggestions helps. my grandaughter has been diognosed with adhd bipolar since was age 3/ thanks for all your suggestions.

Comment By : tired in lewisport

* Dear Jen: The first step in teaching your daughter how to calm herself down is to have a conversation. Start off with something like, “Let’s talk about what happens when you get angry. When you get angry you…” and then fill in the blanks with the behaviors you have observed. Let her know it is okay to be angry, but it is not okay to do those things. Reiterate your rules and expectations and then ask your daughter what she will do differently next time she is angry to help herself calm down so she doesn’t get in trouble again. You can make some suggestions if she is struggling. We want to have a specific plan like she will go to her room and listen to music, for example. If your daughter simply says she’ll do better, coach her to come up with a specific activity. Let her know that the next time she starts to get upset, you will remind her what the plan is and then walk away. Also let her know she can earn a reward later if she tries to calm herself down and there will be a consequence later when she does not. The next step is to implement the plan and hang in there. The problem solving process is an ongoing one so you will want to have this talk again in a few days if you don’t see an improvement. James’s article on meltdowns could be helpful to you by providing some additional tips and information. You can find that article here: Managing the Meltdown. Good luck to you as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Good article! I am dealing with a defiant, oppositional 12 yr old who has been brainwashed against me by his dad/my ex. Does anyone know of a therapist in the St. Louis, MO area who specializes in Parental Alienation Syndrome? The situation is quite overwhelming and escalates after each time my son sees and/or speaks to his dad. I can not stop his dad's negative behavior, so I need help dealing with the resulting anger and bad behavior in my home.

Comment By : alienatedinstl

* Dear ‘alienatedinstl’: It sounds like you are dealing with a very difficult situation. You are right on track in recognizing and accepting that you can’t control your son’s father—you can only control how you conduct yourself and how you handle the resulting behavior problems you experience with your son in your own home. Unfortunately, we do not have a database of mental health providers but it might be helpful to look into a service called 211. 211 is an information and referral service run by the United Way. You can reach them by dialing 2-1-1 on your landline or by visiting www.211missouri.org. They might be able to help you locate a professional in your area that can address your concerns. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Two quick comments. First, there is a huge difference between walking away and 'retreating'. A child that senses you are retreating feels even more empowered. So, "how" you walk away is important and needs to be done from a position and mindset of self-control and strength and calm. Kids are smart and can smell fear from a mile away. Second, I would suggest that an important rule has been left out. Rule #11: Look for an opportunity when the child is in a particularly good frame of mind and 'share' (vs. lecture) what it was like to be on the receiving end of their behavior. "Let's go get some ice cream". Give examples of how you are changing how you are responding more appropriately and respectfully towards them and ask for the same. Invite them to disagree with you without being disrespectful. Hope this is helpful to the cause!!!

Comment By : Scott

Good article, and great program, I have listened to it more than once to help me review what I need to do. However, and alarm goes off in my head when I see my 5 year old get angry (usually at herself for doing something wrong) and bite herself (leaving tooth marks in her arms), hit herself in the head or hit her legs. I am deeply concerned that this could escalate as she gets older. I stop her and say that it's okay to be angry, but don't do that to herself. Then we try and work through the situation. Sandy

Comment By : Sandy

* Dear Sandy: I can completely understand why an alarm would go off for you when your daughter hurts herself. I imagine it’s very difficult to watch, and you are doing a great job of setting limits on this behavior and redirecting her. It’s very important that you continue to help her find other ways to cope with her anger such as listening to music or playing with a favorite toy. It would also be a very good idea to talk to a local professional, such as your daughter’s pediatrician, to rule out any underlying causes of this severe acting-in behavior that is hurtful to her. This will give you a deeper understanding of her behavior, and with that understanding you can best determine what your daughter needs in order to move past this. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

In the article it mentions what you want him to learn, what they can do next time to change their reaction to a request. How do I teach him? I have tried asking him what he can do next time instead of throwing a fit but he doesn't know. I have given him ideas but they don't seem to work. I am at a loss as to help him.

