10 Phrases to Calm an Angry Child

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It’s hard to know what to do when little kids blow a gasket. Whether your child erupts into a massive tantrum or shuts down because they're angry, the words we use play an important role in teaching kids how to cope with emotions.

Little kids are often shushed when they express anger. But this is a mistake. Sure, kids have a tendency to come unglued at inopportune moments (like, say, the middle of that family reunion), but they do need to understand that anger is a very normal emotion. We all experience feelings of anger at times. When we tell kids to stop verbalizing their emotions (even the really big ones), we send the message that anger is bad and kids should stuff their angry feelings down. This can result in maladaptive coping strategies for years to come.

As difficult as it can be to help kids through these moments, kids need their parents to remain calm and rational. When parents keep their cool and help kids work through their feelings, kids learn how to cope.

The next time your little one sees red, try a few of these phrases to help lessen the blow:

I love you

Although this sounds like an obvious one it’s important to remember that little kids feel out of control when anger takes over. They need gentle reminders that their parents love them anyway, even when they’re really, really angry. 

I understand

When an adult vents emotions to another adult, he or she seeks empathy and compassion. That person wants to feel heard and understood. Kids tend to have the same goal in mind, even if they don’t have to skills to verbalize their feelings in a calm manner.

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When parents keep calm and convey understanding, kids feel heard and understood.

It’s okay to feel angry

Given that kids are often silenced when they express anger (think yelling and tantrums – that’s how little ones express anger), many kids think that anger is bad. Guilt and shame tend to follow angry outbursts as kids struggle to make sense of what happened.

Normalizing anger is important. Parents can normalize anger and share they also get angry sometimes. This way, kids learn that anger is a healthy emotion and it’s okay to express it.

I will keep you safe

Anger outbursts can be overwhelming and scary for kids. Many kids describe feeling “out of control” or have trouble remembering what even triggered the outburst. Reminders that you will help keep your child safe helps your child calm down in the moment and feel protected.

Let’s calm down together

Anger can be a bit of a lonely emotion. When a child is the only one in the room who is screaming and flailing and carrying on, he can feel isolated. That can actually intensify the reaction. Whisper calm words and try to get your child to a calming space with you. Don’t leave his side and continue to remind him that you are there to help.

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Would you like to try …?

It takes time to build coping skills. Whether this is the first time or the tenth time you’ve been through this with your little one, chances are he still needs some assistance when it comes to finding ways to calm down.

Offer solutions. Would you like to practice balloon breathing with me? Would you like to walk outside with me? Would you like to squish Play-Doh with me? Would you like me to tell you a story? Would you like to blow bubbles?

How can I help?

Believe it or not, a lot of kids actually know that they need a hug, a story, or a snuggle to feel better. But they don’t necessarily know that it’s okay to ask for those things in the heat of the moment.

Let’s color our feelings

Putting crayon to paper can be a great stress relief tool in the moment. Grab some red crayons and a sheet of paper. Then say, “Let’s get our mad feelings out by making this paper as red as we can!”

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Tell me what happened

Adults are great fixers. Unfortunately, this also means that adults are not always the best listeners when it comes to helping kids cope with their emotions. If you want your child to learn how to verbalize his feelings, you have to open the communication and then sit back and listen.

Let’s start over

Sometimes kids become so overwhelmed with their emotions that they don’t know how to calm down or come up with solutions. A do-over is a great way to hit the pause in the moment and help your child let go of negative emotions. Once your child is calm, you can revisit the triggers and talk about ways to calm down the next time.

What do you think?

10 Phrases to Calm an Angry Child

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about helping parents enjoy the ride, she provides parent education and simple strategies to take t ... More

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