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Dealing with Children’s Anger a Play Therapist’s Perspective

by Jodi Mullen, PhD, LMHC, RPT-S



It is upsetting when children react with anger towards you, siblings, others, and even themselves. There are some things that you can do that can help your child channel their anger as well as make your home a peaceful place and who doesn’t want that?


We need to start with respecting the right each of us have to feel our feelings. We have the right to feel sad, joyful, hungry, and we also have the right to feel angry. What frequently happens is that we think there are right and wrong times to feel a particular way. Adults and children often differ in the way they experience the world. Therefore, some situations that seem like no big deal to me might be experienced by a 9-year-old totally differently. By this I mean they could feel super angry about something, although I cannot understand why from my perspective. The first step in helping children manage their anger is to respect their perspective; respect that their anger is a valid emotional response. Once you have done that you are already off to a great start!


 




The next step after you have respected your child’s perspective is to acknowledge

that they feel angry. You would do this by saying something like, “I can see you are very angry at your sister for taking your toy,” or “You are so mad that I won’t let you have anymore candy today.”


What you are doing here is showing your child that you do understand their feelings even though you do not condone the behavior. Frequently, this is enough to help your child regulate their emotions. When children feel understood, they no longer have to communicate by acting out.



You will have to experiment with what comes next. Different things work for different children at different times. Think about this for yourself. Sometimes it helps me to cool off when I am angry if I have some quiet time, sometimes going for a run feels better, and other times journaling works. This is true for your kids too. As parents you are the experts on your own children, so use what you already know to help. Here are a few things that worked for my own children as well as the children I see in my role as a mental health counselor and play therapist.



 

Repurposed Time Out

Not a regular time out, where, as parents, we have our child sit to calm down or as a punishment. This Time Out is where we model and teach our children that it is healthy to take a time out when you’re feeling like you are getting out-of-control angry. For example, when I am getting frustrated with my kids I might say, “I am starting to get very mad now. I am going to give myself a time out so I can feel better.” I can also suggest when I see my child getting angry, “You look like anger is being the boss of you; you may want to give yourself a time out so you can still be the boss.”



 

Moving

Many children experience anger in their bodies, physically. As parents, we want to help our children redirect anger they feel physically so that they, as well as other family members, are safe. I typically do not recommend “punching” as a way to get rid of that energy because that seems to convert anger easily into aggression. Some things that might work are running, shooting baskets, even just stepping outside and stomping feet. It’s a good idea to offer your child company during this time as they may feel they need help as their anger releases. When issues such as time of day, weather, or safety do not permit children moving their bodies outside, there are still ways they can do this inside. You can suggest stomping on empty egg cartons or cereal boxes, jumping in place, or dancing.


In families anger can be contagious. It’s important you do your part to keep cool and model peace.

For more ideas about how to help your kids with anger, check out my podcast on BlogTalkRadio, Freakishly Well-Behaved Children, or parenting book Raising Freakishly Well-Behaved Kids or pick up our family-created workbook for children, Naughty No More: A workbook for children who want to make good decisions.

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