What You Need to Know about an Angry Child, Part 2

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 

Five Things That Make Your Child Angry – and Probably You Too


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Dr. Mom:

1.  Would you rather be told you will love something or be asked whether you love something and why? Most of us feel more respected when we get to share what we think and feel and people don’t make assumptions about us – often being wrong.

It helps children (and adults) build their self-esteem when they are allowed to have their own thoughts and feelings. In other words, don’t tell your child what he likes or don’t likes. For example, “I fixed you blueberry pancakes; you are going to love them.” Instead try, “I fixed you blueberry pancakes; I’m anxious to hear what you think about them.”

I think your child’s response might be quite different. In the first case, the child may quickly feel angry that you are assuming he will like them. He knows he doesn’t like blueberries, and he expects you to know that too. You could be in for an angry refusal to even taste the pancakes.

In the second case, you are respecting his opinion and wanting him to teach you something about his likes and dislikes. This can make him feel important. That feeling of importance may offset any angry feelings about the food he thinks he isn’t going to like.

Of course, if he does in fact report he doesn’t like blueberries and won’t eat them, you will need to accept that and not force him to eat them. You will also need to help him solve the problem of what he will eat instead. Be sure to look for a win-win solution. Make sure the solution is not one that overburdens you – like fixing a whole new breakfast item. What is in the cupboard or fridge that he can get for himself?

Darling Daughter:  That was certainly a shock for E when I finally stuck to my guns and put the problem onto her “plate.” She didn’t like dinner, and I said “Well, this is what I fixed. If you don’t like it then you need to let me know what YOU are going to fix yourself for dinner, because I am not fixing another meal.” She was about 8 so she had the ability to get some basic things from the kitchen without my help. She was shocked, but hunger won out, and she had a couple of yogurt smoothies and some fruit. A bonus side effect was that now she will sometimes eat something she is not jazzed about because she doesn’t want to fix something else for herself. <g> The exception to the rule is that if I try a new recipe and she honestly tries it and does not like it, I will ask her what she is going to eat instead am willing to fix it. I figure I chose to gamble with a new recipe, so I can do that much for her. However, I do insist that the second dinner be quick and easy so the one already fixed doesn’t get cold and we can all eat together. E does a good job going along with that and asking for something quick and simple like a hot dog, leftovers, or PB&B(banana).

In some households food choices are not negotiable. If it is not OK with you that your child eat anything else other than what was prepared, you should say that from the beginning. Let him be angry if he needs to be and decide not to eat. “This is what was prepared for breakfast, so you may have any food you see on the table or wait until lunch to eat.”

2.  Does it make you mad when people don’t do what they said they would – show up for an appointment, do something they promised, etc.?

Children are the same way. The words they hear from you have exact meanings to them. “In a minute.” to a child means very quickly. How many times have you said that, and it is many, many minutes later before you follow through? Or, worse yet, you forget all together to follow through.

The next time you say, “In a minute.” let it be a reminder to you that this is a chance to build trust with your child. Be sure to respond quickly. If “In a minute.” is not what you really mean, change your words. You could say, “As soon as I finish ….” or “It will take me until the big hand is on 6 before I can stop what I am doing.”

Guilty! So guilty! I used to dread E learning to tell time because I would lose my “mommy time.” We had “mommy time” and “real time” in our house. I would say, “In a minute.” but would really know I was going to take 30 minutes. I didn’t want the anger of her disappointment and impatience so I started calling that “mommy time.” Most of the time (when E was young) it worked. She would distract herself and get playing with something. I could take my 30 minutes or more, and she wouldn’t really notice as long as I remembered to go check in with her and give her my attention or whatever she needed at some point. If I forgot … I heard about it. <g> As E got older my ability to use “mommy time” quickly diminished. She would call me on it! LOL! “Mom, your minutes take sooooo long!” she would say with a hint of disgust. J Once I started to worry that she wouldn’t trust me on other things I got better about giving honest time estimates and giving reasons why I needed the extra time. E has become more understanding and patient. I think knowing what I am doing during my “just a minute” has helped her. E still likes to tease me about how long my minute is, but it is all in good fun.