Comment By : mom2boys

* Dear ‘mom2boys’: Thank you for your question—it’s a good one. It’s important to remember that problem solving is often an ongoing process; kids need a lot of repetition and rehearsal in order for new skills to become habit, so a single conversation is not likely to yield huge results. We recommend that you continue to do what you have been doing- asking him what he can do and making suggestions when he gets stuck. Have him choose one thing he will do differently and then let him know that next time this situation comes up, you will remind him of the plan. He needs you to coach him in the moment because it’s hard for kids to remember what they are supposed to do when they are in the midst of a problem. Also let your son know that once you remind him, if he tries the plan he can earn a reward, and if he doesn’t make an effort, there will be a consequence later. This is how you will motivate him to use the plan after the reminder has been given. Once you state all of this to him, walk away and give him some time to cool off. Then, come back and problem solve again! You might also want to refer to this article about problem solving for some more information and ideas. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I can now deal much better with my 13 year old son's anger. Thank you very much.

Comment By : Suparna M.

What do you do when anger is the misbehaviour? For example if there is a 1/4 of a baguette and the angry child wants to eat it but her younger sister wants a piece and you say (calmly), " Tear a little bit off and give your sister some", and this results in her throwing the bread at her sister, shouting and screaming and the storming off to her bedroom, slamming doors.

Comment By : bulliont

* To ‘bulliont’: You ask a great question here. Many parents have trouble separating feelings and behavior. Anger is not a ‘misbehavior’ or a behavior. Anger is a feeling, an emotional state. You can’t see anger. You can only see how someone behaves or acts when they are feeling angry. Some people are very good at managing anger and can hide the fact that they are angry—you may not know until they tell you. Children often do not know how to manage anger and so they act out their feelings with their behavior. The behavior in your case is throwing the bread, shouting and screaming, going to her room, and slamming doors. Have you ever heard someone say, “You can’t control how you feel; you can only control what you do about it”? It is perfectly okay for your child to feel angry—she can’t help it. It’s the way she acts when she is angry that is the problem, and the tools in this article are designed to address that. You might also want to read our article on meltdowns for ideas about how to teach your child better ways to act when she is angry. Good luck as you continue to work on this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have a 3rd grader (boy) that has had alot of trouble at school. This is the second year at this school and he has not been able to fit in. He is a very social child but tends to revert to negative attention getters in order to try to fit in. (Kind of like bullying) Through the Total Transformation CD program, we have had great success at home. However, he turns into a active volcano at school whenever confronted with a problem. Last year, the teacher would send him into the hall or office for most anything. There were many days that he was outside the class more than in. I believe that this is not a great solution. What advice can I give this year's teacher to defuse horrendous behavior that interrupts the classroom? What can my third grader do to take some time out without drawing attention to himself?

Comment By : Rebekah

* Rebekah: It sounds like you are quite concerned by your son’s behavior at school. We suggest that you talk with the teacher about the techniques that you have found helpful at home in dealing with your son’s behavior. It is important to work closely with the school to come up with a plan for how he can manage himself more effectively in the classroom. The teacher and school staff will probably have some ideas for ways your son can cool himself off without causing a scene. It is especially important to be clear with the school that you do not have the same behavior issues at home, as that will enable them to help you rule out potential causes at school. We wish you luck as you work through this.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I wish I would have read this article 3 years ago. My son is 14 and I'm struggling with his angry outbursts. I've done the wrong thing by yelling back at him when he's angry (for 3 years). And I'm also guilty of being too harsh on the punishment as I punish him in the heat of the moment, and the "stacking" thing you mentioned. As of right now he doesn't have his Ipod, games, or TV, and he's grounded. My question is, how do I back track, he expects me to get angry and yell back at him when he raises his voice to me. He has started insulting me when he's mad, and blames me for his mistakes (which are increasing). I don't know how I should change my reactions... how do I start? Do I give him back what I've taken (as it's too harshh)? I tried walking away, but he goes to his room and screams that he "hates me," among other things, In the past I have struggled to stay calm, and usually end up in his room arguing with him. Any suggestions on how I can begain to implament your statagies? Thanks, Desperate Mom

