NDSU Extension Notes: Helping Children Handle Anger

Anger and frustration are common emotions for young children. Parents and child care providers can help young children learn how to handle anger in productive ways by helping them identify angry feelings; understand that anger is normal; and express their anger in healthy ways.

Posted on 8/17/13

By Macine Lukach

Remember that young children do not automatically understand emotions. Giving children the words to label feelings will help them recognize and respond to emotions, both in themselves and in others.

Reading children’s books can provide a good opportunity to label emotions. Point out characters that are showing different feelings. Ask questions like – “How do you think she is feeling?” “Why do you think she is feeling this way?” and “What makes you feel this way?” Help children learn the language to describe feelings.

Many young children do not understand that anger and other strong feelings are normal. Adults need to help children understand that feeling angry is normal, and that there are appropriate ways to deal with that anger.

Avoid telling children not to feel angry. Emotions are a normal part of human life. Pretending that anger does not exist teaches children to suppress or ignore their emotions and may lead to later problems in handling anger appropriately.

Remember that children learn how to handle anger by watching the adults around them. The strategies that you use to manage disagreements and express your own anger are an example for children how to handle their own feelings.

When you feel angry, be sure to label your feelings by saying something like, “I’m really frustrated” or “I’m feeling angry right now.” Give children a simple explanation of why you are angry, such as “When I see someone breaking a toy on purpose, I feel angry.”

Demonstrate good anger management skills such as taking a walk, talking to someone about your feelings, or finding humor in the situation. Explain what you are doing and how it can help you feel better.

Children who are angry need to know how to express that anger appropriately. Young children who are feeling angry may need specific rules for handling angry feelings. Make sure they know that it’s not appropriate to hit, bite or hurt others when angry. Breaking or destroying things is also not appropriate. Instead, suggest that children try some of the following ways to handle their anger:

• Talk about their feelings by saying -“I’m really angry about that.”

• Express anger by stamping their feet or shaking their fists.

• Draw a picture or write a story about their feelings.

• Go somewhere quiet to calm down.

• Reduce stress by listening to music.

• Express anger by pounding on clay or splashing water in the water table.

• Release anger through running, climbing, jumping, or other physical activity.

• Above all, remember that learning to handle anger is a process. Parents and child care providers can help by identifying and labeling emotions, giving children words to express their feelings, gently guiding children to express anger in appropriate ways, and modeling healthy anger management.

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