Help your child understand and master those furious feelings


  1. Seven-year-old Ayesha had almost finished the handmade birthday card for her father. "Just like a real one," she thought to herself, admiring it proudly. She’d been working on it for nearly an hour when Henry, her little brother, offered to help her. Before she could stop him, he’d smeared black marker all over her beautiful ponies and rainbows. Overwhelmed with anger, she grabbed the marker and began scribbling furiously all over his arm. Terrified by her reaction and outraged that his help wasn’t appreciated, the 4 year old yelled for help. When their father approached after hearing the commotion, the children were rolling around on the ground, tearing at each other and screaming at the top of their lungs.
    What is Anger?
    Anger is a signal emotion. It usually mobilizes a response to danger, but it’s also a form of self-expression and sometimes a child’s way of declaring independence. Many things can trigger a child’s anger, and sometimes the result is aggression. In the example of Sophie and her little brother, each child went on the attack. Sophie became frightened by her reaction and feelings. As is often the case, biting, fighting, and temper tantrums were just around the corner. As children reach kindergarten age, anger doesn’t usually explode into aggression because they’ve learned to hold back such impulsive urges. Over time, as children reach school age, parents can expect more subtle forms of aggression: pouting, sulking, and whining.
    As it turns out, young children have a lot to be angry about. They’re little. They aren’t allowed to do everything they want. They fail at many of the things they try. Bigger people tell them what to do, and since those people are also stronger, they can make them do it. Three to 5 year olds perceive danger even when it is not present, or they overreact to it. They seek protection by going on the offensive. At this stage, impulses are hard to control, and the ability to stop, listen to the other side, and seek out common ground for negotiation and compromise is barely a glimmer.
    It may seem obvious to adults, but a young child needs to learn that anger is the name she can attach to certain feelings and the physical sensations that come with anger: a pounding heart, heavy breathing, and a feeling of getting warm. You can help your child in the heat of the moment by acknowledging and naming the emotion: “I can see that you are angry right now.” She also needs your help in recognizing the triggers that set off these feelings, such as another child grabbing a toy or threatening to hurt her; an adult thwarting her exciting plans or seeming to punish unjustly; or her failing to reach some new goal she has set. Over time, with your help, she’ll realize that these are the kinds of situations that make her want to scream and kick.
    Learning by Example
    You can teach your child to recognize that managing her angry feelings is an important skill to have. At the same time, you should acknowledge that it’s not easy. Managing anger takes most of us a lifetime, and it remains a work in progress. Any day’s headlines prove just how hard it is for adults to learn conflict resolution. Your child closely watches your grown-up ways of handling anger, and she learns from them. Letting your child know that you’re angry about something she has done is one way to show her the consequences of her actions. When you’re angry with others, you can show her how to recognize that feeling, stop the impulse to lash out, and look for constructive solutions. When you fail at your attempts to defuse your own anger, you can admit your mistake and demonstrate humility.
    Asking your child to stifle such powerful feelings won’t work: The anger will dribble into unrelated situations, lead to explosions later on, or fester until it turns inward. A key to helping your child manage anger is getting her to question whether aggression really gets her what she wants.


Of course, there will be times when anger turns into a physical melee. Use this as an opportunity to help your child master these aggressive feelings. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop the action and restore safety. It’s often necessary to isolate the fighters. Reassure both sides that they’ll be safe, and that they can learn to stay in control and protect themselves.
  2. Set limits. Lay down the law and let children know who’s in charge when they’re out of control: “No hitting, and if you won’t stop it, I will.” 
  3. Follow through with consequences. A child must face the consequences of his actions if he is to learn to stop and think before he acts. “If you can’t be together without hurting each other, then you can’t be together. If you want another chance to play, see if you can remember this.” 
  4. Forgive. Children need to know that their bad behavior hasn’t turned them into bad people. Apologies and making amends help them move from the guilty feelings that come from knowing they were wrong to having hope that they can do better.



A child may seem irritable most of the time, easily set off and ready to start a fight. If this type of behavior is brief, it may be a response to a major change in the family, such as a new baby or a move. Or it may be the first sign of a “touchpoint,” a time when a child slips back into old, outgrown behaviors just as she’s about to blossom in new ways. When this behavior persists and interferes with relationships with family or friends, it is time to consider more serious possible causes: ongoing threats to a child’s safety, deeper tensions in the family, a developmental delay in language that leads to frustration, or a delay in social skills that brings on fighting or depression. If you’re concerned about your child’s anger, ask your pediatrician for help.



A good correction routine teaches children that they must change. Their current course of action will not work. It's unacceptable and needs adjusting. Unfortunately the clear message that the child has a problem and needs to work on it is sometimes missed because of parental anger. A parent's harshness can confuse the learning process. Instead of thinking, "I'm here taking a Break because I did something wrong," the child thinks, "I'm here taking a Break because I made Mom mad."