Comment By : danali

* To Danali: Starting the process of change can be really tough. It would help for you choose one specific behavior that you want to change the most and decide how you will hold your son accountable for working on this behavior. Sit down with him and simply tell him that you have learned some new things you want to try and so you’re going to start over fresh. This does mean giving him back the privileges he has lost. Let him know that from now on when he blows up at you, you are going to walk away from him and take some time to yourself. When he goes into his room and screams that he hates you, let him. As long as he is safe to himself and others, there is no need to re-engage with him until things calm down. The things your son says when you walk away are most likely designed to get you back in the argument with him, so don’t take the bait. I am including some additional information on how to stay calm in the heat of the moment. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.
Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child's Behavior Make You Crazy
Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My 5 yr old son will at times have a tantrum in the car about something unavoidable. While he's having his tantrum he will unbuckle his seatbelt and refuse to put it back on. stopping me from driving further because it is unsafe. In the past I just shut the car off and got out telling him I would come back in and we would go somewhere when he is done and willing to be safe. I froze my but off for 10 min. Then he just got in his seat and buckled himself. Was that the right way to handle the situation?

Comment By : Dawn

* Hi Dawn: It sounds like you handled this situation beautifully! It probably didn’t feel very good, but you made some very effective moves. You stopped the car, first of all—always a good idea when you are involved in this type of power struggle. You also got out and took some space to yourself, which surely helped you both to calm down. The limits you set were very clear, too. Excellent job!

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I am very thankful for this article. I can now see all of the things that I am doing wrong. I yell, spank him, take away privileges (stacking), and I get into the back and forth argument. What do I do when my son refuses to stay in his room and begins to destroy things? If he is tantruming do I just walk away or say something? How do I gt to the root of his anger, it seems so sporadic at times.

Comment By : frustrated mom

* To ‘frustrated mom’: It can be so hard when you send your child to his room and he doesn’t stay, not to mention the added frustration and anxiety when your possessions are being ruined. The best thing to do in the moment is to walk away and take some space for yourself. This gives you both time to cool off and often helps to shorten the tantrum. Later on, you can hold your son accountable for the damage he has done by having him make amends. You can get to the “root” or trigger by having a calm conversation and asking him, “What was going on for you when you got so angry earlier? What were you thinking?” You can then come up with a plan for how he can handle it differently next time—we call this problem solving. Here is another article for more information: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems." We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I want to learn and really need too. I have 3kids one of them is really the firestarter,&the younger one follows her acts.I find myself screaming cause I have to many things going on that I just blow,then she shuts up.She has to have the last word always,her father favors her too.And she knows it. I know its wrong but what is a better way,they are getting closer to teenage now & Im ready to take a plane to the islands and give up.

Comment By : angel803

* Hi 'angel803': It is so frustrating when you have one child who always starts things up and needs to have the last word. What we recommend first is getting on the same page as her father in terms of how you are going to handle her outbursts together. Having consistency in your response can help your daughter learn what acceptable, appropriate behavior is. Also, you can focus on what is under your control, which is your own behavior and responses. You might think about what you can do the next time that your daughter acts out, instead of screaming at her. For example, you might decide that when you start to have too many things going on and feel like you’re going to scream, you’re going to go to your room to calm down. Then, when you’re calm, and she is calm as well, you can talk through what happened, and give consequences as necessary. Here are some articles I think you might find helpful: Differences in Parenting? How Your Child May Be Using it Against You & Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

