Anger and Temper Tantrums... Take Cover!

Have you ever had to deal with the anger of a child? One that is beyond reason?

When our kids were little, temper tantrums seemed cut and dry.

Now that they’re older school-aged kids, and the anger has become more refined, what do you do when the explosion comes? How does discipline play into the equation? If you have a child with other conditions such as ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Sensory Integration Disorder, chances are you’ve had the privilege of dealing with this perfect storm of emotions.

I must thank Miss Emily, our LSCW (our “therapist” who helps us deal with behavior problems), for her comforting words of advice and guidance in this area. She had some real sticks of dynamite to add to the arsenal of coping strategies.

Learning to Deal With An Angry Child

Everyone experiences anger, and everyone has to learn how to deal with those feelings that bring about a heated response. When you have a child with impulse control (hint, hint: ADHD) and low frustration tolerance, that response can ignite a firestorm.

They may not be interested in calming down, seeing another person’s point of view, or listening to a logical explanation. At least at our house they’re not!

Here’s what you can do to deal with those anger issues:

1. Find the triggers that begin the tantrum.

It could be that they are tired, over stimulated, frustrated, or feeling out of control.

It may be as simple as not liking a choice given to them, or a feeling that they have been wronged in some way. That can trigger an intense anger!

2. Let them know that you can handle them, no matter how bad it gets.

You never want your child to come down from an out of control episode thinking, “Wow, my own mom/dad can’t handle me. I must be really bad.”

3. Remain calm.

Take deep breaths, talk in a quiet voice and keep your body language in charge. In the book, Parenting with Logic and Love , the author shares that he would actually lower his voice a notch each time his child raised theirs. If they’re screaming, you’re almost whispering. Responding in anger only makes things worse.

4. Acknowledge the behavior.

“You are ________________ (angry, frustrated, sad, ect.) right now.” Your child may not realize HOW they are feeling, just that they are feeling crazy!

Verbalizing their feelings will help them to identify and take ownership of them.

5. Take ownership of feelings.

After you acknowledge their feelings, ask them to take ownership of them. “I know you are angry, now, what do you want to do?” Give them ways to calm down or regain control, and then let them decide which one to use.

It is their responsibility to get it together.

6. Learn ways to calm down.

Our best soothing technique is swinging in the backyard with our eyes closed while listening to the iPod as loud as tolerable! There are days when this goes on for two hours!!

Other things we have done that work include a deep pressure (squeezing) massage and repeating the word “calm” each time a leg, arm, or finger is squeezed. They can be taught to do this to themselves. They can practice deep breathing by trying to move clouds or another object. You may assign a quiet place where they can do these things.

7. Give them a time frame in which to calm themselves.

Let them know you know they need to calm down, and that you hope they can achieve their goal in, say, 5 minutes. Miss Emily told us to set the timer, and when the timer goes off, we say, “all done” and rejoin the family.

8. Stop blaming others.

Yes, a friend or sibling may have cheated during jump rope, but she’s not responsible for the anger response. Our kids need to learn that they can control HOW they respond to ANY SITUATION! They don’t have to get angry and fly off the handle. However, to master this skill, they have to learn the valuable skill of impulse control and response inhibition ! They have to learn to stop and think.

What If They’re Not Interested?

These strategies all work if they want to calm down; but what if they’re not interested? What if they're happy being angry?

You need to make a behavioral plan when they are calm. Spell out your expectations regarding behavior (anger), and let them know how you expect them to deal with it.

Then, explain to them what will happen if they DO NOT deal with it. They may lose time doing something that is pleasurable to them. They may get to sit in a time out area like they did when they were little.

Let them know what will happen each time they demonstrate mastery over a given behavior.

They can earn a sticker, a point, or wooden nickel towards that same pleasurable activity. But it has to be structured so that they can have success.

Parenting a child isn’t easy. Parenting an out-of-the-box child is hard! During an angry outburst or temper tantrum it takes an extra dose of patience, love, and firmness to help get everyone through to the other side.

Now, if you'll please excuse me, I have to go set the timer for an angry child...