These are big emotions!
It is inevitable that at some point you will deal with an outburst from your child that is usually rooted in anger. Sometimes you can see the anger building in your child with emotions pouring out. Other times, your child may go from 0 to 100 without any warning. The storm that rages is one of the hardest to navigate as a parent. How can you deal with these angry outbursts?
You need to be prepared as a parent to handle these situations in the moment, and then how to process the outburst with your child, and even prepare them for the next time their emotions will boil over. Parents also need to understand how their reactions will affect how their child copes with their own emotions.
Understanding Angry Outbursts
Often times, when our children are angry, there are many other emotions hidden below that anger. Parents then need to become detectives to try to figure out what may have triggered this outburst to help future outbursts from happening. Often times, a basic need being met can help a child start to calm down and handle their emotions in a healthier way. Are they feeling unsafe at the moment? A change in routine or schedule? Are they hungry? Tired? Tracking this information around outbursts can help you determine if there was a certain trigger.
Help your child understand different emotions they may feel. With younger children, you can read many different picture books about this topic. With teenagers, it is important to talk about how emotions are affected by puberty and can be unpredictable. The most important piece is for children to understand that it is OK to feel angry. It is how we cope with our feelings of anger that are considered healthy or unhealthy.
For kids of all ages, you can use a scale of their emotions to talk about how they are feeling. This can help them to identify different levels to their emotions and to help them choose the appropriate way to cope. This may be similar to the pain thermometer that we often are asked about when we visit the doctor’s office.
For younger children you can have a visual thermometer that they can reference. You can use a scale of various levels, usually 3-5 is most appropriate. At each level identify how they child may be feeling, including what it may look like.
- Green Level – Calm, Body is peaceful, Voice is normal.
- Yellow Level – Feeling agitated, Body feeling tense, starting to pace, voice level is becoming louder.
- Red Level – Feeling Angry. Hitting, Kicking. Yelling
Calming Down After Angry Outbursts
Children need a plan on how to calm themselves during an outburst. You can prepare this plan before by discussing with your child what may work for them. Include them in creating this plan and providing suggestions on ways to calm themselves. This plan can constantly be revised by your child as they grow and find new ways to cope. It is helpful to connect different coping strategies for each level of their anger thermometer.
Here is a list of various coping strategies to try:
- Physical Activity
- Sitting in a bean bag chair
- Sitting in the dark
- Stress ball
- Punching bag
- Ripping paper
- Listening to music
- Jump on a trampoline
- Weighted blanket
- Yelling – Outside or in a safe space
You can get more specific for your child be creating a space for them to use for a break, or identify which physical activity they prefer such as running a few laps around the house, doing 10 jumping jacks, etc.
During an outburst, kids do not have the capacity to make many decisions. When they are feeling overwhelmed give them just a few options to calm down. If they are unable to make the decision, you may have to direct them to one strategy or another. When my own son had outbursts, I sometimes would have to forcefully direct him to take a break. In the moment, it may have felt like I was being mean, or punishing him by sending him to his room. But when he was calm we discussed how this was out of love and for his own good, and that I was directing him based on his own coping strategies he had identified.
Parent Reactions To Angry Outbursts
Parent reactions to outbursts are just as important as a coping strategy for children. You can be the number one way to either help your child or make the situation worse. Here are the ways that parents can help the situation.
- Keep your emotions under control – Stay calm. We have all be there. You are tired, overwhelmed and just can’t handle seeing your child so upset. But your emotions can escalate the situation. Stay calm and even. Your child needs this to feel safe in the moment.
- Be forceful, but don’t yell – You may have to direct your child to stop or take a break. If they are in a cycle of negative emotions, you may have to be forceful to break through this. Use a steady, direct voice, and don’t get caught in your own anger with yelling.
- Don’t ask too many questions – Your child is not capable of making decisions at this time, and may feel overwhelmed with questions such as, what’s wrong? What Happened? How Can I Help? Instead, ask them to identify their level (based on your previous feeling thermometer). You can also ask them to pick a coping strategy. All questions regarding the situation can be talked about after the child is in a calm state. This can sometimes happen a few minutes after the outburst, but it is not uncommon for this to be hours or even days with older kids.
- Give them space/safety – Children are not always able to ask for their own space, but they may need it. You can give them space by allowing them to calm themselves in another room, or even sitting across the room from them while they are decompressing. Sometimes, kids allow you to simply hug them, without any words. This too is giving them space.
- Model you own emotions – Have your child see you get angry and model healthy coping strategies. I have even talked with my children about what I do when I feel angry, sad, frustrated. This helps them see that it is OK to have these feelings.
- Consequences for behavior, not emotion – Understand that you should never punish your child for having feelings. But there are times when a child needs to have a consequence to the behavior that they had while feeling angry, such as hitting, biting, or destroying something. Make sure the child understands that the consequence was for the behavior, and not that they got angry. Giving them coping strategies and other outlets for their emotion gives them alternatives to hurting others.
- Take care of yourself – Your child will do better if you take care of yourself. This may mean having to take your own break. If you are unable to stay calm, you may have to walk away, close your eyes and count backwards, etc. There have been many times that once my child is calm, I have had to walk away and take my own break to process my own emotions. It is also important for you to find support. Find others parents who may be struggling with these same situations. You can also find support at your school, talking with your school counselor, or behavior specialist. Parent Coaches can also help, and you can click here for a free consultation.
Angry Outbursts can leave you and your child feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Create a safe space for your child to express their emotions in a healthy way. It takes practice and time to create a plan that works. As your child grows this plan will also need to grow with them. But you are giving them skills that they will use for life.