My 15 year old has been having angry outbursts since moving to secondary school. He copes poorly with unexpected events and transitions between activities. His problems are confined to home - he's well behaved and successful in school. I'm alredy aware of the techniques suggested, but it is very helpful to be reminded again as it's easy to slip into less helpful responses. I do have a question: the main problem, and also the only thing that works as a motivator in our house is computer game time. I would say my son is close to being a gaming addict. We limit game time, and it is a huge casuse of conflict. The only consequence that has any effect is removal of computers and, when I state I am going to do this, my son (who is now bigger than me) has learned to take the machine and hide it. Without getting into a physical tussle, I find it very hard to implement the consequence, and it doesn't feel like a good approach to remove it "sneakily" later on, when I can find it. Any suggestions?

Comment By : Helen

* To Helen: It can be so frustrating when children refuse to comply with consequences which have already been established. You are doing a great job of not getting into a physical power struggle, or sneaking it out later on. One way to handle this might be to turn off or disconnect the internet modem at a certain time if he is playing online games. You could also check out the manufacturer’s instructions for parental controls. Another option, which many parents find effective, is to set a limit with your son in terms of turning off the computer. As you stated he has difficulty with transitions, you might try saying to him, “Your computer time is up in 10 minutes. I expect the computer to be turned off and that you will be doing ______. If not, there will be a consequence, but let’s not go there.” If he chooses not to turn off the computer, or decides to take the machine and hide it, then you can hold him accountable for that. I am attaching some articles you might find helpful: Power Struggles Part I: Are You at War with a Defiant Child?, Avoiding Power Struggles with Defiant Children Declaring Victory is Easier than You Think Good luck to you and your son as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

All my wars are in the morning - my 17 year old son refuses to get up for school, church, doctor appt, etc. he just keeps telling me to go away. He yells, screams calls me bad names, etc. Sometimes it excalates to him punching walls and getting physical with me. He seems to thrive on negative attention - everywhere

Comment By : gone on too long

I really liked your advice about dealing with an angry child. Particularly "I think you should allow them to have that time to be angry." Your advice is a lot about leaving them room to have their reaction to something, to feel their feelings. I find, as a tutor, that leaving my students room to feel angry and frustrated is really important. Often they are angry and frustrated with a particular teacher, their parents, or just at something like "the general unfairness" of some school rule or grade they got. I try very hard to never discount what they feel ("My teacher hates me") and instead try to get to what is behind it (when they cool down). That way they see me as someone who understands and has room for them.

Comment By : SaraCarbone

I have an adopted child with ODD, PSD and Sensory Integration Dysfuntion so needless to say my home is a bit noisy!! We do actively use your techniques and they work well if we catch his tantrum early enough (he is 8yrs old). If we miss the signals and he loses it he will drop to the floor and scream and yell - basically I want to know how we move him from our space so he can calm down without it getting too physical! he is a big kid and does not go willingly. I want him in a calm space so we can all calm down but dont want to move the whole family out of HIS way? ANY ideas? thanks

Comment By : Michelle

* Hi Michelle: It’s so hard to deal with a child who has frequent meltdowns. They can be so incredibly disruptive to the family and everyone gets worked up. However, we don’t recommend trying to physically move your child when he is having a tantrum as it keeps the power struggle going and it can escalate the situation. While it doesn’t seem fair or right that he should get to kick and scream wherever he wants, we’ve found that it’s much more effective for the family members to leave the area. If everyone quietly leaves, your son no longer has an audience or participants and his tantrum gets no attention. Over time, if we stop giving the tantrum attention, they will get shorter and less frequent. Given your son’s complicated diagnoses, we do recommend that you talk this over with his treatment team to be sure this approach is helpful for him. Here is an article for more information: How to Walk Away from a Fight with Your Child: Why It's Harder Than You Think. We know this is hard and we wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

grandson will disobey stick out his tongue or laugh then proceed to run. how to handle that

