I talk a lot about the importance of empathy in parenting because I think it can be the difference-maker in every single one of your relationships.
A close second to empathy is humility.
I know this because I’ve experienced it firsthand. When I was a new dad, I thought I had it all figured out and that I had nothing to learn. If my wife emailed me a baby blog or got a book from the library, I would roll my eyes. I thought to myself, “My parents raised me and their parents raised them and nobody needed any help!”
I could not have been MORE wrong.
I suffered as a parent and a husband until I admitted that someone might have something to teach me.
Here’s why: I was trying to solve problems that were caused by me in the first place. And it took a huge dose of humility to understand that.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “What does this have to do with anger management for kids?!”
It has everything to do with anger management for kids.
We have the ability as parents to help our kids deal with their anger because, a lot of times, we are contributing to their outbursts.
If you have an angry child, just stop and think about it without getting too defensive. Are you like I was when I was a new dad or are you approaching this subject with humility?
I believe you can take steps toward helping your kids control their anger. Here are 8 ideas that I’ve learned over the years… after I swallowed a big dose of humility, of course!
Monkey see monkey do
The first step toward helping your angry child is to take inventory of yourself. Remember that whole humility thing I talked about? Here’s where it comes in handy. Ask yourself some honest questions:
- “Is my child reenacting something he is seeing at home?”
- “Is my child treating other kids that way because she sees me do it?”
- “Is my child acting out his anger that way because I’ve taught him to?”
When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we can find the cause of some of our child’s behavior. Then, we can start making changes in ourselves which, in turn, help to change our children.
Talk about emotions
We need to teach our children that it’s totally acceptable to feel any emotion – anger, sadness, excitement, disappointment. In fact, it’s encouraged! But the important thing to teach is that the need to manage their emotions well.
I like to say to my kids, “It’s okay you’re feeling those things, but you still need to be aware of how you’re treating other people.”
When my children got a little bit older, I was able to have some healthy, intentional conversations with them. When I did, I asked them questions like these:
- When do you get angry?
- What does it feel like when you get angry?
- How do those things make you feel?
Just asking those kinds of probing questions helps my child process better ways to express his or her emotions.
Teach coping skills
This one is the most practical and, honestly, probably the most helpful. In our house, we taught our kids some easy coping skills that they could practice in the heat of the moment. It meant that our child had time to calm down before we had a conversation about their anger. The list looked like this:
- squeeze or twist a towel
- punch a punching bag
- hit a pillow
- teach them to talk through it with healthy self-talk – “I’m mad right now… this will pass”
- go to a “calm spot” in the house – We created a space with a comfortable chair where our children could go when they felt angry. No one would bother them or make them come out. They would calm down and come out to talk with us.
Establish anger rules
In our house, we created rules specific to those moments when we’re angry.
The key to making it work? Obeying them ourselves. Our children need to see us behaving the way we want them to behave. Monkey see, monkey do, remember?
Some of our rules were:
- No throwing things
- No slamming doors
- No disrespectful language
- No stomping around the house
Just like normal rules, these helped our kids know what was expected of them when they were angry.
Think about those times when you’ve been angry; those times when you see nothing but the color red. Do you like to hear advice or have a conversation about your emotional state when you’re that angry? No!
Neither do your kids.
They don’t hear anything when they’re angry. So, give them time to calm down and space to learn to manage their own emotions. When they do finally calm down, and you’re ready to speak to them, you should do so with calm tone. Stay neutral and use as few words as necessary. The more clear and calm you are, the more clearly and calmly they will respond.
Pro tip: Yelling back at your kids is not going to teach them anything.
Empathy, like I said before, is the most important quality to adopt. It comes in handy when your child is angry because it keeps you from jumping right into discipline. An empathetic father uses these kinds of phrases:
- “You are really mad right now and I understand”
- “I know you’re upset right now and I love you”
- “I can see that you’re mad.”
The goal is to try to calm your child down. The truth is that when your child is angry, they want the friction; they want the angry interaction. However, it’s phrases like these that will diffuse the situation instead of putting gas on the fire.
In the end, your child needs to apologize to the person they blew up on. If it’s difficult for your kid to do, and you think they need to follow a script, teach them a phrase like, “I am sorry. I could have handled that differently.” It might sound too contrived to you, but it teaches them how to reconcile their relationships and, as a result, become better at managing their own anger.
It’s important to teach your child how to apologize. But it’s also important that you focus on the behavior, not their personhood. Differentiate between what they did and who they are.
What they did was bad. They are not a bad person.
Teach them that we all make mistakes and that we’re all trying ti get better at managing our emotions.
Podcast Ep. 163 Anger Management for Kids
Get professional help
The bottom line is that if things aren’t getting better, go talk to a counselor. There is no shame in taking to a professional for help.
Like I shared at the beginning of this article, your parenting will improve the moment you admit that there are people who can speak truth into your life.
So, give yourself permission to ask for help. There are all sorts of reasons that seeing a professional counselor is good idea:
- You might not be aware of the ways you’re contributing to the problem
- You might not be aware of how your behavior is negatively impacting your child
- You may be causing your child stress and anxiety
- Your expectations on them might be unrealistic
- You need tools to be able to help your child cope with his or her anger
The reason your child is getting angry might not just be because someone took their toy. It could be that they are anxious about what’s going on at home, or at school, or they need attention.
It’s smart to be humble. It’s smart to admit that you don’t have all the answers and that someone might be able to help you. Trust me, I learned it the hard way and I want you to be the best dad you can be.