Parenting Tips: Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. But many kids struggle to understand the difference between angry feelings and aggressive behavior. Frustration and anger can quickly turn into defiance, disrespect, aggression, and temper tantrums when kids don’t know how to deal with their emotions.
When left unchecked, childhood aggression such as fighting, spitting, and teasing can lead to additional issues.1 For instance, anger and aggression have been linked to academic problems,2 peer rejections, and poor mental health in adulthood. For kids who have trouble taming their tempers, use these five strategies to teach anger management skills.
1. Create an Anger Thermometer
Anger thermometers are tools that help kids recognize the signs that their anger is rising. Draw a large thermometer on a piece of paper. Start at the bottom with a zero and fill in the numbers up until 10, at the top of the thermometer. On an anger thermometer, zero means “no anger at all.” A 5 means “a medium amount of anger,” and 10 means “the most anger ever.”
At a time when your child is not feeling upset or angry, talk about what happens in their body at each number on the thermometer. Your child might say they are smiling when they’re at a level 0 but have a mad face when they reach level 5. They might feel their face get hot when they are at 2 and they might make fists with their hands when they are at 7. By the time they get to 10, they may feel like an angry monster.
2. Develop a Calm-Down Plan
Encourage them to color, read a book, or engage in another calming activity until they feel better. You might even create a calm-down kit. This could include your child’s favorite coloring books and some crayons, a fun book to read, stickers, a favorite toy, or lotion that smells good.
When they’re upset, you can say, “Go get your calm-down kit.” This encourages your child to take responsibility for calming themselves down.
3. Cultivate Anger Management Skills
One of the best ways to help a child who feels angry is to teach them specific anger management techniques.2 Taking deep breaths, for example, can calm your child’s mind and their body when they are upset. Going for a quick walk, counting to 10, or repeating a helpful phrase might also help.
Teach other skills, such as impulse control skills and self-discipline, as well. Some kids need a fair amount of coaching to help practice those skills when they’re upset.
4. Don’t Give In to Tantrums
Sometimes kids discover that angry outbursts are an effective way to get their needs met. If a child throws a temper tantrum and their parents give them a toy to keep them quiet, they will learn that temper tantrums are effective.
Don’t give in to your child to avoid a meltdown. Although that may be easier in the short-term, in the long run giving in will only make behavior problems and aggression worse. Instead, work on connecting with your child so they feel more confident that their needs will be met.
5. Follow Through With Consequences
Consistent discipline is necessary to help your child learn that aggression or disrespectful behavior isn’t acceptable.3 If your child breaks the rules, follow through with a consequence each time.
Time-out or taking away privileges can be effective discipline strategies. If your child breaks something when they are angry, have them help repair it or do chores to raise money for repairs.
6. Avoid Violent Media
If your child displays aggressive behavior, exposing them to violent TV shows or video games may exacerbate the problem.4 Focus on exposing them to books, games, and shows that model healthy conflict resolution skills.