Comment By : grandma

This article is very helpful to me. I have a 13 year old daughter, a 12 year old daughter and a 10 year old daughter. The oldest one at 4 was tragically challenged when her sister (the middle one) ended up with brain cancer. It put her playmate in the hospital, it left her with strangers and grandparents for the next 7 months and her playmate sister came home in a wheelchair with new emotional and physical needs. Her playmate cannot communicate from speech challenges and cannot run and play like they use to. NOW, nearly 10 years later, I see a pattern that my oldest is trying to control every single move of the youngest one. She tells her things that her her feelings, she threatens her if the youngest doesn't do things for her, etc. etc., How do I deal with this effectively. I feel like the mother lion trying to protect the youngest cub from the oldest one bullying her! I just don't feel like I can do it anymore! Does anyone have some advice? I've tried one on one time with her, I've tried punishing, talking, etc., Some days she is as sweet as honey but she can turn in an instant on her youngest sister. Any advice out there for me? I'm new to teen parenting and I just need help! NOTE: my husband and I are still married (15 years) and we never fight or argue. We get along so good! Of course we have minor disagreements but we parent on the same page and we discipline TOGETHER.

Comment By : baylynn73

* To ‘baylynn73’: It sounds like you and your family made it past some challenging obstacles. You have a lot of strengths going for you, including your solid marriage, your cooperative approach to parenting, and the good solutions you’ve used to address the way your 13 year-old is treating her younger sister. It’s very reasonable that you would feel like a mother lion—I think any mom would! It would be helpful to talk to your oldest daughter and tell her what you have observed. For example, “I’ve heard you boss your sister around and threaten her to get her to do what you want.” State your observation and ask your daughter what her reason is for doing that. Let her know it’s not okay, reiterate your expectations, and then talk about what she can do differently in the future if she’s unhappy that her sister isn’t doing what she wants her to do. This is an example of a problem solving conversation, which you can get more information on by clicking here. These conversations should happen regularly after an incident and should be followed with a consequence that asks your daughter to practice more appropriate behavior. For example, she might lose her computer until she goes 2 hours without bossing her sister around or threatening her. Here is another article that might be helpful for you as well: Siblings at War in Your Home (Declare a Ceasefire Now). We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

* To: “Grandma”: That behavior can be so frustrating! It’s not unusual for children to assert themselves in this manner as a way to gain control over the situation. As aggravating as this behavior is, it’s going to be most effective not to give it undue attention; put more focus on interacting with him in a calm manner. I wouldn’t recommend chasing after him when he does this as this can actually reinforce the behavior by turning it into a game. Instead, approach him after some time has passed and let him know the behavior is unacceptable and have a problem solving conversation to help him come up with ways of responding to you differently. Behavior charts can also be helpful when children are not following directions. An excellent article that both addresses how to implement behavior charts and also has behavior charts you can download is Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. With younger children, the focus is more on setting limits and reacting in a calm manner. This can be difficult in the face of aggravating child behavior. Here is an article that can help you develop techniques for remaining calm in the face of frustration htt Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry. I hope this helps. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

When my 6 yr old was at school and children picked on him, his initial reaction was to yell or hit in response. I taught him to try ignoring them and if they continue to raise his hand and tell the teacher what is going on, but his teacher repeatedly tells him to just ignore it and gets mad at him for "tattling" when he is making attempts to control his anger instead of retaliating and hitting. He becomes very upset with the teacher for ignoring him/not correcting the child that is harassing him, so he escalates to a tantrum/yelling and gets sent out of the room. I have been to the school on several occasions and stay very involved and I have seen what my son is talking about happening, but he is always the one who is punished when another child mercilessly picks on him by being told to go sit in an island by himself or told to just ignore it when he cannot, then losing control and missing out on his education. I am at a loss for what to do. I am working with him at home on how to deal with bullies and how to respond when the teacher won't help him, but the situation is only getting worse. The school refuses to document when my son tells about what's going on with another student, but instead they started writing down everything he does wrong and never mentioning the precipitating events. Eventually, my son and the boy who likes to tease him by calling me fat and ugly (I am pregnant) got into a fight-the other boy came and sat by my son, made a verbal assault and hit him. My son has been complaining about this same child bothering him on a regular basis when he comes home and has told the teacher repeatedly but the teacher and the principal insist that he is the only one who needs to make any changes because "this is the type of world we live in." The school and I hold my son accountable for his behaviors, all I ask is that his rights are respected as well. What should I do since even after meeting twice, he is still getting the same response/treatment?

