Got a time bomb ticking in the other room, where a simple no
from you - or persistent pestering from little sister - is all it
takes to make your kid explode?
Whatever it is that sets your kids off, keep in mind that "anger
is as legitimate an emotion as joy or sadness and it's the most
common way children express feelings of frustration," says Sal
Severe, PhD, a school psychologist and author of How to Behave So
Your Children Will, Too!
But anger can get backed up in the pipes.
According to Mitchell H. Messer, retired director of the Anger
Clinic in Chicago, children who don't learn to express their anger
properly can develop an attitude of perceived unfairness. This
mindset can linger into adulthood and contribute to social maladies
such as road rage, violence and the syndrome in which grown men and
women act like 4-year-olds when the going gets tough.
To manage their anger constructively, children need their
parents' help. Here are some temper-taming tactics that can help
your kids learn to handle this powerful emotion-and help you keep
Be a role model. "Children learn by imitating
your behavior and emotions," Messer says. So if you don't want them
to carry on when they're angry, be sure to avoid that behavior
yourself. "If you're setting an example of craziness, your kids
will model that behavior," he says.
Don't take it personally. When your child
lashes out at you-"Mommy, I hate you!"-don't strike back in anger.
"Reacting angrily teaches children what to say and do to push your
emotional buttons in the future when you do something else that
hurts their feelings," says Severe. Instead, neutralize your
child's anger by acknowledging it with phrases, such as, "I'm sorry
you're so angry," or "I'm sorry you hate me today, but I still love
Give your child choices. After you've
acknowledged your child's anger, give her choices. "What do you
want to do about this?" "How long do you want to stay angry?" The
goal: You want your child to calm down enough to talk about
solutions to the problem. The talking-it-through tactic is one Lisa
Russell, a 26-year-old mom of three, finds particularly useful with
her 4-year-old daughter, Meagan, who is prone to anger
"When we see Meagan 'heating up,' we say, 'What's going on? You
look a bit frustrated,'" Russell says. "Then we discuss different
ways to constructively handle the situation. I make sure to listen
to Meagan's ideas, even the ones that sound terrible."
Recently, for example, when Meagan was frustrated because her
sister kept moving the crayons out of reach, she suggested solving
the problem by dumping the crayons on her sister's head and hitting
her with the box. "We discussed why that wasn't such a good idea,"
Russell says. "Ultimately, Meagan decided to tell her sister she
was frustrated because she kept moving the crayons. I praised her
for having such a good idea on how to handle it."
"Brainstorming has taught Meagan how to make decisions on how to
handle angry situations without lashing out. Her new communication
skills have made our home so much happier and more peaceful,"
Negotiate. To avoid conflicts that can arise
from a power struggle-for example, you allow your son an hour of
computer time a day, a rule he won't abide by-"don't hit him head
on by forcing him off the computer at the end of the hour," Severe
says. Instead, sit down and talk with your child about solutions to
the problem. "He might have a better resolution than you do,"
When you come up with a rule, write it down-even make it a
contract for both of you to sign. By soliciting your child's
cooperation, "you'll take away the reason for the power struggle,"
Severe says. Also, allow your child the opportunity to earn bonuses
for good behavior-as in more computer time, for example. You decide
what constitutes the reward but it could be something as simple as
doing his chores without complaining.
Don't spank. According to a recent survey of
1,532 parents across the U.S. by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in
Ann Arbor, Mich., one in five parents spank their kids for
If you're among them, keep in mind that spanking may get your
child to improve his behavior on the spot, but it won't teach him
to alter his behavior in the future. "Kids don't internalize the
message behind spanking," says Severe. "It's a meltdown for the
parent, and most parents feel guilty afterwards." A better idea:
Try to talk with your child about the misbehavior after both of you
have had a chance to cool down.
Think ahead. Anticipate tough situations that are likely to
cause your child to have an outburst. If you're food shopping, for
example, engage your kids in the activity and make them part of the
process, such as helping you pick out a healthy breakfast cereal.
"The more involved they are in any situation, the better they're
going to behave," says Severe. If that doesn't work and a tantrum
ensues anyway, leave the store and try again later.
Reinforce good behavior by praising kids for what they
do well. "It's a very simple idea, but it's something we
all forget to do," says Severe. For example, you might say, "Thanks
for listening to me the first time and bargaining with your brother
instead of fighting," or "I appreciate you doing that without an
argument," or "thanks for getting off the computer when I ask you
to do it." "Kids live for acknowledgment and approval," says
Be consistent. To manage your child's anger
with any of these tactics, keep up the good work. "Consistency is
the most important factor in your relationship with your child,"
says Severe. "It's more important than love, which is almost
biological." It's also a lot of work. "Consistency takes tremendous
commitment and dedication."
The payoff is worth it. You'll have kids who learn to stay calm
and problem-solve through situations rather than get angry. "It's
something a child as young as 4 or 5 can learn to do," says
And what if your child is a teenager? "It's never too late to
start anger management," he says, "but the sooner, the better."
See more of Sandra's stories here.
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