Everyone gets angry at times—children and adults alike. Anger is an emotion that can range from slightly irritated, to moderately angry, to full-blown rage. And it can happen quickly.
A child’s anger naturally makes us feel uncomfortable. As a result, we may try to appease our children, give in to their demands, or avoid certain situations so that their anger goes away.
Alternatively, we may “bring down the hammer” to stop the anger through intimidation or punishment. In short, we get angry at their anger.
The fact is, your child will experience situations that trigger anger. You can’t stop the triggers, but you can give your child the tools to understand their anger and how to deal with it appropriately and reasonably.
“You can’t expect someone to control their emotions—you can only ask them to control their behavior.”
So what can parents do when faced with a supernova explosion of anger? Here are nine tips you can begin to use today.
You can’t control your child’s emotions—and that’s okay. Emotions are normal—we all have them. But you can expect your child to control their behavior.
It’s okay and natural for a child to be angry at times, as long as that anger is expressed appropriately.
So, do not ask, “How do I prevent my child from getting angry?” Instead, ask, “How do I get my child to behave appropriately when they get angry?”
A child’s rage will often trigger a parent’s own emotions. How do you usually handle it when people are angry? Some people are very uncomfortable with anger—it makes them anxious or fearful.
For those of us who grew up in homes where anger meant shouting and danger, your child’s anger may push some of your emotional buttons. If you aren’t aware of your own issues, you could respond in ways that are a disservice to your child (such as giving in to what they want or yelling back).
If you start experiencing intense emotion yourself, take a breath and a mental step back. One trick is to picture your child as a neighbor’s kid. This can give you a little emotional distance.
Also, understanding where you are at with your ability to control your emotions can give you empathy about where your child is in developing this skill. It’s not easy—it takes discipline and practice. And remember, our kids are new at this.
Make sure your responses don’t escalate the situation. Just because you choose not to argue with your child doesn’t mean you’re giving in. Give your child some space and time to cool down.
If they’re screaming at you, it’s okay to wait to give a consequence. The time to say, “That’s disrespectful! You’re grounded!” is not in the middle of an emotional tsunami. You can always hold your child accountable later on when things are calmer.
There are physical signs of anger that your child can start to tune into: stomach clenching, a feeling of tension, feeling flushed, clenching teeth.
Sometimes when we’re angry, we hold our breath without realizing it.
If your child can notice these signs early on, it can keep anger from escalating to rage. An ounce of prevention really can be worth a pound of cure.
When you are both calm, talk about the incident. Many kids will experience or express genuine remorse after having an emotional meltdown.
After screaming and throwing things, one teenager I worked with told his mom: “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I do these things. There must be something wrong with me.”
If they’re open to talking and willing to learn anger management skills, you can help them work backward from the incident. What happened right before the rage was triggered? What was said? What were they feeling? Embarrassment, frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety?
There is always another emotion underneath the anger. Learning to recognize underlying emotions is a powerful tool your child can use throughout life.
A word of caution: many kids, particularly those with oppositional defiant disorder, are not willing or trusting enough to explore this with a parent or therapist. If you attempt to brainstorm solutions and they resist, drop the subject and see if you can come back to it at another time.
The problem isn’t the anger—it’s the behavior that follows. You can validate your child’s emotions while addressing the behavior that is a concern. You can say this to your child:
“I understand you were angry when I said you couldn’t go to your friend’s house. Sometimes there will be rules or limits that may frustrate you, but breaking things won’t change that rule or limit and will only end in a consequence for that behavior.”
Then help your child identify more positive ways they can express their emotions.
The way your child perceives a situation is at the heart of anger. However, you may want to keep a calendar on their mood if it seems things are escalating. Do they tend to be more irritable if they don’t get enough sleep, skip meals, have poor eating habits, or otherwise aren’t feeling well physically?
Adolescence is well-known as a time of higher irritability for kids. This isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, but it can explain why “little things” seem more irritating at different times.
Some parents worry because a child’s anger is beyond what they would consider typical. Know that if your child exhibits explosive rage, you can still use the suggestions above to deescalate a situation.
If your child’s anger is extreme, you may want to seek counseling. Even if your child won’t participate, you can go yourself to get support and guidance.
No matter what degree of anger your child exhibits, the fact is, they’re still responsible for managing that emotion.