Comment By : frustratedbutstilltrying

* To ‘frustratedbutstilltrying’: You’ve tried a lot of great strategies to help your son handle the bully in his classroom. It’s frustrating to feel like you are the only one working to help your son and make the situation better for him. The school might refuse to document what is going on, but we would recommend that you create your own documentation of the incidents and submit reports of each bullying incident to the school in writing. You might also talk to someone at a higher level, such as the superintendent or school board. Continuing to communicate that this is an on-going issue is important because sometimes if you stop reporting what is going on, the school assumes things are better and the issue is resolved. You might want to refer to StopBullying.gov for more information and ideas. We know this is very difficult and we wish you and your son luck as you continue to work through this. We hope things improve soon. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Nice article... I think it is important to acknowledge that your child is having feelings and depending on their age, let them know that there is possibly more behind their feelings than the present event--they may be having a triggered reaction that relates back to something else. For younger children, a technique I have found works well and that my fiance uses quite successfully with her kindergarten children is to acknowledge them and let them know that when they are ready they can rejoin whatever is going on. ex. "I see you are upset, you go ahead and cry as much as you need to and come and join us when you're ready." With older children, you can use the same acknowledgment but a conversation about what is really going on may be in order after they settle down. Lastly, if you are having a triggered reaction to their behavior, it is very helpful to remember that is about you not them and try to figure out the root cause of your triggered reaction. By modeling that we are responsible for our behavior and reactions, we are teaching our children to take responsibility for their reactions. Golden Rule: people do not act or choose behavior because they want to hurt me, etc. They act and make choices because of something inside of them.

Comment By : quantumworthhealing

One year ago today, we relocated to another state moving my 14 yr old son from his life and his friends that he has known since preschool. On top of all of this, his grandpa whom he was very close with passed away.We moved and walked off a plane on Fathers Day to see his Grandpa, my father, in a casket. Basically, the whole situation was/is hard and difficult for all. The past year my son has been so unhappy, so argumentitive, it's been a horrible year. His behavior has been atrocious..I carry so much guilt for moving him away from his life and he preys on that. I have the opportunity to move him back to his familiar surroundings, not in the best interest of our entire family but in what I think is the best interest of him and his 4 years of high school. I have so much guilt and I don't want him to be sad. The question that I wrestle with is "do we move again and go back home so that HE will be happy, is that enough to change our lives again? Does that show him that he can be a brat and he gets his way? Or do we stay and I watch him be miserable and sad and mean all the time?" He is not the same child he used to be and I feel like that is my fault. I don't know what the answer is...Help!

