Anger is an emotion we all experience, but it can be very hard for us to allow our children to express it.
Even though they need to.
If children don’t get to express their anger it doesn’t cease to exist. It simply festers and can then stockpile into more serious issues. Yet, calmly accepting our children’s anger isn’t something we do naturally.
It helps if we remind ourselves that young children don’t have the brain hard-wiring to control intense feeling. It just isn’t there yet. So, asking them to exercise self-control (especially if we have lost composure ourselves) isn’t going to work. They are experiencing a physiological response with its origins in early human history – all part of the brain’s threat response mechanism designed to get us angry so we’ll fight when we need to. For the most part, adults learn to control those primitive impulses but that self-control doesn’t yet apply to children.
So, how do we handle an outburst?
- Let go the urge to calm the child down. Let them be angry. Don’t try to hug the child out of their anger (most of us would rather not be wrapped in an uninvited cuddle when we are truly angry!).
- Focus on staying calm yourself. Breath. Recognise your child’s anger is natural and necessary, is beyond their control (yet) and just needs your support.
- Keep them safe. Contain anger-fuelled behaviour while accepting and acknowledging the feelings. Do just enough to keep everything under control. You don’t want to add any of your own energy to the situation.
- Hold steady and let the storm pass. Don’t try to analyse, re-state the situation, or attempt to persuade the child out of their emotions. What’s going on is beyond reasoning. A great response is a nod or shake of the head!
- Let them know it’s OK to be angry. Telling them they shouldn’t be angry isn’t helpful (would it work for you?). What the child needs is to understand why they are angry, explain that it’s understandable, and ask if there are better ways of dealing with it.
There are ways to respond to anger and all of them require that anger be acknowledged. Giving a child the chance to talk about their anger is likely to lead them to developing more appropriate responses as they grow.