And remember, it’s a learning process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you can help your child improve their coping skills with consistent support and encouragement.
Kids diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) will fight against being controlled in even the smallest way. These kids have trouble controlling their impulses and often lose their tempers in a way others don’t understand. One mom I worked with shared:
“I just don’t understand why my son gets so mad, so fast…over nothing! It can be as simple as asking if he has homework or requesting that he put his backpack away. No matter how nicely I say it, he takes it as a criticism and starts yelling.”
That’s because her son sees almost everything his mom says as an effort to control him.
Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is another diagnosis parents may hear from mental health professionals. It means a child (or adult) has episodes of intense rage that result in behavior such as screaming, throwing or breaking things, and aggression toward others.
This diagnosis is marked by episodes of anger that come and go (intermittent) and are intense or severe (explosive). The episode may appear to come out of nowhere, and the individual has difficulty managing the intense emotion.
The techniques above are particularly important for ODD and IED kids. But remember, no matter the diagnosis, your child is responsible for their own behavior and should be held accountable for their behavior.
Dealing with Anger in Children and Teens: Why Is My Child So Angry?
Anger with an Angle: Is Your Child Using Anger to Control You?
Empowering Parents Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher
Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline® for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence™, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues (both programs are included in The Total Transformation® Online Package). Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are also the co-creators of their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, which teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.
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I too have an anisive child. She is my stepdaughter and she is now 7. 3 years ago we merged as a family, I have 17 year old twin girls and her sister who is 10.
The little one has been diagnosed with ADHD, odd and mood disorder. She isn't as combative as she physically used to be, but she is aggressive towards her sister and disrespectful to me on a daily basis. I feel like I'm losing any connection emotionally with her because of her rages and defiance. I have gotten her therapy and on medication. It is putting a strain on me and my husband and last year I had moved out with my girls for 4 months. I thought she would appreciate me more when I came back but no. My daughters can't stand how his girls talk to me and I feel like this house is run by them. I feel like the daily insanity has made me mean and negative and I don't like who I am anymore. How do I walk away when she's exploding when I feel so angry? It is so hard , the hardest thing I've ever had in my life to live with a child who outbursts and won't listen and learn. She just doesn't care
Hi there....not sure what I am looking for, maybe it is just to vent my frustrations, so thank you for being my sounding board. I have 2 boys, 11 and 8...both are polar opposite, the older has been a handful from day one and the younger has never been like that. I embrace the differences, but my oldest knows what buttons to push and he pushes them frequently. He is also and extremely sensitive boy...takes everything to heart...internalizes his feelings, does not let us know something is bothering him and that's when we (my wife and I) get the backlash. Last night it all came to a head. He had a great group of friends and they all recently got phones. We have decided to wait until his birthday (sept 1) to get him his phone. He will be going into middle school and we thought at this point it would be good for him (and us) to have a form of communication. Well, since his friends all have phones now, they turned on him, are making fun of him and are just generally being mean. We try to explain that friends will come and go, that kids will be mean, that if they treat you like that for not having a phone then they weren't your friend to begin with. We try to say all the right things, but he's 11 and lets face it, when you are 11, friends are very important. So, back to last night....he was at a sleep over the night before and I know he does not do well with little sleep so this was a factor...also with the stress of needing to work on a summer school project coupled with his lack of sleep was a perfect storm. My wife was trying to help him with his project and he literally exploded. Lunged at my wife, wife had to push him away, he kept coming, she pushed him again, he kept coming, she had to push him down and restrain him...this was all happening when I was working in the basement and also happened in front of my 8 year old which really scared him. I came into the room to a firestorm of screaming/crying and general mayhem...I then restrained my son, and was so angry that he would actually try to hit/hurt my wife, his mother and I got in his face and in started screaming at him. This I know scared him and intimidated him, but I did not know how to handle this child that was full of rage. We sent him to his room, consoled our youngest son and all took a step back to regroup. Through all of this, we told him that getting his phone was "off the table", which then made the situation worse because the phone was his key to getting his friends back (which we know that is not the case, but you cant rationalize with an angry preteen.
