How to calm an angry child

Kids don’t get angry do they? Do they? Oh yeah, they do. How to calm an angry child? Kids get angry all the time. It’s developmentally appropriate. As we get started on this discussion today about how to calm an angry child, I would invite you to review some of the principles of positive parenting and especially click on this one right up here where we talked about three stages of moral development, that will give a really great context to what we’re talking about here today.

And so, I won’t review all of that in this video, you can look at it in that video. Let’s get right into the anger mode. I’m going to share with you five don’ts and five do’s so we’ll follow up the don’ts with the do’s. I’m going to tell you what you can do and not just what you shouldn’t do. First, don’t. Don’t tell them to calm down. This kind of goes against what you’re inclined to do because when your kid is angry you want to tell “Hey, calm down.” Developmentally speaking, it’s not even a very useful concept.

They don’t have the level of emotional regulation that we as adults have. Now, of course this depends on the development of your child. How old they, are how mature they are and some we’re going to handle it better than others. But as a general rule, you don’t say, “Calm down”. In fact, that sometimes works against you because it causes some resistance. What can you do instead?

Do stay calm yourself

You remain as emotionally calm as you possibly can because this will model for your child what you’re looking for.

So that leads us right into “don’t” number 2. Don’t lose control yourself. Probably the worst thing can happen as your child is angry and you get angry on top of that and then everybody’s angry and we got fireworks that are probably going to go in a bad direction. So do model appropriate emotional regulation. Model appropriate emotional regulation. Remember this is something your kids are still developmentally coming into, learning, starting to develop skills around. So, they don’t have all of the skills yet. Model that for them. Here’s a few examples of how that can work, “Hey buddy, when you’re talking to me, like I’m talking to you, we can have this conversation.” See, that implies that you’re talking to him in a calm way. Here’s another one, “Sweetheart, when your voice sounds more like mine, we can work this out.” And you’re modeling a calm voice. I love the way Nicholene Peck puts this, “Calm voice, calm face, calm body.” You model that emotional regulation for your kids were not yet in that developmental stage. Powerful learning opportunity.

Okay, let’s roll with don’t number 3. Don’t tell them they should or shouldn’t feel whatever they’re feeling. Don’t tell them they shouldn’t be angry, they’ve got a lot of great reasons for being angry especially from their little developmental perspective. So, we’re not going to go that direction. Instead, what I want you to do is buy some time. What I mean by that is, tell them that you’re going to allow a little space of time here for them to feel whatever they’re going to feel. You can do that by saying something like this, “You know what sweetie, I’m going to give you a minute to feel that and we can talk.” And then going back to do number two model for them the appropriate emotional regulation, when you’re talking to me, like I’m talking to you. We can work this out.

So, you buy some time. I’m going to give you a minute to work this through.I think you need a moment here to feel this, okay? I have a friend who actually did it this way. His son was just having a meltdown in the back seat of the minivan and he’s probably 6, 7 years old at the time and he’s just going off, right? And my friend Craig turned around to him and said, “Aaron, how long do you need for this tantrum?” Interesting, right? And he’s modeling appropriate emotional regulation at the time but that was question, how long do you need? Kid in the back seat he’s so mad and he says, “Just give me a minute.”

Don’t tell them it’s their own darn fault or they deserved what they got. This is not the time for I-told-you-so’s. That will just alienate you from your child. Instead, do practice empathy and reflective listening. This is a chance for you as a parent to do some teaching and remember, you’re maintaining your own emotional regulation at this point, you’re not losing control, you’re good, you’re modeling for them what they can do, so you get to go to a place of empathy. That’s where you understand and care how someone else feels. Particularly your child right now because they are angry, right? Angry is usually secondary emotion and it follows something like loss or disappointment or sadness. Some of the things that are a little harder to deal with or articulate? Anger is easy. You just blow up, act out, hit something, hurt something. Anger is such an active emotion that we don’t want to go to those primary emotions because we’re not sure what to do with those, we turn it into anger.

When you practice empathy, you can help to get to some of those primary emotions, “Oh buddy, you’re really disappointed about how the game turned out, aren’t you?” Okay, now if you’re accurate, that can be very effective, if you’re way off, then it’ll be like, “No, it’s not that” or whatever, right? But trying to connect with very emphatically where your child is coming from and what might have triggered that anger to start with, that’s powerful. And then reflective listening. Reflective listening is where it’s like you’re holding up a mirror to them so that they can see what they’re giving you, “Oh, I can see that you’re really upset right now, aren’t you?” Well duh, right? But it’s a reflection, it’s simply a mirror of what you’re observing with them. So, empathy and reflective listening.

Let’s do one more. don’t number 5. Don’t kick into I-told-you-so mode. This is not the time for you as a parent to get on your high horse and say, “Well, if you just listen to me, we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems, you wouldn’t feel upset like this. I told you, you should have done this. You know, why didn’t you do that?” And that’s not very helpful either, why didn’t you do that? You’re not really interested as a parent. I mean, be real. You don’t care why they did it, you’re upset that it happened, right?

So, don’t kick into i-told-you-so mode instead, do use this experience as a learning opportunity. And it will be. It will be a powerful learning opportunity because of the intense emotion that they’re feeling that tends to solidify learning in our mind, it works with you too as an adult. You’re going to use it as a learning opportunity. Now, be patient. Because you might not want to jump in right now while the fire is hot. Let them accomplish the emotional regulation, the calming, the soothing so that they give back into a more cognitive state where you can actually have a conversation with them.

So, I think of this as a dig briefing step after the fact, after things are resolved, when it’s passed, you can bring it up as a learning opportunity. “Wow buddy, that was kind of tough, wasn’t it? What did you learn from all that?” And then just be quiet and listen because usually there’s some really cool things that your kids are going to come up with in an opportunity to calmly debrief a situation that’s already past.