3.  Has anyone ever “cleaned up” after you and ruined something you were not finished with yet? It can be pretty upsetting. It can cause you all kinds of extra work to get going again and somehow disrespects the work you had put in so far.


We tend to do this “cleaning up” quite often with children – especially when we have let ourselves become the person who is mainly responsible for cleaning up. When a child has worked on a project or been playing with certain toys, it can be hard to know if he is finished. And, there is a tendency to feel like if he doesn’t clean up after himself, you have the right to clean up when you want to and put things where you want.

35 Sidebar 2The best way to avoid this problem is to make sure that the child has learned to be responsible for helping with clean up. For example, you can have certain times of the day that are “clean up” times. Some parents want to do this late morning, late afternoon, and before bedtime – especially with young children. Others are comfortable doing clean up less often, maybe just before bedtime.

We did a before bed “round up” going through the downstairs and making sure it was all put away. E would take care of her things and things she got out, and I would take care of the family things or grown-up messes. When we started we had a 25 cents attached as part of E’s chores/allowance to get her motivated. If she didn’t want to help with round up and I cleaned up her things, this is what happened: 1) I did not ask if she was finished with projects or toys; it was all cleaned up and put away and 2) E would not earn her 25 cents; in fact, it would cost her 25 cents – payable to me or whomever did the cleaning.

I imagine readers will have differing ideas about paying got clean up. I hope you will make comments in our comment section with your ideas about this. There are a lot of pros and cons worth considering.

However many times you clean up at your house, the point is that the child stops what he is doing to say what he is done with and to help put those things away. Things he is not done with, he can help protect by deciding on an out-of-the-way place to put them.

Clean up time is also a great time to admire any creative projects your child has done. That makes clean up time have an extra bonus for the child and not just be an unwanted task.

E would beam with a sense of self pride and accomplishment when she was finished. I always made sure to give a specific compliment about something she had done well and to my satisfaction.

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4.  Have you ever found yourself unable to get a word in edgewise in a conversation? It can be pretty frustrating. Fortunately, as adults, we don’t allow ourselves to throw a temper tantrum over it or act out in some other obnoxious way. We can, however, get turned off to certain individuals and groups of people because of such disregard.


The story of my life! I can’t count how many times I have opened my mouth to speak and someone else starts speaking.  I am left there waiting my turn again and again – all while looking like I am gasping for air or trying to catch flies in my gaping mouth. Most times, I just give up and don’t participate in the conversations – too bad, I usually have something good to say – (if I do say so myself. <g>

Children feel the same way. When they are with you in a group and see everyone talking back and forth, they are smart enough to see that you are all sort of taking turns. Pretty smart of them, I would say. Understandably, they expect to have a turn as well. But, often we do not permit that. We assume the child knows that he should be “seen and not heard.”

There are several ways to handle this situation.

  • You can make sure you take a short break from the adult conversation every so often to talk to your child and see how things are going for him and whether he needs anything.
  • You can talk to your child ahead of time and let him know that this is an adult conversation, and he is expected to either play on his own or be a listener. It’s also a good idea to let him know about how long you will be tied up in this conversation.
  • You can give your child a silent signal to use when he needs to talk to you – like a tap on the arm or a tug on your purse.

5.  What’s it like for you when you are angry and can’t say anything about it? On the other hand, what was it like those few times when you were able to safely blow off steam? In which case did the anger last the longest? In which case were you better able to put the anger past you and move on? In which case were you better able to get to a problem solution?

I’m going to guess that for most of us blowing off steam is helpful. Children are the same way. When you are getting an angry outburst from your child, think of it as temporary. Believe that it will lead to calmness afterwards. Without the outburst, not knowing what to do with all the emotion he is feeling, you could have a child acting out for quite some time in all sorts of ways toward you and others. It is the outburst that will bring on the calm the fastest.

Some adults want to shut down the anger and not listen to it because they don’t want the child to think tantrums are OK. Remember that listening to his anger doesn’t mean you are giving in to him. When you listen you are showing him respect. You are saying his feelings are important. Giving in to what he wants, however, is disrespectful because it says you don’t care about him enough to teach him about rules and consequences – something he needs to learn about in order to get along in the world.


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

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