8 Steps to Anger Management for Kids
Even as adults, managing our anger can be hard, and we’ve had years of practice. For our children, who are just learning about their emotions, keeping their anger in check can be especially difficult. Kids can easily lash out at people who make them angry or situations that frustrate them: name-calling when they lose a game or throwing the math book across the room. Learning to manage anger is an ongoing process. As parents, we can help by teaching our children to recognize what sets them off so that they too can keep their anger in check.
Children are bombarded with difficult and new challenges on a daily basis – slights from a best friend, a teacher with limited patience, a sibling who picks on her, a math concept he can’t grasp, or a parent that says “no.” And kids have different temperaments. Some children struggle more than others with controlling their temper, even siblings raised in the same house with the same parents.
Fortunately, there is an approach that my husband, James Lehman, and I have found that helps kids effectively manage their anger. It’s an eight-step method that will help you and your child together identify and work on the triggers that contribute to angry outbursts and plan alternative responses they can use the next time a similar trigger fires.
1. Diminish the Potential. As a parent you are probably all too aware of what triggers your child’s anger. Sometimes the best offense is a good defense - avoiding the situation or putting the activity on hold until your child learns better anger management. Of course there are activities like math class that can’t be avoided, but others can be. If playing cards always ends up in an argument for your sons, tell the kids to wait until an adult can join in.You can also replace a problem situation with a similar but less problematic one. If baseball brings out the worst in your son’s temper, find a less competitive alternative like track.
2. Manage the Situation. As parents we intervene in all kinds of situations to keep our kids safe and happy. Likewise, you can redirect your child and help them diffuse an angry interaction once it’s begun. Think about what cools your child down when they’re heated up. For some kids, it may be a time-out in their room, for others it might be going for a walk, listening to music, or writing in their journal. If issues arise at school, talk to the teacher to figure out what could work.
3. Identify Trigger Thoughts. It’s important to help your child look at what was happening and what they were thinking that triggered their angry response. As James says in The Total Transformation Program, parents need to identify triggers, as these “will cause repetitive incidents of unacceptable behavior if your child doesn’t learn how to manage them.” The focus here is on the thoughts that fueled the child’s negative feelings (fear, inadequacy, anger, jealousy) which led to their angry response.
4. Constructive Self-Talk. Once you have identified the triggers, teach your child to tune in to and turn around those underlying negative thoughts. Although it can be hard, kids can learn to practice constructive self-talk which will help them develop more acceptable responses to problem situations. If the same problem situations happen over and over, it’s likely you’ll find that negative self-talk is going on in your child’s head.
5. A Simple Plan. Help your child come up with a simple one- or two-step plan for what to do when they are experiencing problem situations. If your child has trouble in gym class, help him come up with a simple plan to cope with the situation. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed and eventually angry, suggest that he talk to the teacher about another way to demonstrate his ability or if he can do an alternative task. Maybe he can arrange to take a brief break when feeling on the spot, a silent signal to the teacher about his growing distress.
6. Communicate. Let others know what the plan is. If your child is having a hard time in math class, talk with the teacher and explain what you are trying to do to help your child. “When my son is frustrated in math, he starts thinking that he’s dumb and gets overly sensitive to criticism.
7. Implement. Once you’ve come up with the simple plan, the sooner you can implement it, the more likely it is to work. Let’s say you’re taking your child to the football game, where they tend to get over-stimulated. Plan to sit in a less crowded area and take frequent breaks. Don’t make this plan in the summer, expecting you’ll remember in September. Instead develop it, tell your child and implement it right away. And don’t wait until the behavior is unmanageable. If your child is starting to get over-stimulated in the first quarter, take a break right away.
8. Move On. It’s important to move on after trying a plan. If it was successful, great! It works and you can use it again. If it wasn’t, it may take a few tries or some tweaking. Help your child understand that it’s okay and that you’ll try it again or try something different next time. You both did your best; you tried something new and you’ll try again next time with more success.
Helping kids identify their triggers and manage their anger is a tall order, I know. Keep in mind that it’s a process. You will likely encounter some setbacks or unsuccessful trials, but that’s okay! Remember that learning and developing new more effective strategies doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time and persistence. Keep coaching these skills—one at a time if that makes it easier—and they will come.
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