Trying to turn your angry kid into a calm child? You may need some good tips on anger management for kids.
Being a parent is never an easy task. And our parenting job gets even harder when kids struggle with challenging behavior, anger issues, lack of impulse control or underdeveloped coping skills. The underlying reasons may be varied, but there are a number of strategies that can help our children develop coping skills, improve behavior and appropriately express their anger.
The advice I will be sharing on anger management for kids can be split into two big categories:
- Tips that focus on us, parents. Advice that will revolve around our parenting styles and the know-how we need to develop in order to be able to coach our kids through their struggles
- Tips that focus on our kids. Specific actions or strategies that will help them cope better with big emotions.
You will be able to download at the end of this post an “Anger Management for Kids” pdf that includes all 36 tips shared in this post plus bonus content (printable anger management activities with pictograms / visual clues)
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I. Anger Management For Kids Always Starts with Best Parenting Practices
There is an important reason to write about parents first.
One of the characteristics of therapeutic intervention in childhood is that it usually focuses on modifying the way parents or adults are interacting with the child. Research has shown that our parenting styles have an effect on our children’s development.
An authoritative parenting style that balances control with clear limits but allows exploration, and is responsive, warm and nurturing, is considered the best parenting approach. It helps kids develop high self-esteem, high social competence and optimal academic performance (Baumrind, 1975).
Positive Parenting is probably a better-known term for this type of approach these days. No matter which one you favor, they are mostly overlapping concepts.
Taking into consideration the best practices recommended in these parenting styles, these are some behavior management tips that will be a foundation for our anger management strategy:
1. Be responsive, affectionate, warm.
2. Establish clear, firm and fair limits
3. Don´t create rules just for the sake of having rules.
Make sure they make sense: they keep them safe, they teach them values, they help them thrive, they help them live in society. And be ready to explain and make them understand why those rules are necessary.
4. Praise positive and appropriate behaviors
- Do it immediately after behaviors happen.
- Praise when other people are present
5. Apply consequences to the bad behaviors.
6. Consider natural and logical consequences (without adult intervention).
For example, your kid forgets to bring home his school homework. You don´t WhatsApp another parent to get a copy. He goes to school the following day and deals with whatever consequence the teacher decides (I know, it is an example, I would probably WhatsApp another parent myself!!)
7. Be consistent.
8. Verbalize rules in a positive way.
It´s better to use a “do” instead of a “don´t”
9. Promote their independence.
It is good to have rules, but make sure there is room for exploration.
Positive Parenting Best Reads:
- Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide (The Positive Parent Series)
- The Positive Parenting Workbook: An Interactive Guide for Strengthening Emotional Connection (The Positive Parent Series)
- No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind- This is actually one of my favorite parenting reads. You may also like it if you would like to learn how to “calmly and lovingly connect with a child—no matter how extreme the behavior—while still setting clear and consistent limits”
Specific Anger Management Tips
10. Be their role model.
What does it mean to model appropriate anger management skills?
- Verbalize your feelings. They will not be able to know that you also go through the same type of emotions unless you share it with them.
- Verbalize those feeling in an acceptable way
- Show them how you cope with your feelings.
- If you lose your temper, apologize and show them how you could have done it better
11. Understand Anger Yourself.
It will not be easy to try to teach your kids anger management if you don’t have some basic understanding of this emotion yourself.
12. Seek professional help.
If your kids’ anger management problems are difficult to manage you need to seek professional help. Tantrums and meltdowns may be absolutely normal. But there are also cases in which those episodes are very intense or happen too often. Your doctor will also assess if they are developmentally appropriate.
Some of the reason why aggressive behaviors may be present can be:
- Learning disabilities
- Sensory processing issues
You need professional help to assess if there is an underlying problem that requires specific interventions.
13. Track Behavior
Use a behavior chart to track your child behavior. It will help you make some assumptions on what is causing and maintaining the problems.
If you want to learn more about this topic, read my post “How to Easily Track Behavior like a Pro”. It includes very useful behavior chart templates.
II. Anger Management for Kids: From Angry Kid to Calm Child
14. Find time to talk to your child.
You may be thinking you talk to your child all the time. But, we need to find a nice quality time when we can talk about the things that happen in their lives. It can be as simple as creating a bedtime routine where you spend a few minutes chatting about how the day went.
Behaviors communicate messages. Anger is also a sign that there is a problem somewhere. So, finding the opportunities to explore what may be going on.
15. Talk about emotions.
Talking about emotions helps them:
- Build an emotional vocabulary
- Recognize different emotions in others and in themselves
- Be comfortable expressing a range of different emotions.
