How to Talk to an Angry Child

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It is a guarantee that your child will get angry from time to time.

Whether it’s a stubborn toddler not getting his way and erupting into a loud, public tantrum on the floor, or a sullen teen giving you the silent treatment, parents need strategies for working through anger with kids.

One thing to remember—especially in public meltdown situations—is that a child’s anger is a real, valid emotion. It may not be rational to an adult, but the feeling is real to them.

Why Kids Get Angry

Clinical psychologist Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., reminds us that anger is a response to pain.
Dr. Alan Lickerman theorizes in Psychology Today that there are four main causes for anger:
  1. Self-harm – often a result of depression or feeling powerless
  2. To gain control – based on fear or irritation that things aren’t going as planned
  3. To feel powerful – scapegoating; somebody must be worse than me
  4. Injustice – outrage over something inherently unfair
No matter the cause, Maudlin recommends that parents don’t try to stop a child’s anger. Telling children that they can’t get angry creates other problems down the line, including guilt, not knowing how to accept feelings, or how to work productively through negative emotions.


What to Do When Your Child Gets Angry

Laura Markham Ph.D. provided Psychology Today a helpful checklist on what to do when your child gets angry.
  1. Pause. Stop what you're doing and drop your agenda for the moment. Before addressing your child, take a deep breath. It sounds simple, but that moment will provide you an option on how you choose to proceed.
  2. Remember, you and your co-parent are role models for your child. Remain calm and don’t take the child’s anger personally.
  3. Listen. No matter how you feel about the situation, it is important to have your child tell you what they are feeling and why. Children want to be listened to and feel understood. Once a child feels heard, the anger isn’t likely to escalate. 
  4. Make it safe. Anger – especially in children – often dissolves into tears. That’s a sign that the anger is dissipating, and you’re getting closer to the root cause. Remind your child that crying is OK and comfort them until they feel ready to talk.
  5. Wait. Let the emotions subside and let your kid get back to their normal self before trying to teach them any lessons. The instinct may be to try and teach in the moment, but you'll both be better able to handle that phase of the anger process when everyone is calm.

Role as Co-Parents

Parents need to let their kids know it’s okay to get angry, but not okay to handle anger inappropriately. Parents also need to model good, calm behavior of their own before attempting to deal with their child’s anger.
Having a way to talk to your co-parent about any anger or distress that your child may be experiencing is an important tool. Find out how using a co-parenting communication service such as Talking Parents can help you communicate more effectively.

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

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