Eight years ago, my wife and I embarked on a journey. A journey with no map, no guidebook, and filled with mystery and surprise. A journey of blazing our own trails. You may know this journey… it’s called parenting. 

Now, here we are with two curious, fun-loving adventurers, one 8 and one 5. Both of them are full of life and laughter and a full range of emotions. This stage of parenting brings a new element: navigating those emotions. The dirty diapers and potty training are gone; we live in a world of attitudes. Any other elementary-age parents out there feel me? I wasn’t ready for this.

One of the more challenging emotions to address has been anger. How do I help my child navigate being angry? How do I help them express their anger? Do I want them to be angry?

Before I go further, let me say this slowly and clearly: Anger is normal. There is nothing wrong with being angry. It’s what we do with anger that matters. Anger often reveals our passions and sense of justice. We just can’t let it control us. [Read Why Anger Isn’t Good or Bad for more on this]

Now that we’ve got that clear, here are four ways you can help your child deal with anger:

Teach them about their feelings.

Our kids are constantly learning. From day one, they are discovering a new world with new sights and sounds. Feelings and emotions are no different. They learn happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and joy. Our job as parents is to help them learn these emotions and name them. They may not know how to express what they feel, but we can give them the words.

When they’re mad or upset, help them investigate why they feel that way. As you both discover the expressions of their emotions, name them. Give them words like sad, mad, happy, disappointed, maybe even hangry (my kids get angry).

Model how to handle anger in a healthy way.

Kids are sponges. They watch and listen. You may have heard it said, “More is caught than taught.” That’s parenting gold right there. Researchers have found that much of what we learn comes through social interactions. This is called the social learning theory.

What it means is, how you handle anger directly influences how your child handles it.

If someone cuts me off in traffic, I get mad. Just being real. I often don’t want to say nice things about said person. (Confession is good for the soul; glad I got that out there.) I’m conscious of this in myself, so when it happens and my kids see me mad, I tell them that I’m frustrated and why. And I own my actions or feelings.

It’s healthy for us to express what makes us angry so our kids can learn how to handle the same emotions. Now, we don’t have to express all of our frustrations to them. There are plenty of adult problems that our kids need to be protected from. But we can define some of our frustrations, how they make us feel, and why.

They are watching and listening anyway, so take the opportunity to teach.

Help them communicate their feelings.

When we help our child name their emotions, we are helping them communicate what is going on inside. If my kids are angry, I don’t want them to throw a tantrum or become overly upset because things didn’t go their way. I want them to be able to express what they’re feeling and act appropriately. This goes back to modeling. Remember, they’re watching.

Make a plan to handle anger.

Anger is normal, but what we do with anger matters. If you want to help your child manage their anger, it might be a good idea to make a plan before they get angry. Trying to make a plan while they’re dealing with the emotion won’t work. Here are some thoughts on what could be part of your plan:

  • Engage in a calming activity (coloring, reading, taking a walk).
  • Take a “time in.” When they feel frustrated, take a few minutes to calm down. Reflect on what they think or feel and calm down before speaking or doing something. Remember, this isn’t a punishment. 
  • Take deep breaths or count to 10.

Once they have calmed down, talk through the situation and their responses. Acknowledge and applaud them for handling the situation. It’s important to recognize what goes well. A wise man once told me, “What gets recognized gets repeated.” 

It’s healthy for children (and adults) to express and feel their emotions. It’s our job to teach them to do this in a healthy way.

If you feel your child’s anger is increasing despite your best efforts, consult their pediatrician. We want to do everything in our power to help our children be successful and develop into extraordinary adults.

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