I could hear my oldest in his room saying "this is all my friends fault, they made me like this, I am a good person but they made me like this"...so, knowing full on that he does not express his feelings, by what he was saying, only cements this fact even more. My concern is that he internalizes his feeling so much that he is a powder keg and will explode where ever and at whomever. With not talking about disappointment/sadness/frustration etc, we know this is not a good thing, but he wont....this can lead to many things down the road...depression, rage, getting into trouble, failed relationships, alcohol/drug abuse etc..
After this incident, we as a family all sat down for a meeting. I explained all of this above and expressed my concerns etc. I think we need to see a therapist as a family and/or his seeing someone one on one for therapy so he can develop coping skills to manage life and its many stresses...My wife feels like a failure, as do I...we still feel horribly as for how things went down...we know he is in pain, but do not know how to deal with him with not dealing with his emotions....Life is complicated and if he cannot find the coping skills to deal with life now, I fear for him and his future.
Anyway, like I said, I am not sure what I am looking for, maybe just to unload these feelings of my own.
You bring up a tough dilemma. At this point, there really
isn’t much a parent can do if their adult child doesn’t want to be evaluated or
assessed for a mental health issue. When a child transitions into adulthood,
the parent role changes, from that of a manager to more of a consultant. What
the parent is
responsible for also changes, and the focus becomes more about defining his/her
own limits and boundaries. For more information on the changing role of the
parent, you can check out the 2 part article series by Debbie Pincus: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/adult-children-living-at-home-how-to-manage-without-going-crazy/ & https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/adult-children-living-at-home-part-ii-9-rules-to-help-you-maintain-sanity/. We
appreciate you writing in. Take care.
What an upsetting situation. I can only imagine how
distressing this must be for you and your daughter. It’s unfortunate that her
lawyer doesn’t seem to be helping her case. Has she considered finding another
lawyer? The 211 helpline would be able to give you information on legal
services in your area. You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling
1-800-273-6222 or by going online to http://www.211.org/.
It might also be helpful to find out if there are any other types of support
services available for either you or your daughter. It sounds like this has
been going on for awhile and it’s starting to take a toll on you. Finding
people you can talk to about what you’re going through could be helpful. The
Helpline can also give you information on resources like parent/grandparent
support groups, counselors, and other services. I encourage you to look into
local supports who may be able to help you through this difficult time. Good
luck to you and your family moving forward. Take care.
Dealing with aggressive behavior can be distressing. It may
help to know that most kids act out aggressively because they lack the
necessary skills for coping with tough situations. Because your son has a
sensory disorder, it is going to be important to work with someone who is
familiar with your son. While there’s never an excuse for aggressive behavior,
taking into account the impact the sensory disorder may have on his behavior is
going to be essential. If your son currently has a counselor or other
professional he is working with, I would check in with him/her about this
issue. If your son is not currently working with anyone, you could contact the
211 Helpline for information on services and supports in your area. You can
reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by going online
to http://www.211.org/. In the meantime, you may find
these articles useful for your situation: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/aggressive-child-behavior-part-i-fighting-in-school-and-at-home/ & https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/aggressive-child-behavior-part-ii-7-tools-to-stop-fighting-in-school-and-at-home/. We
apprercaite you writing in. Take care.
I see that Parenting Support replies here, wheww.... I have a question. My 12 year old son holds on to a lot of anger, he escalates quickly and is pretty intense but not violent. He does yell at his 10 year old brother a lot and is mean to him. His brother (Alex 10) has Asperger's (mild) and does some different things sometimes and that can irritate Ryan (12 yr old) very quickly. My biggest fear is that Ryan will not talk about with me and the mention of a therapist makes him meltdown again. Now, what I contribute to these emotions. Most of it is the fact that their father worked over seas on contract jobs since Ryan was 5 and has only been here for 2 years of his life since. While he was here he was married to his 3rd wife and didn't take much interest in the children besides fighting me for anything and everything. As it happens his last contract ended December 2014 and he moved to Poland to live by his married girlfriend (divorced wife 3 by this time). Both my boys hold a lot of hurt and anger towards their father and I really don't know how to handle it. I have said to them before that it is not an excuse for bad behavior, but it breaks my heart at the same time. Not to mention the fact that I hate their father too but I do not share that with the boys. When they do open up some I tell them they need to talk to their father about it. He calls almost every evening but so far has seen them one a year for ten days each. Being 12 and having so much hurt and anger scares me to death!! I don't want to screw them up. Any advice? By the way... the ten year old with Aspergers is going to a therapist tomorrow - wish me luck!!
