Many parents send anangry child to her room to "calm down."After all, what else can we do? We certainly can't reason with her when she's furious. It's no timeto teach lessons or ask for an apology. She needs to calm down.
If we send our angry child to his room, he will indeed calm down, eventually. He'll also havegotten some clear messages:
  • No one is listening to what's upsetting you.
  • No one is going to help you solve the problem you're experiencing.
  • Anger is bad.
  • You're being bad because you feel angry at us.
  • Your anger scares us.
  • You're on your own when it comes to managing those big scary feelings in a responsible way, wedon't know how to help you.
  • When you're angry, the best thing to do is to stuff those feelings. (Of course, that means they'reno longer under your conscious control, and will burst out again soon in unmanageable ways.)
No wonder so many of us develop anger-management issues that last into adulthood, whether thatmeans we yell at our kids, throw tantrums with our partner, or overeat to avoid acknowledging ouranger.What can we do instead? We canhelp our children learn to manage their angerresponsibly. Most of us have a hard time picturing what that looks like. Quite simply, responsibleanger management begins with accepting our anger, but refraining from acting on it by lashing outat others. There's always a way to express what we need without attacking the other person.In fact, when we're willing to stop and notice the deeper feelings of our anger, we find hurt andfear and sadness. If we allow ourselves to feel those emotions, the anger melts away. It was only areactive defense.This is one of the most critical tasks of childhood—learning to tolerate the wounds ofeveryday life without moving into reactive anger. People who can do this are able to work thingsout with others and manage themselves to achieve their goals. We call them emotionally intelligent.Children developemotional intelligencewhen we teach them that all their feelings are okay, but they always have a choice about how theyact. Here's how to do that.

When your child gets angry:

