How To Diffuse Anger in Children?
...techniques that actually work...
We've all experienced it...but it's really tough when kids hit out in rage. They get so caught up in the moment that many parents struggle with how to contain them!
Anger in children with their tantrums begins at around 18 months, the development of their wants and perceived needs outweighs their communication skills which leads to extra frustration. When they are toddlers, it’s easy for the parent to remain calm, to wait out their storm. But as they grow and their outbursts become more aggressive and forceful how do we, the parent, keep our cool and let them know it’s all ok?
As parents we can try to stamp out their anger and send them to their room, sit them on the naughty step or take away their toys. Withholding love, deprivation of liberty or forcible isolation might be other ways to describe these punishments.
Time-out is actually an abbreviation from psychological studies in the 50’s and 60’s called “Time out from Positive Reinforcement” . The studies started with Pigeons and Chimpanzee behaviour modification and were later carried through into children’s behaviour modification.
But this actually teaches them a lesson we don’t intend..... It basically says those behaviours are bad and I can’t deal with them.
So how can they possibly learn to manage their anger if you can’t?
Alfie Kohn goes on to explain that love withdrawal causes an emotional pain, which is just as effective in the short term as physical pain, but with longer-lasting effects.
Sending a child away doesn’t give them time to think about what they have done, it gives them time to stew and increase their anger – to redirect it at you, to work out how to do the action and not get caught. Punishment and extraction or removal of belongings gives a feeling that is hard to deal with, even more negative connotations. I know this through experience and countless psychological studies have shown that punishment only works long term if it is serious enough to pain and hinder you for a lengthy time, or the punisher is present at the time of the crime. The 5 minutes time out doesn’t change the behaviour, which is why it’s used repeatedly for the same offence.
No bad emotions
In young children, it’s important to let them be at peace with all of their emotions. Feeling sad, angry and worried are just feelings as are happy, excited and giddy. They’re simply thoughts. Thoughts are neutral until we attach meaning to them. And by denying those emotions being around us, we are saying that some are bad, and some are good. I only love you when you’re happy and pleasantly behaved.
Children see the world through children’s eyes. The things that make them happy (farts) or sad (being told no chocolate before dinner) are not (always) the things that we as adults would feel happy or sad about – I think farts can be funny…..but I may be on my own here!
Child Emotions Are Like Storms
I think of emotions like weather, sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s cloudy and sometimes there’s a full-on storm raging.
I can’t do anything to change the weather, only prepare myself for it. And in England we can have 4 seasons in one day!
“There’s no such thing as bad weather – only unsuitable clothes” Alfred Wainwright (also credited to Scandinavian folklore)
Well I would say ....
“There’s no such thing as bad emotions, only ineffective ways of dealing with them”
Trying to change people’s emotions or never have bad days, is like, trying to push rain back into the clouds.
A good storm can be perfect for clearing the air, feeding a dry landscape, creating space for something new.
Our children deserve to be loved unconditionally, warts an all. I want my child to be a well-rounded adult that cares for other people’s wellbeing, as well as his own. I want him to be emotionally stable and able to navigate the harshness of the real world with a smile on his face, and I want him to be free to take risks and try something new. Knowing no matter what happens I will always love him.
Ways To Diffuse Anger In Children?
1. Shouty anger: Waiting it out
I give some examples of phrases here, the important thing is not the phrases, but to be in the calm frame of mind, and mean what you say – the words are vessels for your feelings – use ones that feel right for the moment.
“I see you’re feeling angry right now“
“It’s hard for us to discuss why you’re so upset when your shouting“
“It’s hard for me to hear clearly when you shout”
“I’m right here for you when you’re ready to talk”
Waiting it out can often be the most successful diffuser, just be at peace with their anger – discussions come later.
Keeping calm, and present is the most important thing here. And it’s ok to explain that dinner needs to be made, so when they’re ready to talk they could come in the kitchen and you will speak to them about why they got so upset. You are not calm or present if your worrying that dinner won’t be ready if you’re dealing with this – try giving them a few minutes first of course.
2. Hitting anger: Holding
My children are used to being touched, hugged and carried in tight slings. So, for them, comfort comes in the security of tight hugs. This can be helpful for them – but sometimes exacerbates, read the situation individually each time. And be prepared to ditch it.
Holding in a bear hug, whilst remaining calm, and not getting angry with them, can show them your love whilst they fizzle out. My three-year-old when overtired needs this as giving her space keeps her getting more overtired and destructive – if she chooses to move away and not hit me or break things, then that is fine too.
Holding hands and feet so they can’t hit you, whilst reinforcing that you don’t want to be hit can be helpful. If they’re screaming “let me go” then, of course, I will, but if you hit me, I will need to stop you.
Hitting can be redirected at sofa’s or pillows.
“I see you’re feeling angry and needing to hit, lets hit this pillow instead”
This usually gets my son so giggly the anger disappears.
We can use throwing bean bags or teddy's too.
3. The Imaginary Balloon
If I can get my child to hear me, I love using this! I often talk of anger bubbles, it kind of feels like I’m a bottle of fizzy pop that’s been shaken when I get angry – I just need to pop my lid and fizz all over. This is a way to release some of that pressure by taking the lid off slowly.
“Anger can really bubble up inside us sometimes, shall we try to blow it away?”
“Can you help me blow up a big balloon.”
