Although in heated situations this may be a struggle, the faster you can get a child to release their anger, the quicker you can diffuse the situation and have an effective conversation. Contrary to anger management for adults, anger management for children is less restrictive. One can employ more fun and imaginative anti-anger techniques in order help the child counter their instinct of reacting with anger and assist them in seeing the excessive nature of their anger.
Unreasonable behavior from the child must be acknowledged by the parent and acted upon in a measured and consistent way. However, what does this actually involve?
Sending Out a Clear Message
If your child is reacting in an unreasonable or ridiculously angry way, point it out calmly. You should not tease your child about it but make them understand how silly it is to rave and rant. Pretend their words are blowing you over or make an exaggerated face of surprise in return.
Make your message clear, but your reaction light-hearted. Because children don’t have the same social experience as adults in order to pick up on small nuances, you don’t need to be subtle in addressing their behavior. If their anger doesn’t break down your patience, you will be able to break down the walls the child has erected around their emotions.
Knowing When to Distance Oneself
Despite the best intentions and earnest endeavors, a child may still not respond as one would wish. At such times showing displeasure – in a calm but serious manner – towards the angry child can then be followed by turning and walking away. More times than not the child will immediately follow you shouting and screaming. Once again, in a calm but firm manner, make it clear to the child that you will only talk to them when they have calmed down. Consistency is key when teaching your child what are the boundaries of acceptability.
Do not react or interact with them until their anger has subsided. You’ll know that you have been effective in driving home your message when the child understands that they have to work past their anger in order to get your attention. This is the key, for a child loves nothing better than gaining the attention of a loved one, especially their parents.
Many parents forget that pampering the needs of a tantrum child, giving in to their demands or shouting and screaming at them, is a negative form of giving them attention. If you are consistent in your message, most children will learn quickly that actions do have consequences and that your attention (the consequence) is directly linked to their action:
Reasonable behavior = attention
Unreasonable behavior = no attention
Time-Outs and Distraction as a Tool
Toddlers and preschoolers are at an age where they are still learning to control their tempers, especially in public. Taking time-outs and distracting youngsters from negative thoughts and feelings are great tools at the disposal of any parent. These help diffuse the vast majority of problems with children of this age group whilst minimizing conflict and the subsequent need to discipline a child.
A key point to remember is that when the child is having a tantrum or anger outburst, it is imperative that the adult remains calm. However, calm does not mean being soft or a pushover. The adult should be firm and consistent regarding both how they address the child and when issuing discipline, otherwise the child will not take them seriously. Unreasonable behavior in children is less a symptom of underdevelopment and immaturity (as is the case with certain adults) and more the result of a lesson that has not yet been learned. How the lesson is taught is paramount to its success.
The best teachers are usually those who can see past the child’s surface reaction and get to the ‘little person’ inside who’s begging for help. Overly strict parents who pick up on their child’s every imperfection and minor misdemeanor can be just as detrimental to the child’s well-being as those parents who shirk their responsibilities, take the easy way out and let their children run riot. It boils down to being fair but consistent and establishing well-defined boundaries in terms of what constitutes reasonable behavior from your child. This is closely tied to the issue of self-esteem, for as the author Marcus Dane has stated:
“Poor self-esteem can result from having had either too little or too much discipline in childhood, and finding the optimal balance can be a challenging process for parents. Children need to have a clearly defined and consistent framework of discipline in order to learn the importance of boundaries and how to navigate them successfully. This is an essential life skill that will equip them to deal with adulthood, both in the work place and socially.”
As noted in a previous article concerning introspection, respect and self-esteem, a child with high self-esteem will be more content, at peace with themselves and subsequently far less likely to have anger-related issues.