Anger is an emotion that has, unfortunately, become much more prevalent in our society. It can be especially difficult for children to understand and manage their anger. Knowing how to help an angry, aggressive child with big emotions manage feelings in a productive way is a challenge that leaves many parents struggling for answers.
Fortunately, there’s help.
Christina Kress, LSW, LICSW has taken her years of experience helping children and their parents cope with big emotions and created The Anger Workbook for Kids. This vibrant workbook walks kids and parents through a variety of activities that help them identify their emotions, think about what situations and circumstances might trigger their anger and work through positive coping skills to manage it.
“We want kids to express anger, it’s a natural emotion,” Kress tells Parentology. However, it can sometimes impact kids negatively if it’s not handled correctly. Kress warns that if your child’s daily life or relationships are impacted by their anger, it may be time to take some further action. “It starts to get too far when it’s significantly impacting relationships and friendships, or if it’s impacting their availability to be available for learning in school. Those are the really big red flags.”
The best thing parents can do to help their children with anger is model good behavior and coping skills.
“I encourage to practice this at home, model this,” she says. “Talk about it out loud if you’re angry about something—if you’re using breathing or coping skills, if you can talk about it out loud, you’re modeling for your child. That’s really how kids learn, they learn through experience.”
The Anger Workbook for Kids offers families targeted activities that focus on everything from identifying anger in others, naming their own emotions, and role-playing through various scenarios. Kress encourages families to do the work together and include everyone. The workbook offers a lot of activities and practices that are applicable to a wide variety of ages. Kress says it’s geared broadly between ages 7-12, but it also depends on the emotional maturity of your child. Parents can easily modify the workbook activities for their child and family’s needs.
Initiating the Conversation
To begin, have an age-appropriate conversation when the child is not angry so that they’re able to listen. Kress says it’s important to acknowledge your child’s big feelings, but also talk about how it may be impacting them negatively with friends or family. Try to show your child the ways working through some of these exercises may give them tools to help them feel better and more in control.
Every parent’s first instinct when their child is struggling is to do something to help. Kress feels that validation is the most important thing a parent can do to help a child that’s struggling with anger.
“If I had to pick one thing to focus on it would be validating your child’s feelings,” Kress says. “And a lot of parents worry about that because they think that validation is approval or endorsement of bad behavior and those are two very separate things.” The importance of truly listening to your child is paramount. “Kids are not miniature adults. They really are struggling with these big emotions and knowing what to do with them. They need someone to really listen and hear them.”
Validating Feelings Vs. Allowing Bad Behavior
How can parents distinguish between validating the child’s feelings and allowing bad behavior? Kress says the easiest method is to focus on what validation is not.
“Validation is not problem-solving or advice-giving. It’s not about approval of bad behavior and it’s not about the parent themselves,” she explains. Once your child feels heard, it’s much easier to help them by offering advice, problem-solving, or even giving them consequences for their behavior.
As difficult as it may be, parents need to slow down and be patient. “Nobody comes into the world knowing how to regulate their emotions, it’s a skill,” says Kress. It’s also uncomfortable for many parents. Dealing with an angry child can cause parents their own stress and anxiety, leading them to rush through some of these situations. But Kress cautions parents to take the time and do the work.
“The most important thing that leads to change in families like this is the parent work,” Kress says. “Parents need to remember to go slow. Learning to manage emotions is a life-long event.”
How to Help an Angry, Aggressive Child with Big Emotions — Sources
Christina Kress, LSW, LICSW