What to Do About a Kid Who Gets Angry A LOT
I once worked with a five-year-old by who could switch from pure excitement to intense anger or frustration in a matter of seconds. One small (or large) trigger and this little boy turned red in the face and erupted into a huge tantrum. The tantrums weren't long, but they were intense. This left his mom feeling overwhelmed and concerned.
When his mom first sat down on my couch, she appeared completely exhausted. She had tried everything. She had clear limits and rules. She was consistent. Bedtime never changed. She tried adjusting his diet to include high protein snacks. She didn't overschedule. And yet, nothing seemed to work.
High-intensity children can be difficult to decode. They tend to experience all of their emotions with more intensity than other kids. During moments of high-pitched laughter, emotional intensity doesn't cause much worry. But when kids shift to intense anger, frustration or sadness, parents worry.
Anger and frustration are very powerful emotions, and many children tend to struggle with processing and coping with these big feelings. The result? Giant outbursts just about everywhere.
I always tell parents that more often than not, anger is simply another emotion wearing a mask. When you dig beneath the surface (after the stomping turns to tears), you tend to find sadness, fear, guilt, shame, hurt or disappointment just waiting to emerge.
Kids aren't known for their well-honed problem solving and anger management skills. That takes time and practice. It makes sense that young children struggle to work through these feelings, and it's up to us to help them out.
Talk about temperament and personality.
Some kids experience intense emotions out loud, others internalize their feelings until they fall apart. Some kids stuff their feelings in an attempt to put on a happy face every day while others express their emotions constantly. Some have tantrums and meltdowns while others hide in their rooms until the feelings pass. All kids are different.
We have a tendency to focus on behavior when kids are falling apart, but the truth is that the feelings hiding beneath the behavior are what we really need to address. We can begin to help our kids understand their emotions by talking about their temperaments and personalities.
When kids begin to figure out what makes them tick, they can predict how they might respond to certain situations (ex: I feel angry when I am left out at school) and choose to implement adaptive coping skills before they lose control.
Color your world.
We all have our own little internal worlds. We live in a culture of busy so we don't always tap into those worlds when we need to, but we all have them. When we slow down for long enough to consider our internal worlds and how our worlds respond to certain triggers and events, we learn a lot about ourselves.
Give your child a piece of white paper with a large circle drawn in the middle. Tell your child that everyone has an internal world of feelings. Stop here and talk about the range of emotions people feel on any given day. Next, ask your child to color his internal world with as many feelings as he experiences. If, for example, he gets excited a lot, he might choose a bright color and fill a large portion of his world with that color. If it's anger that takes up a lot of space, he might color a lot of red. Once the internal world is complete, talk about what kinds of things trigger each of those feelings and help your child label his world.
This is a great activity to do together because it helps parents and children talk about emotions and how we respond to different events and triggers.
Release the negative emotions.
Kids need to get their feelings out. The key to helping that little boy who was prone to tantrums and intense expression of anger was to work through his angry feelings daily. I always encourage parents to work through the hard stuff when they're calm so that kids can actually process their emotions and find strategies that work.
One of my favorite strategies from The Happy Kid Handbook is “trashcan basketball”. Ask your child to think about all of the things that made him mad or frustrated during the day. Write each of those triggers on separate pieces of paper and have your child crumple them into small balls. Now set up a free throw line not far from a trashcan. Ask your child to verbalize each trigger as he throws it into the can to let go of that feeling for the day.Read More