Anger can have a big impact on our family because when people are angry the behaviour that goes with it is often aggressive. Shouting, name calling, put downs, banging things, hitting, throwing etc. This can be scary.

Anger is a normal healthy emotion.  We feel angry when things so wrong, if we don’t get our own way, or when we feel hurt, let down or hard done by.  People express their anger in different ways.  Learning to express our anger appropriately is important.

Toddlers and young children express their anger by having tantrums.   They can kick and scream, hit and destroy things, slam doors.  This behaviour is normal and usually out of frustration due to lack of control or being overwhelmed, overtired or hungry.  This is their way of saying “I don’t like what I’m feeling”.   When toddlers can’t tell us with their words they tell us with their behaviour.

Children and young people usually show their anger by shouting, refusing to do what they are told, saying horrible things and upsetting others. They can break or smash things, and hit or hurt their parents and other family and friends.

Angry teenagers can be defiant.  Hormone changes and changes in the brain mean that many teenagers have trouble controlling their anger behaviour.  This can feel frightening for the teenagers as well as the parents.

Children and young people can feel angry for many reasons, including the following:

  • Feeling isolated by their peer group or friends
  • Being bullied or hurt
  • Struggling academically – with reading, writing or other schoolwork
  • Struggling with sports or physical activities
  • Stress from school work or other projects
  • Having to look after younger siblings or parent
  • Breakdown of relationship with a parents
  • Parents arguing
  • Parental separation
  • Feeling jealous of a sibling or friend
  • Feeling anxious or stressed about other things
  • Parental money worries
  • Family illness or not coping
  • Splitting up with a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Struggling to cope with hormone changes during puberty

Having some angry feelings is normal at all ages, but some children and young people struggle more than others to control these feelings and to sort the problems out. Angry feelings and aggressive behaviour can be very hard to deal with and can have a big effect on family life. Parents, carers and siblings can feel they are ‘walking on eggshells’ around the child, to try and avoid the anger.  Parents and carers can feel scared for their own safety and powerless in relation to their child.

When children get angry, it can help if you really listen and acknowledge their feelings. 

Let your child express negative feelings without judging them

Imagine if every time you were upset, some bigger, taller, frowning person looked down at you and said, ‘Don’t feel that way’ or ‘Don’t tell me that’. Would you feel like shutting up or shouting back?

Ask yourself, ‘Am I really listening to my child?’

Or are you waiting to tell your child what you think? Children often start to have a tantrum because they don’t feel heard. If you are thinking of what you will say while your child is talking, then you know you are not really listening.

Reflect your child’s feelings

For example, you might say, ‘I can see how frustrated you are. Can you tell me what made you feel that way?’ Asking ‘What’ is more specific than ‘Why’ and children may not always know why.

Slow down the process

For example, you could say, ‘I need a moment to think about this’. If your child is being rude, or getting ready to have a tantrum, you can slow things and think more clearly.

Use this opportunity to problem-solve

If kids are fighting, you might say, ‘In this family (or house) we don’t hurt people’s feelings. Let’s try to solve this problem another way’. Then ask the kids for their ideas of what would be fair. You might say, ‘You don’t think it’s fair that you have to go to bed before your sister. I understand. What do you think should happen?’

Ask your child to explain it again

Even if you disagree, you might say, ‘Explain to me again why it feels so unfair’. This requires a child to settle down and articulate their feelings.

Acknowledge your child’s effect on you

Many children will calm down if you acknowledge their impact – and get angrier if you don’t. You might stop and say something like, ‘I’ve stopped the car … (or ‘I am off the phone’) and you have my full attention’. Then ask questions like, ‘What don’t I understand?’

Focus on your child’s behaviour, not your child’s character

You might say, ‘Yelling in the kitchen is not OK right now’, instead of, ‘How many times do I have to tell you to stop yelling?’

Discuss the consequences of your child’s behaviour

You might say, ‘Running inside can be dangerous. You might slip or knock something over’. This can be more effective than saying, ‘Get out of the kitchen’.

Set limits that your child will find comforting

A limit is not a punishment. Limits can help children learn how to calm themselves down. Children find the setting of limits comforting.  They need to know that you (the parent) are in control.

Make consequences relevant – and explain them

Make the punishment fit the crime. If a child spills milk the child has to help clean it up, not get sent to time out.  Be aware of the difference between unacceptable behaviour and a mistake.

Give everyone a turn to complain
If your kids are fussing and whining, instead of saying ‘Don’t whine’, set a formal time for complaining (but put a time limit on it). This way, you can all share, vent and get it out. Give everyone in the family a turn. Be empathetic and try to listen beyond the whining.’
Reference: John Gottman, PhD, author of Raising an emotionally intelligent child

If you would like further support with any of the issues raised here please call 4414331 to make a referral.
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