I’m sorry to hear your sons have not had much contact with
their father. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if this is having a negative
impact on your son’s behavior. It can be so distressing to watch your child
struggle through tough situations. It may help to know that much of what you
describe is pretty normal behavior between siblings. As James Lehman explains
in the article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/siblings-at-war-in-your-home-declare-a-ceasefire-now/, sibling rivalry is normal
in families with more than one child. We have several articles that offer tips
for helping your son learn to get along better. One in particular you may find
helpful is https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/sibling-fighting-5-ways-to-teach-your-kids-to-get-along/. We wish you the best of
luck moving forward. Take care.
Lost in love
What a distressing situation. I’ve spoken with many parents
in similar situations who have described similar acting out behavior on transition days so, you’re
not alone. One thing that may be helpful is developing some structure around
transition. On days when he’s returning from his dad’s house, you might limit
the activity within the household to allow the children some time to adjust
back into your family’s routine. You might have each child spend some quiet
time in their room for the first half hour or so. I would also limit your
interactions to just the basics – I wouldn’t try to have a lot of conversations
or give consequences in the moment. If your son acts out, I would focus on
disconnecting and walking away instead of trying to address the behavior at
that time. You can hold him accountable for his behavior the following day and
also problem solve with him ways he can handle the situation more appropriately
next time. For more information on developing a transition plan, you can check
out James Lehman’s article Do You Dread Coming Home To Your Kids?. I hope you find this information
useful. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions. Good luck to
you and your family moving forward.
What an upsetting situation. I can hear how distressed you
are with how you responded when your son was being physically aggressive with
you. There aren’t any specific programs, counselors, or therapists we are able
to recommend. You may find it helpful to contact the 211 Helpline, a nationwide
referral service, for guidance in finding supports in your area. You can reach
the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by visiting them
online at http://www.211.org/. We appreciate you reaching
out to Empowering Parents for help with this difficult situation. Good luck to
you and your family moving forward. Take care.
It’s a very challenging situation you are in right now, and
it’s understandable that you would feel fearful and torn about which steps to
take next. Ultimately, the choice of whether to stay or leave is up to
you. I see that you have utilized numerous resources to help you manage
your stepson’s behavior. If you haven’t already done so, it could be
useful to look into some local supports, such as an individual or family
counselor, to help you figure out your next steps. For assistance
locating resources in your community, try contacting the http://www.211.ca/ at 1-800-836-3238. I recognize
what a difficult situation this must be for you, and I wish you all the best as
you continue to move forward. Take care.
It’s understandable that you would be concerned about the
recent changes in your son’s behavior, especially since it is such a drastic
change. Something we talk about frequently with parents is that, many
times, kids will act out inappropriately because they http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php. In addition, the onset of young
adulthood with all of the associated responsibilities can bring new stressors
that can leave many feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with these new
situations. Some people have found that talking with someone, such as a
counselor or therapist, can be very helpful in learning new skills as well as
strategies for implementing them. For assistance locating available
support in your area, try contacting the http://www.211.ca/ at 1-800-836-3238. I also encourage you to keep in mind that
it is incredibly difficult for most people to implement new behaviors,
especially during times of high stress and strong emotions. Therefore, it
can be useful to remind your son even if something didn’t work the first time,
that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work at all. I recognize how difficult
this situation is for all of you. I hope that you will continue to check
in and let us know how things are going. Take care.
I hear you. I can be so tough when your child seems to
behave one way with you and another way at school or away from home. You’re
right that part of what may be going on is lack of effective problem solving
skills. That, coupled with low frustration tolerance, can cause many young
children to melt down when faced with everyday challenges. It is possible to
help your son develop these skills, as Sara Bean explains in her article How to Give Kids Consequences That Work.
And, while it may seem as though your son lacks the ability to develop these
skills due to his age, as long as he is on track developmentally, he is
probably able to start having basic problem solving conversations with you. We
have several articles that focus on parenting young children. Two in particular
you may find useful are Young Kids in School: Help for the Top 4 Behavior Problems & Young Kids and Back-to-School Anxiety: How to Shrink it Down to Size. We
appreciate you writing in. Take care.