(start blowing an imaginary balloon up – describe its colours, it’s shapes – I often choose a mermaid balloon, and giggle when it bumps the ceiling)
“Here hold this” – pass an imaginary string, start blowing up a favourite character and ask them to complete it. My son used to get tractor balloons now he chooses dinosaurs.
You can switch this to an imaginary cake and candles – you can pretend it’s a relighting candle or that they missed it…. The trick is to get them to do a big inhale, and a big controlled exhale.
Using breathing and focusing on something else gives them the chance to slow down their thinking. It actually switches the nervous system and is something I teach all of my busy parents – how to breathe, to calm down and think – or “meditate in a moment” as I call it.
4. Snow Globe
Using a snow globe or a water bottle with glitter in it can help explain anger to children.
Demonstrate how if they are angry it's like shaking the globe and all the snow is swirling and whirling, but as they wait calmly all the snow settles and they can see the scene inside.
When they’ve calmed down this works beautifully to discuss what happened.
I know I said above that time outs were not good. Showing self-directed, own choice, removal from a situation can be really good for long term wellbeing of everyone, just don’t slam the door on your way out. I’m sure you’re no longer 13!
When parenting gets too much for me, when I’m not in the right frame of mind to deal with it all fairly or rationally I need a minute to think.
The other month I wanted to go to a vegan fair that was quite a drive away. They were being kids – getting out toys, watching TV, chasing each other around, taking a week to eat breakfast, screaming at each other. There was inaction and movement and noise all around me, and they were just not eating their breakfast and putting their shoes on so we could do something fun together that would have included buying cake and cheese!
I shouted, lost my cool and realised I was in the wrong! (it happens, I am human) I apologised and said I needed some space to get myself together, so I went to my bedroom and sat on my bed for a while. Eventually, they came to find me, and we discussed my behaviour and how I could have dealt with it better, this gave them the opportunity to reflect on their own behaviour too. And we concluded it was 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other! My desire to go out was time-sensitive and I had missed the opportunity now, but I could see all they wanted to do that day was play.
That afternoon we baked and painted, I let go of expectations and reconnected with them. So, what that we missed out on cheese!
I use “mummy needs a minute to think about how to deal with this” from time to time. Sometimes that means I ask them to leave me to calm down, please go upstairs and play with your toys, just do not be near me right now, I want to deal with this fairly.
My children will occasionally explain they need time alone to deal with an emotion and that is self-directed. We have sat close offering hugs or presence to the three-year-old whilst she cried and sobbed and kicked the floor before falling asleep naked on the landing!
We Will Survive
Parenting is tough, but it can be easier if we relax a little and not expect them to be sunny and happy all the time. They will throw big wobblers at times that are inconvenient to us, and that’s ok, I’m sure we won’t be level and even-tempered all the time too. We are learning to parent one day at a time, and they are learning to be themselves one day at a time. Relationships fluctuate, emotions too. Without the ups, we’d never have downs. The triggers for our stresses are adult minded, the triggers for their stresses are child minded. Still based on thought, the thoughts will still pass as thousands of thoughts pass each day. We are the adult and we know this, help them learn it by modelling, apologising and looking after yourself. A tired stressed out mummy, does not eat well, she does not sleep well, she does not have time for exercise, and she does not always make the right decisions.
By trying to fix anger, we can make it worse. By ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t live at our house, we are making it a bad part of us. By calmly allowing it to pass, we diffuse it – and then learn from it.
When the heat has dispersed, we can talk about the fact that Maisy didn’t want to play with him, or why when mummy said no it was for a reason – and can he now understand why. We don’t have to give in to all of their wants (perceived needs) we don’t always have to put them above our own needs, we don’t have to wrap them in cotton wool and hide the world from them. We just need to be there for them, warts n all.
Nurse Rachel Devereux
You can also find advise from the NHS on 'Dealing With Anger In Children'
This article has kindly been written by Nurse Rachel Devereux who is an independent Nurse, Health Coach and Environment specialist.
Nurse Rachel Devereux, was a high achieving Community Staff Nurse, during 14 years of NHS work she excelled and pushed herself to progress through the ranks working on zero-hour contracts as a health care assistant to achieving a Masters in Long Term Conditions.
When she birthed her children, she birthed the mother inside her – life suddenly made a lot more sense, but that high achiever burnt out trying to be the perfect mother and the perfect wife and the perfect Nurse. Recognising burnout in herself as a working mum, she recognised it in the parents around her, she saw the wilful self-neglect, the negative health behaviours that happen when people are stressed, she saw the studies of how stress and overwhelm were affecting peoples health in the immediate and long term and she decided to take action to help prevent and reverse ill health.
Her own recovery gave her the necessary understanding for helping people and having gone on to train with some of the leading Three Principles Practitioners from around the world Rachel has now a firm grasp of our innate wellbeing and helps others to realise their own strengths in the face of despair, she helps parents become the calm within their child’s storm and she helps neutralise the negative mind chatter that keeps us stuck in our own storms. Rachels training with experts in health and parenting, using the Three Principles as defined by Sydney Banks stands her apart from other coaches as she helps people access their own wisdom and regain the trust in themselves to be self sufficient and not reliant on others to ‘fix’ them, as we are never broken, we simply think we are! Her simplistic style has the power to allow you to change your whole life, she helps you slow down, relax and see the trees within the wood.
“You are one thought away from happiness, one thought away from sadness. The secret lies in thought.” Sydney Bank
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