The child's focus changes from correcting what he or she did wrong to avoiding parental anger. It's important to remember that your anger is good for identifying problems but not good for solving them. When you're tempted to respond harshly, be careful to take a moment and think about what you need to teach in the situation. It's easy to react with anger when your kids do the wrong thing but it's more helpful to move into a constructive correction routine.

For example, Dad yells, "I've had it! I called you five times and you didn't come, so I'm not taking you to the party!" The child gets a mixed message. Is missing the party the consequence for not coming when called, or is it the consequence for making Dad angry?

Children who grow up with explosive parents learn to focus more on pleasing people than on living with convictions about right and wrong. They may learn to make changes in life, but not because they're determined to do what's right. Rather, they make changes to avoid upsetting people; they become people pleasers or just plain sneaky. Kids then believe that what they did was okay as long as Mom or Dad didn't find out. As long as no one gets angry, then there's no problem.

When you make a mistake and correct in anger, it's important to come back to your child and talk about it afterwards. Clarify what was wrong, why the consequence was given, and apologize for your harshness.


Some problems that children face are more difficult than others. The child who is annoying, who habitually teases, or who is explosively angry are just a few examples. Out of frustration, some parents think that the child needs bigger and bigger consequences. They believe that the bigger the consequence, the faster the change.

Remember that the goal is a changed heart, not just punishment for doing wrong. A larger consequence may be needed to get the child's attention but the real work takes place by helping children adjust the way they think and the patterns of behavior that have developed over time. Often many small corrections are more effective than one large consequence.

Mature people will feel an internal pain when they discover that they’ve made a mistake or done the wrong thing. This is normal and healthy. Your child may not experience that same inner sense yet. Consequences create a kind of pain for children. This pain can motivate right behavior and get them moving in the right direction.

One example of this is the parent who decided to take away the privilege of riding a bike from her nine-year-old son. She said, "Son, I'm not just taking the bike away for a day. I'm taking the bike away until I see some progress in the way you're treating me when I call you in for dinner. We'll see how you do for two days and if I see a good response then you can play with your bike again." Mom turned the discipline around so that the child had to earn back the privilege. She wanted to see several positive change points before she allowed her son to ride his bike again.

Kids often need a multi-faceted approach to help them change. Teaching about sensitivity, self-control, respect or another quality will also go a long way to help children change their minds and thus free them to change their hearts as well.


As a parent, you've probably discovered that even when you do right things with your kids, at times problems develop and you have to make adjustments. As you examine your current routine, you may discover that in an attempt to do something helpful such as talk things through, you've actually encouraged something unhelpful such as arguing. You may find that you're not actually doing something wrong but the pattern that's developed has become unhealthy.

After thinking about what happens when her son badgers, one mom told us, "All I do is respond to his questions. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I thought it was good to talk with your kids.… It's just that he won't quit." It's true that talking with kids is helpful most of the time, but when parents indulge a badgering child, they become part of the problem.

After you identify negative patterns in your relationship, you don't have to feel guilty that you've been doing it all wrong for years. The fact is that you've probably been doing a lot of things right. You just need a change because it's time to emphasize something different. We find that many parents feel like failures when problems come because they've been doing what they think is right but it isn't working. The fact is that one particular right thing may not be the best thing for your family at this time. The sooner you can see problems and make adjustments the better.

Parents must make changes regularly. It's part of the job. Flexibility is important. In fact one mom said if Jesus would have written beatitudes for parents he would have said, "Blessed are the flexible" and "Blessed are those who know when to take a stand for righteousness and when to just love 'em." Pray a lot and ask the Lord for wisdom. In the end you'll be surprised at the progress your children make.



Dealing with annoying behavior is not like disciplining for defiance or teaching a child to follow instructions. When it comes to impulsivity, the child can't always make changes just by choosing something different. In many cases, kids don't realize that they're being annoying and they don't know what to do to be more appropriate. Furthermore, these patterns often come from habits that have been practiced for a long time. These reasons are not excuses for inappropriate behavior but they're a further indication that the job will take concentrated effort from the child and the parents.

Part of the issue is immaturity; the child hasn't learned how to pick up on the social cues or restrain behavior as much as we'd like. But these children need more than just time to grow up. They need concentrated work to develop two character qualities: self-control and sensitivity. These qualities not only help children when they're young, but they become tools for success as children get older.

Here are some working definitions for sensitivity and self-control to get you started with your children in this area:

Self-control is the ability to control myself so that Mom and Dad don't have to.

Self-control means to think before I act.

Self-control is the ability to talk about problems instead of grabbing, pushing, or hitting.

Self-control means that I limit the noises I make when others are around.

Self-control means that I focus on one thing until it gets done, before I move to the next.

Sensitivity means that when I walk into a room I look and listen before I speak.

Sensitivity is thinking about how my actions are affecting other people.

Sensitivity means thinking about how I could help someone else.


