What can we do instead? We can help our kids learn to manage their anger responsibly. That begins with accepting anger — without acting on it. This is one of the most critical tasks of childhood–learning to tolerate the wounds of everyday life without moving into reactive anger. People who can do this are able to resolve challenges more constructively. We call them emotionally intelligent. Kids learn emotional intelligence when we teach them that all their feelings are okay, but it’s their job to control their actions. How?
Here are 4 things to remember whenever kids get angry :
1, Remind yourself that tantrums are nature’s way of helping small people let off steam. Their brains are still developing and they don’t yet have the neural pathways to control themselves as we do. (And please note that we don’t always regulate our anger very well, even as adults!) The best way to help children develop those neural pathways is to offer empathy, while they’re angry and at other times. It’s ok–good, actually–for your child to express those tangled, angry, hurt feelings.
2. Remember that anger comes from our “fight, flight or freeze” response. That means it’s a defense against threat. Occasionally that threat is outside us, for instance, when a big brother knocks down a block tower. But usually it isn’t. We see threats outside us because we’re carrying around old stuffed emotions like hurt, fear or sadness. Whatever is happening in the moment triggers those old feelings, and we go into fight mode to try to stuff them down again.
3. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that there is no emergency. Keep yourself from moving into fight or flight. This will help calm your child, and model emotional regulation.
4. Set whatever limits are necessary to keep everyone safe, while acknowledging the anger and staying compassionate. “You’re so mad! You can be as mad as you want, but hitting is not ok, no matter how upset you are. You can stomp to show me how mad you are, but I won’t let you hit me.”