Most children have temper tantrums at some point at a very young age, and nothing is alarming about the occasional one in itself. However, regular angry and/or aggressive outbursts can become a problem for parents, teachers and other children alike. It’s important not to let this behaviour go unchecked; not only will it make life unpleasant for others, but it will do no favours for the child as they progress into their teens and indeed adulthood. Let’s take a look at some ways parents can help their child’s anger issues without making them worse.
Suggest alternatives to lashing out
Talk to your child about ways they can express their anger or frustration less aggressively. Encourage them to discuss their feelings calmly rather than rant, rave or attack people (or objects).
Another alternative might be to encourage your child to write down how they feel, why they are frustrated, etc. Or perhaps they could draw, paint or scribble; keep crayons, pens, paper, markers etc ready to hand in your home. Click here for an example of an exercise your child could do. This can be an excellent way for kids to express their frustrations in a way that doesn’t harm anybody.
Exercise – Art Therapy exercise for Anger Management in kids:
Don’t reward angry behaviour
It might go without saying, but often parents are tempted to just ‘give in’ to their child’s outbursts and demands by letting them have what they want. This will only reinforce the anger ― you’re effectively teaching them to lash out anytime they want something, which is the opposite of what you want to achieve here – Stand firm.
Teach your child about the consequences
If children don’t have consequences for bad behaviour, there’s no real incentive for them to stop it. Give them a warning; for example, if they continue ranting and shouting, you won’t let them watch TV for a week. And you make a threat, follow through on it. If you don’t, your child will gradually realise your threats are empty and continue with bad behaviour knowing they’ll get away scot-free.
Don’t join in!
Tempting though it may well be, resist the urge to start ranting and shouting back at your child during a tantrum. It won’t calm anyone down; it will only aggravate the situation further. It also only reinforces the idea that such tantrums are acceptable—if they see their parents doing it, then you can hardly blame them for thinking that it’s ok behaviour.
It’s all in the breathing
Encourage your child to pause before they lash out and to not be impulsive the moment they start to feel angry or frustrated. Ask them to take ten deep breaths the next time they feel this way before deciding to act out.
Make meditation and mindfulness part of your child’s life
It may take time to learn, but meditation is a great way for dealing with negative emotions and feelings at age; your kids are no exception. There are plenty of helpful online resources to help teach children how to meditate. If you’re not already familiar with it, it can help you as a frustrated parent too! You could make it a shared learning experience for you and your child.
Always lend a listening ear
No matter what, you need to reassure the child that you are on their side. Make sure they know that, even though you don’t want them to rant, scream and rave, or worse, you’ll still be there to listen to their concerns when they’re ready to do so in a calm manner. It’s not a war here! Assure them that while you’re not pleased with their poor behaviour, it doesn’t mean you’re not concerned about why they’re acting this way.
Getting to the root of the real problem, and how to do it
While all of the above suggestions can help to calm the immediate rant, they are but ‘plasters’ for a bleeding wound; to get to the root of the problem, both parent and child need to discover what is causing these outbursts. Poor behaviour in a child or teen is indicative that some basic requirements are not being met ― perhaps the child does not feel loved, or they feel that they are too controlled. Perhaps they have no boundaries set; there could be several reasons.
Talking therapy, art therapy, and/or dyadic parent-child therapy can help in figuring out what the true underlying issue(s) is/are.
In talk therapy, the therapist listens to the child talk about their issues and what’s angering them. The therapist helps the child find the source of the problem and potential solutions.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) involves examining bewildering or distorted thought processes. This can help improve a child’s moods, anxieties, and behaviour (including anger). CBT therapists educate children about how their thoughts generate feelings and moods, and how these can influence their behaviour. CBT teaches a child to recognize harmful thought patterns. When identified, the therapist then helps the child replace these negative feelings and behaviours with more positive ones.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps a child understand and accept their underlying emotions. Therapists help children and teenagers commit to moving forward in a positive direction by helping them become more aware of their emotional challenges.
Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT) is used to assist children and teenagers who are unsure of their identity—sometimes this can lead to them feeling angry. MBT is committed to assisting children in becoming healthy adults.
Psychodynamic Therapy places emphasis on understanding the factors that inspire and influence a child’s behaviour, ideas, and feelings. It can help identify a child’s typical behaviour patterns, defences, and responses to internal tensions and struggles. Psychoanalysis is a type of psychodynamic therapy that is more specialised and intensive, typically requiring multiple weekly sessions. Psychodynamic therapies are based on the idea that once a child’s underlying issues are revealed, their behaviour and feelings will improve.
In Art Therapy, children are encouraged to use creative expression to distil or even diagnose emotions. It can take different forms, be it painting, clay modelling, etc.
Dyadic Parent-Child Therapy
Dyadic Parent-Child Therapy uses real-time coaching sessions to help parents and children who are having issues with behaviour or relationship. Parents interact with their children while therapists guide families toward positive interactions. This entails a parent and child collaborating with a therapist to improve the child’s relationship and communication with the parent.
Psychotherapy isn’t a quick fix or an easy fix. It’s a complex and rich process that can help a child or adolescent reduce symptoms, gain insight, and improve functioning and quality of life over time. At times, a combination of different therapeutic approaches may be beneficial. Let me know if you would like to know more about the options that are best for your situation.