As a child, my parents frowned on my anger and I often felt that I had to NOT get angry in order to not get in trouble.
As awesome as my parents were, this was one parenting tactic that I do not feel served me well. As a child, I had to hide my anger so I wouldn’t be punished. When I grew older and had my own children, I felt myself getting angry and was not always handling it well because I was never taught how to deal with it, other than NOT express it.
Clearly, telling your children not to get angry is a hopeless and unhealthy endeavor. Anger is an emotion that every person feels and the goal of parents should not be to punish children for anger, but help children learn how to act when they are angry.
In the book 5 Love Languages of Children, authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell outline an anger management plan for kids. I’m going to briefly explain the process for you.
Step 1: Express Unconditional Acceptance
Let your child know that even if they are angry, you are not going to condemn them. Some children may blow up at you and then feel guilty for it later. That guilt may prompt them to never share their feelings again.
Part of training your child to handle their anger is to let them know that you totally accept them, no matter how they act–whether they are happy, sad, or angry.
This may seem like a rather obvious first step, but actually parents often fail to do this just by the way they react to their child’s anger. Telling your child that you love them no matter how they act should be done on a regular basis; you cannot assume that your child feels your unconditional love just because you said it last month.
Step 2: Notice What Your Child Did Right
This is going to take some thought and some control from parents, who are prone to react instantly and answer anger with their own anger.
You may say, “You did let me know that you were angry, and that is good. You didn’t let your anger out on your little brother or the dog. You didn’t throw anything or hit the wall. You simply told me that you were angry.” Mention whatever they did right (you may have to dig deep to find something if it seemed they were doing it all wrong!). Anytime a child brings verbal anger to you, they have done some right things and avoided some wrong things.
The task for you, Mom and Dad, is to find those right things!
Step 3: Help Your Child Take One Step Towards Properly Handling Anger
In their book, Campbell and Chapman talk about moving children up an anger ladder. The reason for this is simple. Complete mature handling of anger will not happen overnight. Help your child take small steps to the end goal of maturity.
As you look at the ladder below, you will see that the top of the ladder is the ultimate goal and the bottom is undesirable behavior.
The goal for parents is to move their child up the ladder one step at a time. Of course, your child may not be on the bottom rung of the anger ladder. They may express anger as shown in the primarily negative or in the positive and negative sections.
If your child is on rung #15, you cannot expect them to jump up to rung #1 just because you command them to.
Learning how to handle anger is more than just a “Don’t do it”, it is a process of learning.
The goal is to move your son or daughter toward a more positive anger response. So you want to give your child a request, more than a prohibition. Instead of saying, “Don’t ever call me that name again!” You say, “From now on, son, please don’t call me that name again.” Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that he will never again say what you have asked him not to. But it does ensure that when he is sufficiently mature, he will take that step. That may be the next day or several weeks or months down the road.
This kind of training is not an easy process. But after you’ve done it enough times, your child will make improvements and will not call you that name without you reminding them.
The combination of your training, plus your good example of handling anger in a mature fashion, will help your child do their own self-training after awhile.
Something that the authors do not address in this section on anger is disciplining your child. But I feel that you can train your child to handle anger and not ignore the fact that they may need some discipline too.
For instance, let’s say your child is angry and throws something that breaks. Part of training them to handle anger is teaching them to live with the consequences of the mishandling of anger. Teaching them about how to control anger is not a substitute for discipline. It’s an important part of the discipline.
So when your child throws and breaks something, not only do you talk to them about what they did right (which may be hard to find!) and what you would like them to do differently next time when they feel angry (not pick up something and throw it), but also let them suffer the consequences. That may mean replacing the object, using their own money, and definitely cleaning up the mess. It may also mean apologizing to the owner of the object they broke.
In some instances, it may mean further restrictions as you see fit. This is what makes parenting such a challenge; there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution to problems. The best thing you can do is ask yourself: what does my child need to learn from this situation and what is the best way for me to help them learn it?
As an adult with my own kids, I’ve learned how to handle my own anger with tools I wish I’d heard about when I was growing up. Give your child anger-management training now so that they are better prepared to handle the anger they will always face as they continue to grow up.
If you struggle with teaching your child how to handle anger, I’m a family coach and would love to help. Schedule a free consultation here.