Comment By : ConfusedMom

* To “Confused mom”: Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. I can hear how difficult the past year has been for you and your family. We offer our condolences on the loss of your father. I can appreciate your wish to try to make things better for your son by moving back. It can be very difficult as a parent when you feel your decisions are having a negative impact on your child. It’s understandable he would be upset about moving. This doesn’t mean it’s OK for him to behave atrociously towards you and other family members. We all have to deal with things in life that are outside of our control. Helping your son develop the skills to deal with such things is probably going to be the most effective way of addressing his behavior. As James Lehman outlines in his article Gut Check: Do You Tiptoe around Your Child, part of your role as a parent is to set firm limits and help your son develop the skills to deal with his problems appropriately. It’s important to set up a culture of accountability in your house, no matter where your house is located. In his article "I'm a Victim, So the Rules Don't Apply to Me!" How to Stop "Victim Thinking" in Kids, James explains how to set up a culture of accountability by setting limits, rewarding taking responsibility, and giving consequences for making excuses. Helping your son develop better problem solving skills by discussing with him ways of doing things differently also plays a key part. Moving isn’t necessarily going to change your son’s choices or behavior. In the end, only you can decide if moving back is going to be the best course of action for your family. We wish you the best as you and your family work through these challenges. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I need help. I have a six yr old adhd son who was at first diagnosed with aspergers then the school did a extended two week evaluation vs the 2hr one we did but I had gotten him where he semi listened the tantrums almost gone and then he went to his dads for six weeks hes back does what he wants will not listen i work from homei was on the phone and he decided he was going to clim the kitchen sink and wash the dishes. He has a 4 yr old stepbrother and hes been very mean to him he hits punches bosses him around im lost on what to do. Long talks, taking toys away nothing works i just got onto him a few hours ago he snuck in his brothers room after wards went in there and punched him im so lost

Comment By : lost and frrustrated

* To “lost and frustrated”: I am sorry you are having a difficult time with your son. The transition between two households can be a difficult one for parents and children alike. It would probably be beneficial to resume using the tools and techniques you had in place before he went to spend time with his dad. Keep in mind it may take some time for your son to re-adjust to the rules and expectations within your house. It’s going to be important to be as consistent as possible in your responses and in how you are holding him accountable for his behaviors and choices. We would also suggest talking with his treatment team about what tools and techniques are going to be most effective for your son at this developmental stage and to coordinate your approach with them. We wish you luck as you work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

You are living in an idealistic world. Discipline starts at a young age and builds from there. I am a father of 3 daughters. My wife demonstrate the traits of what you have suggested but failed miserably. I believe in the rod because it works for me and my 3 girls. They know authority and respect the parameters. I do not allow the kid to yell and scream just because the are young and small. I returned the favour and usually that calm them down because they feel embarrassed instead of me being embarrassed. They learnt about mirroring and i mirrored them and they do not like it. I do explain to them after my actions to drive some sense. When i say is time to go, they will go or faced the consequences. My friends does the same thing about allowing them to learn the cause and effects (rod) and it works all the time. Laying expectation is important, usually we will tell them what to expect at the ground before going. Recently i told my girl that they can make all the decision at 21, however, they gets to make only some of the decision and the reason is because i am responsible for them.

Comment By : JT

I have a 16 yr. old daughter that has never been diagnosed but appears to have a mood disorder. She was in therapy for a year and was taking medication. When she refused to take the medication, the therapist said she would no longer see her; (she had walked out during a session). She has what I call "(dark days)" when she will not get out of bed, will not communicate and will not go to school. I have spoken to the school authorities, DA's office etc. and all they can tell me is that if she misses too many days they will put me in jail. I do no know how to help her. I involved my Pastor, youth leader etc. and at times she will not communicate with them. Other times when she cannot get her way she has angry outbursts and has been destructive and violent. I have called the police on several occasions and they took her to the Youth Facility after she broke off my windshield wipers and put fireplace ashes all over living room but could not keep her because at the time it was the day before her 13th birthday and she had to be 13 to be admitted. There are times when I feel the need to sleep with my bedroom door locked. This has been going on for over years now but my biggest concern is going to jail if she misses too many school days.She refuses to accept any type of counseling. I really do not know what to do so I have given up being afraid of what would happen if they put me in jail and am praying that somehow I make it through the next several months until she is 17 and by law is not required to attend school. My hope is that she will see what see is doing to her life and decide to make a change.When she is having a good day she is very animated,smart and funny. She has a lot of friends but will not communicate with them either on those days. I am really concerned about the anger. She can be physically abusive also.