Teaching Control:
It is never too soon to teach your child how to control her anger so that it doesn’t control her. Remember, however, that it is difficult for young children to master these strategies. Your child will need your help—and a lot of practice:


  1. Stop. If your child is feeling out of control, she should be separated from the person she feels like hurting. She should leave the room. As often happens with children, Sophie and Henry needed a parent to get them to stop.
  2. Calm down. Teach your child to use some calming strategies when she feels the physical symptoms of anger. She can try taking deep breaths, drinking a glass of water, distracting herself with a song or a story, or playing alone.
  3. Think before you act. Encourage your child to ask herself, “What do I want to happen?” Explain that vengeance and retaliation are not worth acting on. Being understood and making things right are worthwhile. Henry’s scribbling can’t be erased, but Sophie can still show her dad her work and how Henry tried to help.
  4. Consider the other person’s feelings. Children can begin to show empathy as young as 3 years old, but they need your help. Try to get her to understand the other person’s point of view, just as she wants her point of view understood. Sophie wanted her birthday card to be perfect. Henry knew his efforts could never live up to hers. See if your child can figure out why the other person doesn’t understand her side. Could she find another way to get her view across more clearly? Can she try to let it go?
  5. Look for possible solutions. Help your child see beyond “I hate you and you’re no good.” See if you can find a compromise that both parties can agree on. Apologizing often helps. By this stage maybe Henry could come to understand that he must let Sophie make her own card, and maybe she can help him with his.


Kids' Anger Management Strategies


Are you concerned about the extent of your children's anger in response the the changes your family has been going through? It's important to recognize that the intensity of kids' anger is just as strong as adults'--if not more so--and they need to be given specific instruction regarding effective and acceptable methods of coping with these intense emotions. Parents should aim for introducing a mix of both physical and emotional opportunities for release, such as:


Even for kids, writing in a journal is a great way to express and process one's feelings. In fact, you may want to introduce the concept of journaling by getting one for yourself, and letting your kids see you taking some time each day to write out your thoughts and feelings.

If you're bothered by the thought of what your child might write, consider pairing up for a dual-author journal. Pick up a blank spiral notebook and take turns writing entries/notes back and forth to each other. Especially for kids who worry about hurting a parent's feelings, addressing their "big ticket" questions and concerns in this manner breaks the ice and makes it easier to eventually become comfortable sharing them face to face.

Journal writing is an excellent way to sort through difficult emotions and gain a sense of clarity about the tough decisions you have to make every day. Here you'll find explanations of several different types of journals. Pick one you like, and get started today. After just a few short weeks of recording your thoughts, you'll be amazed at your progress and the sense of freedom writing can bring!

1.                A Gratitude Journal

This is a simple journal that is fairly easy to keep up with. The idea is to write down five things each day that you are thankful for. As best you can, try not to repeat the previous day's gratitude! This exercise will help you identify little things that you appreciate in your life. Before long, you'll realize that there are many things about yourself, your kids, and your life that you value.

2.                A Parenting Journal

This is a journal where you can record your observations about parenthood and identify the personal strengths you see in yourself and each of your children. You'll find that as you pay attention to all the good that bring to your family, you'll realize more of your own personal strengths and gain a more clear sense of your immense value as a parent.

3.                A Hopes and Dreams Journal

This is where you can record your most personal hopes and dreams. There's something sacred about what you really want for your life and your children. However, most of us don't go around sharing those most personal inner thoughts with others. This journal is an opportunity to write down those aspirations in a safe place and make note of what you observe as those dreams unfold in your life.

4.                A Guided Journal4

This is when someone else gives you topics to write about each day. Questions are geared to help you identify personal strengths, name positive qualities, and find sources of hope and vitality in your life. Examples of just a few guided journal topics include healing after a divorce, recovering from trauma, and building self-esteem.

Letter Writing

Drafting letters--with the intention of mailing them or not--is another effective tool for helping kids process their feelings. It's a strategy that can be especially helpful for kids who have little or no contact with the recipient. Putting their true thoughts down on paper in this manner gives them a tangible way of dealing with their emotions, so that they don't get bottled up and ignored, only to resurface later.

Keep in mind, too, that even young children can create photo journals and letters, or they can say their thoughts out loud and have an adult write them down.

Support Groups

If your children are angry over a divorce or loss, consider seeking out a kids' support group through a local community mental health organization. Many organizations offer a combination of programs for adults and kids, so that parents can help their children through the grief process and develop healthy strategies for moving forward.

Regular Exercise

Make sure that your children are also getting plenty of exercise. If this is a struggle, consider walking or jogging together several times a week. This will give you a chance to bond while also allowing each of you the opportunity to sort through your emotions while engaging in a physical activity--which can also help you sleep better at night, equip you for handling stress more effectively, and give you more energy for getting through the day.

Blowing Off Steam

Finally, teach your children some specific and acceptable strategies for blowing of steam, such as: yelling into a pillow, sprinting up the street or around your house, using a punching bag, or systematically tensing and releasing his or her muscles--starting with the toes and moving all the way up to the forehead. These strategies may seem simplistic, but it's important not to take for granted that your kids' anger will resolve on it's own. Youngsters have to be taught how to effectively relieve themselves of the overwhelming tension and anger they feel.