1. Keep yourself from moving into "fight or flight"by taking a few deep breaths and reminding yourself that there's no emergency. This modelsemotional regulation and helps your child feel safer, so she begins to shift out of "fight orflight."2. Listen.Acknowledge why your child is upset. Often, when people don't feel heard, they escalate. Bycontrast, when your child feels understood, he'll begin to feel calmer, even when he doesn't gethis way.3. Try to see it from his point of view.The more compassionate you can be, the more likely your child will find his way to the tears andfears under the anger: "Oh, Sweetie, I'm sorry this is so hard...You're saying I never understandyou...that must feel so terrible and lonely." You don't have to agree, and you don't have todisagree. Just acknowledge his truth in the moment. Once he feels heard, his truth will shift.4. Don't get hooked by rudeness and personal attacks.Parents are often hurt when children yell at them. But your child doesn't actually hate you or wanta new mom or dad, or whatever she's yelling. She feels hurt and scared and powerless, so she'spulling out the most upsetting thing she can think of, so you'll know how upset she is. Just say"Ouch! You must be so upset to say that to me. Tell me why you're upset. I'm listening."Your child is not "behaving badly" or "winning." She's showing you in the best way she can at themoment just how upset she is. As she realizes that she doesn't have to raise her voice or go on theattack to be heard and that it's safe to show you her vulnerable emotions, she'll develop thecapacity to express her feelings more appropriately.5. Set whatever limits are necessary to keep everyone safe while acknowledging the anger andstaying compassionate."You're so mad! You can be as mad as you want, and hitting is still not ok, no matter how upset youare. You can stomp to show me how mad you are. No hitting."
6. If yourchild is already in a full meltdown, don't talk except to empathize and reassure her that she's safe.Don't try to teach, reason or explain. When she's awash in adrenaline and other fight or flightreactions is not the time to explain why she can't have what she wants or get her to admit that sheactually loves her little sister. Your only job now is to calm the storm. Just acknowledge howupset she is: "You are so upset about this...I'm sorry it's so hard."7. Remind yourself that tantrums are nature's way of helping immature brains let off steam.Children don't yet have the frontal cortex neural pathways to control themselves as we do. (Andplease note that we don't always regulate our anger very well, even as adults!) The best way tohelp children develop those neural pathways is to offer empathy, while they're angry and at othertimes. It's okay, good, actually, for your child to express those tangled, angry, hurt feelings.After we support kids through a tantrum, they feel closer to us and more trusting. They feel lesswound-up inside, so they can be more emotionally generous. They aren't as rigid and demanding.8. Remember that anger is a defense against a threat.It comes from our "fight, flight or freeze" response. Sometimes the threat is outside us, butusually, it isn't. We often see threats outside us because we're carrying around old stuffedemotions like hurt, fear or sadness. (In other words, your angry child really is not a threat toyour safety or well-being.) Whatever's happening in the moment triggers those old feelings, and wego into fight mode to try to stuff them down again.So while your child may be upset about something at the moment, it may also be that he's luggingaround a full emotional backpack, and just needs to express those old tears and fears. A newdisappointment can feel like the end of the world to a child, because all those old feelings comeup. Kids will do anything to fend off these intolerable feelings, so they rage and lash out.9. Make it safe for your child to move past anger.If they feel safe expressing their anger, and we meet that anger with compassion, the anger willbegin to melt. So while we accept our child's anger, it isn't the anger that is healing. It's theexpression of the tears and fears beneath the anger that washes out the hurt and sadness and makesthe anger vanish, because once your child shows you those more vulnerable feelings, the anger is nolonger necessary as a defense.10. Stay as close as you can.Your child needs an accepting witness who loves him even when he's angry. If you need to move awayto stay safe, tell him "I won't let you hurt me, so I'm moving back a bit, but I am right here.Whenever you're ready for a hug, I'm right here."If he yells at you to "Go away!" say "You're telling me to go away, so I am moving back, ok? Iwon't leave you alone with these scary feelings, but I 'm moving back."11. Keep yourself safe.Kids often benefit from pushing against us when they're upset, so if you can tolerate it and staycompassionate, that's fine to allow. But if your child is hitting you, move away. If she pursuesyou, hold her wrist and say "I don't think I want that angry fist so close to me. I see how angryyou are. You can hit the pillow I'm holding, or push against my hands, but no hurting." Kids don'treally want to hurt us— it scares them and makes them feel guilty. Most of the time, when wemove into compassion and they feel heard, kids stop hitting us and start crying.12. Don't try to evaluate whether he's over-reacting. Of course he's over-reacting! But remember thatchildren experience daily hurts and fearsthat they can't verbalize and that we don't even notice. They store them up and then look for anopportunity to "discharge" them. So if your kid has a meltdown over the blue cup and you reallycan't go right now to get the blue cup out of the car, it's ok to just lovingly welcome hismeltdown. Most of the time, it wasn't about the cup, or whatever he's demanding. When children getwhiny and impossible to please, they usually just need to cry.13. Acknowledging her anger will help her calm down a bit.Then help her get under the anger by softening yourself. If you can really feel compassion for thisstruggling young person, she'll feel it and respond. Don't analyze, just empathize. "You reallywanted that; I'm so sorry, Sweetie." Once you recognize the feelings under the anger, she willprobably pause and stop lashing out. You'll see some vulnerability or even tears. You can help hersurface those feelings by focusing on the original trigger: "I'm so sorry you can't have the ___you want, Sweetie. I'm sorry this is so hard." When our loving compassion meets her wound, that'swhen she collapses into our arms for a good cry. And all those upset feelings evaporate.14. AFTER he's calmed down, you can talk.Resist the urge to lecture. Tell a story to help him put this big wave of emotion in context."Those were some big feelings...everyone needs to cry sometimes...You wanted....I said no...Youwere very disappointed...You got so angry....You were sad and disappointed....Thank you for showingme how you felt...." If he just wants to change the subject, let him. You can circle back to bringclosure later in the day or at bedtime, while you're snuggling. But most young children WANT tohear the story of how they got mad and cried, as long as it's a story, not a lecture. It helps themunderstand themselves, and makes them feel heard.15. What about teaching? You don't have to do as much as you think.Your child knows what she did was wrong. It was those big feelings that made her feel like it wasan emergency, and necessary to break the rule about being kind. By helping her with the emotions,you're making a repeat infraction less likely.Wait until after the emotional closure, and then keep it simple. Recognize that part of her wantsto make a better choice next time, and align with that part. Be sure to give her a chance topractice a better solution to her problem. "When we get really angry, like you were angry at yoursister, we forget how much we love the other person. They look like they're our enemy. Right? Youwere so very mad at her. We all get mad like that and when we are very mad, we feel like hitting.But if we do, later we're sorry that we hurt someone. We wish we could have used our words. Iwonder what else you could you have said or done, instead of hitting?"Accepting emotions like this is thebeginning of resilience. Gradually, your child will internalize the ability to weather disappointment, and learn thatwhile he can't always get what he wants, he can always get something better—someone who lovesand accepts all of him, including the yucky parts like disappointment and anger. He'll have learnedthat emotions aren't dangerous—they can be tolerated without acting on them, and they pass.Gradually, he'll learn to to verbalize his feelings and needs without attacking the otherperson—even when he's furious.You'll have taught him how tomanage his emotions. And you'll have strengthened, rather than eroded, your bond with him. All by taking a deep breathand staying compassionate in the face of rage. Sounds saintly, I know, and you won't always be ableto pull it off. But every time you do, you'll be helping your child grow the neural pathways for amore emotionally intelligent brain. And you'll be gifting yourself a lot less drama—and a lotmore love.Originally posted onAha! Parenting.

Helping kids learn to manage their anger is no easy task. These things can help.

Boundless Blooms guided exercises and mantra cards

Boundless Blooms guided exercises and mantra cardsDesigned to introduce even the youngest kids to mindfulness, these colorful cards help them learnnew ways to move, breathe, and take a moment for themselves.

Slumberkins hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins hammerhead snugglerAlong with its engaging story and mantra card, this snuggly-soft plush helps little ones articulatetheir big feelings of anger and frustration and build a better understanding of how to regulatetheir emotions.
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