We have all seen children throw temper tantrums, and we can all likely agree that they are not much fun to witness. We have been in the room as a child has punched an adult or anotherchild, or when they’ve said harsh swear words they have no business knowing. Each of these scenarios conveys a universal emotion: Anger. It’s a common emotion, many of us deal with on a daily basis regardless of age. What many probably don’t remember is that when we were children, we were likely taught how to manage anger and try to deal with it in a healthy way. Children who act on their anger in unproductive ways, such as with violence or screaming, have not been taught how to manage their anger in a healthy manner.
This blog has been crafted for the purpose of providing information on the topic of childhood anger, and how we as educators and parents can teach children to handle their anger. Anger plagues humans for their entire life, therefore becoming essential that children are taught from a young age what are appropriate responses to this difficult to handle emotion.
What does a child have to be angry about?
- Failure: Children fail just like adults. It may not be on the same scale as adults, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t frustrate and anger them just as much. Failing at tying one’s shoes, failing to be able finish writing their name, or failing to color in-between the lines; to a child these feel like failures.
- Trauma: Sometimes unfair things happen to children. Through no fault of their own they may experience incredibly difficult circumstances. As a result of these difficult circumstances, anger is often a common reaction.
- Physical needs not being met: Hungry, tired, or thirsty? When our primal needs are not met, it’s natural to become angry. Children can get “hangry” just like adults!
- Over-stimulation: During times of over-stimulation, children may become frustrated. When too much is occurring at once, irritability is a common response, which often manifests itself in anger.
- Lack of Attention: Like adults, children need a social network that provides them support. This comes in the form of teachers, adults, child friends, and extended family. When a lack of attention is felt, children may become angry. Their lack of understanding why this attention is being withheld often angers them.
- Poor communication skills: Children lack the ability to express the way they feel. Often they are misunderstood. Anger manifests when they can’t communicate their desired message.
How to Help Children Cope with Anger:
- Seek understanding: It is very difficult to help a child cope with anger if you are unsure what they are angry about. If the child is old enough to talk, ask why they are angry, and what they need. It is up to the adult to decide whether or not supplying that need is in the child’s best interest long-term.
- Let them remain angry (sometimes): Sometimes it’s best to let a child work through their anger on their own. If a child never tries to self-soothes on their own, they will never develop the skills needed to do so.
- Remain solution oriented: Most things that anger us can be solved. The solution the child wants may not be possible, but there is always an alternative. Encourage angry children to seek solutions, and help them brainstorm solutions.
- Establish Anger Rules: Firm behavior expectations should be enforced at all times. By having rules, children get used to expectations, and understand what is an appropriate response to their anger. For example: hitting or treating others with contempt is never permitted.
- Teach children how to label their feelings: Children experience a variety of emotions. Children need to be taught that emotions are separate from actions. Just because they are angry that is not reason to act a certain way that is otherwise unacceptable.
- Talk about your feelings: Children need to know that they are not the only ones that deal with anger, or other feelings for that matter. Talk about your feelings and how you are dealing with them positively. Just make sure to keep it appropriate.
- Reinforce positive responses to anger: When a child handles anger in a healthy way, applaud and reward that behavior; by doing so we effectively reinforce it.