Helping Your Child Control Anger

Anger is the most difficult emotion to handle, especially for young children. Your child is just beginning to understand and label the way she is feeling inside. According to Stanley Greenspan, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences, and Pediatrics at the George Washington University Medical School, children express anger when they are frustrated with something or get their feelings hurt by another. He also states that children cannot distinguish feelings from actions, so when they are upset, they bite, hit, kick, or scream. In order for your child to calm down, you must express empathy, warmth, and support.   

Strategies to Control Anger

Anger is potentially constructive because it can give us energy to solve our problems and to satisfy our needs. There is a distinction, however, between satisfying needs and socially inappropriate expressions of anger. As a parent, you are responsible to teach your child that while it is okay to be mad, it is not okay to be mean. The following suggestions from Pat Huggins, clinical instructor in the Graduate School of Counseling at the University of Washington, will help you help your child control his anger.

  • The turtle trick: When your child is upset, have her do the turtle trick. Explain to her that rather than hitting or calling someone names, she may pretend that she is a turtle. When a turtle gets scared or mad, he goes inside his shell where it is safe. The shell gives the turtle a chance to calm down because it is protecting him from others. If she goes into her “shell” it will protect her because she won’t get into trouble for hitting a playmate.  

  • Talk to yourself: When your child is mad, have him talk to himself. Have him say out loud, “Take a deep breath and relax.” Then have him say it quietly to himself. Practice other sentences such as, “I can control my temper,” or “I’ll think of a way to solve this problem.” Link them all together and have your child repeat them in his head.  

  • Say it nicely: When you are angry, it is difficult to be polite.  Practice with your child ways to say you are mad that do not hurt others. Some examples include, “That bothers me,” “Stop bugging me,” “I don’t like that,” “That makes me angry,” and “Leave me alone.” Notice that all of these statements avoid starting with “you.” When you say “You are bugging me,” it only makes the person defensive and he or she will annoy you more.

  • Write down your feelings: Buy your child a diary where he can write down his feelings. Or, have him write a letter to the person that made him upset. Pretend that he is going to give this note to that person. Tell that person exactly how he made him feel and why he is feeling that way. Keep the note for a while, and when your child is no longer angry, have him tear up the letter and throw it away.

Finally, observe the way you express your anger. Example is always the best teacher. If your children observe you shouting at people, slamming things, or hitting others when you are mad, they will learn to express their anger the same way. Communicating with those who have offended you and choosing a better tactic will help your child learn that being mad doesn’t have to result in hurtful behaviors. By regulating your emotions, you will help your children regulate theirs.  


Greenspan, S. I. Playground Politics

Huggins, P. Helping Kids Handle Anger