Comment By : savedbygrace

* To savedbygrace: You have good reason to be concerned about your daughter’s anger, as it sounds like it is expressed by her being violent, destructive and abusive. As James Lehman states, “There’s no excuse for abuse.” Regardless of diagnosis, or what she may be struggling with, she does not have the right to be abusive to you or destructive to your property. We recommend continuing to be in contact with the police when your daughter is violent or destructive. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to help your daughter and it is scary to feel like you will be held responsible for your daughter’s poor choices. It might be helpful to set up a meeting with someone at your local department to discuss in person how seriously you take the behavior, what you’re doing to try to promote your daughter getting to school, and how they can best support you. You can find some helpful information and a worksheet to bring with you in the article How to Talk to Police When Your Child is Physically Abusive I am including links to a couple other articles I think you might find helpful as you continue to work through this. We wish you the best as you continue to work through this; we know this isn’t easy.
My ODD Child is Physically Abusive to Siblings and Parents—Help!
Is Your Defiant Child Damaging or Destroying Property?

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

In our situation, my boyfriend's son is about to turn 8 and has been in special ed behavior classes going on his second year. He was just transitioning into normal classes and doing well. Two days with his mother (they have week on/week off) he has a complete and total melt down unlike ever before. This continues all week and then into our week with him which we finally get him to turn around but he isn't talking about what is causing this behavior. We have been working with his therapist as well but not getting any answers. He's still not where he needs to be or even close to where he was with his behavior. We do know that he keeps stating his mother is screaming at him. Which we do have proof that she is prone to having emotional breakdowns in front of him from a very young age as well. Any suggestions?

Comment By : Sweetdisa

* To “Sweetdisa”: Thank you for writing into Empowering Parents. It sounds like you and your boyfriend are dealing with a difficult situation. How upsetting this all must be for you. It can be so frustrating and worrisome when a child seems to backslide like this. Good for you for trying to problem solve with him to find out what’s going on with him right now. I am glad to hear you have a therapist you are working with who can help you and your boyfriend work with his son to develop some coping skills and also find out what the underlying issue may be. At this point, it’s probably going to be most beneficial to continue working with his school and therapist to develop a plan that is going to help him get back on track. We wouldn’t want to suggest something that might run counter to the work his therapist or his school is currently doing with him. You might also consider finding out what other services and supports are available in your area. The 211 National Helpline is a great resource that can put you into contact with local service providers, such as guardian ad litems, behavioral specialists and other supports. You can reach the 211 National Helpline by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto 211.org. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Great article. My question is, when my 12 yr old son's anger escalates to the point he is following me around the house and outside, in order to say hurtful things and attempt to get me upset, what do you suggest then? Or he starts picking on his younger siblings and we have to physically remove him to his room? I worry this will lead to physical altercations as he gets older and bigger. Please help.

Comment By : Momof3

* To Momof3: It can be really frustrating to try to get away from someone to get some space, only to have him refuse to give you that space and want to continue the argument. This is actually really common, as your son does not want to give up the power that he gets from arguing and pushing your buttons. As Carole mentions in the article, it is important to get that break so everyone can calm down. What you might try is letting him know during a calm time what your response is going to be the next time he starts arguing with you. For example you might say, “The way things are going right now when we argue isn’t working. I want to let you know that the next time you get angry, I’m going to take a walk around the block for 15 minutes so you can calm yourself down. What are some things you can do during that time to get yourself calm?” Sara Bean gives some other helpful tips in her article How to Walk Away from a Fight with Your Child: Why It's Harder Than You Think. As for your younger children, rather than trying to physically force your son away from them while he is escalated, we recommend problem solving with them about what they can do when your son starts picking on them, and offering them an incentive to follow through on this. For example, if they are watching TV when your son starts picking on them, make a plan that if they go to their room until your 12 year old calms down, they can earn extra TV time afterwards. James Lehman talks more about this in his article The Lost Children: When Behavior Problems Traumatize Siblings We wish you the best as you continue to work on this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

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