What You Need to Know about an Angry Child, Part 1

Featured Picture Book

That Makes Me Mad! by Steven Kroll

(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)

THAT MAKES ME MAD! is a look at all things that make Nina mad. Nina’s examples will be all too familiar to children listening to the book as well as the adults reading it. For example, when Mom takes more than a minute after assuring her it would be, “Just a minute.” Or, when adults won’t let Nina talk when it’s her turn to talk. The moral of the story: All children get angry – and sometimes for reasons that would make anyone mad, parents included. In addition, by pointing out in simple terms what makes children mad, the book can help parents understand ways to prevent some angry outbursts in the future.

Parenting Thoughts 

Important Things to Know about a Child’s Anger

34 Sidebar 1Dr. Mom:

1.  Don’t be afraid of or embarrassed by your child’s anger. It is normal for children (and adults) to get angry. Your job as a parent or caring adult is to understand about child anger and be as matter-of-fact as possible in dealing with it when it happens. (You can read more about child anger at The Benefits of Art, Choices, and Discipline Part II.)

Darling Daughter:  I can honestly say that in my early days of parenting if I did not have a perfectly behaved, quiet, under-control child when we were around other people, I was ashamed and worried about what other people were thinking about me as a parent. In reality, I was probably reacting to my lack of confidence in my own parenting ability. I have changed sooooo much as a parent working on this blog with Mom! I have become a much more calm and confident parent. I know what I expect from myself and Ezzy. I know some ways to handle things when they go wrong. Am I a perfect parent? NO WAY! Am I getting better, and has it made for a happier, calmer, more enjoyable family? YES WAY! We all have our back-sliding moments, but we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start working at it again – no guilt, no worry, no problem!   So, I encourage you to dive in to our blog and take any nuggets that fit your situation or family and put them to good use. It will take some practice – everything does – but it will be worth it.

Dr. Mom:  Nothing I could add would be more useful to other parents! Thanks for sharing, Darling Daughter.

2.  If a rule or expectation is involved, stick to the rule even if it means an angry outburst from the child.

Two of my favorite parent educators (Dr. Terry Brazelton and Jean Illsley Clarke) often talk about how kids really do want structure and rules. They may complain, fuss, and fight about it, but after a few times of sticking to your guns, they will go along. They are much more secure and happy in a world with rules. It makes them feel safe.

3.  If there is a usual consequence for breaking a rule, be sure to follow through with the consequence even if it means an angry outburst from the child.

4. Control your own anger (which is often triggered by your fear). Learning to not be afraid will help you avoid using your own anger to try to control your child.

I find it easier if I can mentally take a step back and remind myself that it is not personal. When I believe an angry kid is not attacking me personally, it is easier to stay calm and “stick to my guns.” I really had a light bulb go off about this while taking a classroom management class with Dr. Fred Jones. He summed up the whole situation as,

*  “Calm is strength. Upset is weakness.”

*  Calm is a skill that can be learned – as simple as a deep, slow, relaxing breath before you act. That skill can stop your automatic tendency to get upset.

*  Emotions are contagious.” Wouldn’t you rather your child “catch” your calmness than you “catch” their anger?

I love Fred’s simple way of describing calmness. I remember a parent in a parenting class I was teaching who had an a-ha moment when we were talking about staying calm. The idea of enforcing rules in a very matter-of-fact way was the missing link for her. That was the piece that made discipline doable for her. Her enthusiasm was catching when she reported what a difference it was making at her house.

5.  If dealing with a young child, you may need to use your “friendly” muscles. For example, physically removing the child from a situation or securely, but gently, holding a child in a quiet place while he calms down.

I always like to give E a heads up before I use my “friendly” muscles just so she knows what is happening and it doesn’t escalate the emotion of the situation. Luckily, I think I’ve only had to do that once or twice in 10 years.

Very good advice.

6.  Anger is temporary. You can count on angry outbursts from your child, but you can also count on that anger not lasting long. A child’s anger comes and goes, starts and stops, and blows away almost as though it never happened – like a wind blowing across the meadow. Put on your windbreaker and weather through it knowing there will be calm after the storm.

I think it is also important that the child knows you don’t hold a grudge against him because he had the outburst. When he is calm again, things need to go back to business as usual.

 More great advice.

34 Sidebar 2

It took me a while, but I finally figured out that anger for Lovely Little Sis (my youngest daughter) was like a tea kettle boiling over. She would have an outburst of ranting, raving, and crying that would make you believe she would never recover from whatever the issue was. At first I tended to feel responsible for solving the problem. What should I do about this? What do I need to say to help her deal with the situation? What needs to change so this doesn’t happen to her again?

By the time I got a plan in mind and just the right words ready, I discovered that she was just fine. Just as quickly as the outburst happened, it was over, and she was calm. She had her own plan in mind for what to do. You wouldn’t even know she had just been through the “greatest trauma of her life.” All I needed to do was listen and be understanding.

Eventually, I learned that, for her, the angry outburst was the steam coming out of the kettle. It needed to happen in order for her to figure things out. Knowing that, it was a lot easier for me to not be afraid of the over-the-top emotion, feel responsible for her being upset, or try to save her from life’s difficult things. In fact, I finally was able to see the anger as the storm before the calm. Each time I saw that calmness settle in after the outburst, I felt great that she was proving once again that she was able to deal with the hard knocks in life – developing some of that “grit” that I have often written about in this blog. It was like the angry outburst was a sign of her taking one more giant step toward growing-up.

To Be Continued ….

THAT MAKES ME MAD! has more to tell us about child anger. Be sure to check our posting on August 15 for “What You Need to Know about an Angry Child, Part 2.” The better we understand what makes kids angry, the better we can deal with them when they are angry. We can help them blow off steam, return to calm, and even learn a lesson along the way. And, knowing more about their anger may lead to some changes in our behavior that can prevent some angry outbursts in the future.


Read All About It

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson, and David Bredehoft


PICK UP YOUR SOCKS, Elizabeth Crary

TIME-IN: WHEN TIME-OUT DOESN’T WORK, Jean Illsley Clarke and Cary Pillo


 Surf the Internet:
  • self-esteem
  • anger
  • cleaning up toys
  • feeling faces
  • terrible twos
  • temper tantrums
  • discipline
  • Fred Jones

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