16. Talk to your child about anger, specifically.
Now that you have educated yourself about anger, you will be also able to help your child understand anger. This strategy has worked really well for us. It provides a “reason why” for all those unwanted feelings and sensations.
These are some of the things I´ve explained to my kids:
- Anger is not bad. It is just a useful emotion.
- Anger has a function: your body is telling you that something is bothering you.
- When I feel angry I may feel irritable, tense, and anxious. I may also have negative thoughts
- We all feel angry sometimes. Mum and Dad also feel angry sometimes (and we all share examples of situations in which we felt angry)
- We can learn ways that help us control our anger
- Sometimes we will need to solve a problem.
- Some other times we will not be able to fix what is bothering us, or we will not know exactly what is causing these feelings. In those cases, we can still learn ways that help us control our anger.
17. Develop a feeling vocabulary.
18. Teach your child to label his feelings.
By labeling our own feelings, we are teaching our kids how to label their own feelings.
19. Teach your child to recognize the anger signs.
More on this topic: “How to Teach Kids about Anger Signs” (this post provides a comprehensive list of anger signs and free downloadable anger worksheets for kids)
20. Help your child express his feelings.
A visual scale or a “feeling thermometer” is great to help them develop emotional talk. It provides kids with clues that help them express the intensity of an emotion, feeling or sensation (anxiety, anger, pain …).
More on this topic: “Emotions Chart: How to Use a Feelings Thermometer Effectively”
21. Understand anger triggers and discuss them with your child.
Most common anger triggers include frustration, tiredness, being hungry, stopping an activity that they enjoy or anxiety. It is very useful for both, you and your kid, to be able to identify those triggers and act upon them.
22. Prevent the situation.
Once you understand the triggers, you may be able to prevent some of the explosions. Some examples could be:
- Feed your kids earlier if being hungry makes them grumpy
- Get them to bed earlier if fatigue is a trigger.
And if you can’t completely avoid the situation, you may still be able to implement some distraction tactics when you see an outburst about to start:
- Change scene
- Change conversation topic
- Ask about a favorite topic
- Tell a funny story
23. Teach your kids the role their “thoughts” may play sometimes in becoming angry.
Often it is not what happens that makes us angry, but our thoughts about the situation. Just an example:
My brother has taken my toy and it makes me decide I want it now because it is mine. But if we change my thought into: “I had not even remembered about that toy, and I’d rather play “Snakes & ladders” with Dad”. Then, that same situation is not making me angry.
24. Allow your child to be angry.
Anger is a useful emotion and it is ok to be angry. It is just a message that tells your kid that there is a problem to be solved. Allow them to be angry and use that situation to help them learn coping skills.
25. Establish anger rules
Being angry is ok, but this anger needs to be expressed in appropriate ways. Teach your kid the do’s and don’ts:
- Hitting and hurting are not appropriate ways to express anger.
- Expressing it with words, leaving the room and looking for a place to be alone are appropriate ways to express anger.
26. Teach substitute behaviors.
How to start a conversation about feelings?
A good number of the tips we have just gone through mention emotions (talking about feelings, labeling and expressing them). But sometimes we just don´t know where to start. For me, a kids’ book can be the easiest and most fun way to do it. And when it comes to books about feelings, I have an all-time favorite: “The Color Monster”.
The Color Monster is one of the most beautiful books I´ve ever had in my hands. And it is also an amazing vehicle to initiate a conversation about emotions and how to identify them. The pop-up version is simply gorgeous and kids just love it. (check out the book reviews below, I´m not the only one loving it!)
27. Teach problem-solving
Anger may be a signal that a problem needs to be solved. But some kids have not developed problem-solving abilities. You could work on developing your kid´s problem-solving abilities by helping him:
- Identify a problem and describe it
- Generate alternatives
- Predict consequences for those alternatives
- Choose the alternative that best solves the problem
- Action it.
28.Teach a Variety of Calming Techniques
Sometimes our kids will be angry and they will not be able to solve the underlying problem. Or else, they will not know why they are feeling that way. In those cases, we will need to develop a range of coping skills. Calming techniques will be an essential part of your anger management strategy.
Once you have taught and practiced a range of calming techniques, you will be able to identify which ones work better for your kid and focus on those ones.
