One of the hardest things for children to learn is how to handle big emotions like anger.
To be fair, it can be really hard for us adults too. I know I don’t always behave all that nicely when I’m feeling really angry or upset. But at least as we get older we, hopefully, have learnt tools and coping mechanisms to work through these feelings.
Children though don’t have this experience yet. They really feel these big emotions, often over things that we as parents don’t quite understand, and can find it hard to cope and to work through them.
If you’re struggling to know how to help your child when they really feel angry about something, then here are 9 different things you can try saying to them that might help.
1. I can see that you feel angry.
Or frustrated. Or upset. Or whatever word best describes the emotion that your child is expressing.
One of the first things to try is to name the emotion for them. This helps them feel like you understand and are listening to how they’re feeling. It also starts to make them more aware of what different emotions feel like to them.
2. Can you tell me what’s happened?
This lets you get to the root cause of their anger and gives them a chance to talk it through. When you ask this question, make sure you really take the time to listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t try to reason with them as they’re telling you what has made them angry.
Just let them tell you the whole story in their own time.
3. Everyone feels angry at times and that’s OK
Let your child know that anger is a valid emotion to feel. It’s OK if they feel angry; we all do at times.
Knowing you understand how they’re feeling can really help your child feel validated in their emotions, and to feel heard by you.
4. It’s OK to feel angry but it’s not OK to…
…hit. Or break things. Or call people names.
This lets them know that the emotion is valid but that the behaviour they’re showing while they’re angry isn’t acceptable.
5. Would you like to try…
… taking some calming breaths. Or doing a warrior cry.
Offer a suggestion of something your child can do to try and calm themselves down. But ask them if they’d like to try it, rather than telling them that they have to do it. Give them the choice and the control over the situation.
Don’t overwhelm them with lots of suggestions either. Offer one or two ideas and then give them space to think it over.
6. I’m here and you’re safe
Our emotions can get all jumbled up at times, and quite often when our children feel angry they also feel scared and unsafe. Letting them know that you’re there, by their side, and that they’re safe can go a long way to helping them feel calmer.
7. I’m going to sit over here
If your child is right in the eye of the storm then let them know that you’ll be sitting close by. Or just in the other room. This gives them the space to work through their anger while knowing that you’re still nearby, ready to help them when they’re ready to let you.
8. Can I help you?
When your child is angry they may well be feeling completely out of control, so asking them if they’d like your help gives them back a sense of control. They can decide if they want a bit of time and space or if they want you to sit with them and help them calm down.
9. I love you
Our children need to be reminded that even when they’re angry we still love them. We might not like the way they’re talking or acting when they’re angry, but we will always love them. We need to be that safe place for our children where they know they’re loved no matter what.
There’s no one magic phrase that will immediately calm an angry child down.
The main thing for us as parents to remember is that, as much as possible, we need to keep calm ourselves. If we start to get frustrated too then we won’t get anywhere. We need to be the calm in the storm. Easier said than done at times I know, and if you do get angry too then make sure to talk about it afterwards once you’ve both calmed down.
If you can keep calm though, and try a few of the suggestions in this post then hopefully you’ll find the magic words that work best to calm your child down. The other thing to remember is to trust your instincts. You know them best, you know if they need to be left alone or if they need you to hold them.
With your help and understanding they can start to learn how to handle anger and all the other big emotions that they might be feeling.
What do you find works best for you and your child when they’re angry?