Calming techniques may include:
- Breathing exercises- For kids I specifically recommend Lazy 8 Breathing, an easy and “portable” breathing exercise that always works wonders for us. You can read more about it in “Breathing Exercises for Kids: Lazy 8 Breathing”
- Moving into another situation – Abandoning the setting where the anger outburst is happening and moving into a calm place or a pleasant activity
- Physical exercise- “Burning energy” and focusing on a physical activity unrelated to the anger situation (jumping, running)
- Expressing it through drawing or writing
- Swapping bad thoughts for good thoughts.
- Using your imagination. Imagining a calm place, imagining that a shield protects you from your bad thoughts, imagining that you flush your bad thoughts down the toilet.
- Yoga and mindfulness exercises
You will be able to download at the end of this post an “Anger Management for Kids” pdf that includes:
- All 36 Anger Management for Kids tips shared in this post
- 17 Anger Management Activities for Kid booklet, where each activity is supported by a pictogram or a visual clue. It includes lots of the calming techniques mentioned above.
29. Practice those skills while your child is calm and happy
30. Don´t try to “reason” in the middle of a tantrum or a meltdown.
Wait till the situation has finished to discuss what happened and what the right way to express anger would have been.
31. Create a Calming Routine.
Do you remember how you created a sleeping routine when your kids were little? And how some cues from the environment would help afterwards to ease them into sleep. Your calming routine may have the same effect.
Just to give you a personal example. We have been using a “feeling thermometer” to help my son express his feelings. We often resort to that visual scale when he is feeling angry. As a result, at present, the simple act of grabbing this feeling thermometer already exerts a calming effect on him. He knows he is a step closer to being able to share how he is feeling. And he is confident that he will get the help he needs to alleviate anxiety or anger.
32. Calming Toys & Products Kit
If there are some toys or products that have proven useful to help your kid relieve his/her anxiety, create a stress relief kit and have it at hand (fidget spinner, a vibrating pillow, a flowing sand panel).
Some other examples of calming resources:
- ideal for applying deep, even pressure to many sensitive areas of the body
- rock side-to-side for a calming and soothing effect
- excellent tool for calming down and blocking out sensory input, or
- for getting vestibular input from spinning.
- providing calming/organizing deep pressure input
- developing motor planning, spatial, and body awarenes
- great for Autistic & Sensory Processing Disorders
33. Challenge automatic negative thoughts and rigid thinking.
Show your child how you can replace negative thoughts (e.g. I can´t do anything right”) with positive thoughts (e.g. This is difficult to do, but it may be a fun challenge)
34. Teach Social Skills.
It may be interesting to help your child improve a range of social skills, for example:
- How to request somebody to stop a behavior
- Problem-solving in social situations
- Conversational skills
35. Learn how to safely hold your child to prevent harm to himself and to others.
If anger leads into dangerous situations for your child or others (head-banging, biting, scratching) you will need to use safe holds. My advice here would be to seek a trained professional to teach you how to use safe holds for crisis intervention.
Although pharmacologic intervention may not be the first choice of treatment, it may be required in some cases like:
- crisis intervention
- short-term treatments
- underlying conditions.
Atypical antipsychotics like risperidone are often used in aggressive behavior. Your health specialist is the only one who can give you the guidance you on this.
One last very important tip. Sometimes, in the middle of a meltdown full of tears and unhappiness, the only thing that works for me is holding my son tight while I rock him and tell him how much I love him.
I hope you are closer now to enjoying your calm child. I´ve tried to create a comprehensive review of tips and strategies that can guide your anger management for kids strategies. If you can think of anything else, please, share with us in the comments below.
Do you need some extra help with anger management and self-regulation strategies?
- As you well know, kids learn while playing. An option to consider could be “Mad Dragon: An Anger Control Card Game”. It plays like the popular game UNO. Players race to get rid of their cards while learning anger control skills. This therapeutic card game helps kids:
- Control their anger in the moment;
- Practice 12 effective anger management techniques
- Understand what anger feels and looks like;
- Avoid anger-provoking situations;
- Express and understand their feelings;
- Identify anger cues;
- Learn that they have choices about how to express anger.
- Another interesting option is this book writen for parents, educators and therapists: Self-Regulation and Mindfulness: Over 82 Exercises & Worksheets for Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD & Autism Spectrum Disorder. An evidence-based resource for kids who struggle with self-regulation, staying focused, managing their senses and controlling their emotions (based on the latest research in neuroscience but highly practical, and kid friendly)
Don’t leave before you download your FREE “Anger Management for Kids” booklet! It contains all the useful tips I’ve shared in this post + the “17 Anger Management Activities for Kids” booklet with pictograms/visual clues. Click HERE or on the image below.
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