All kids experience
anger and frustration, but learning how to channel these highly charged
emotions can take time.
It’s natural for
parents to want to quiet feelings of anger at first, as it tends to present as
loud and imposing. It’s also difficult to watch kids endure these complicated
emotions. For the most part, parents want to help restore happiness.
develops over time, and young children do take their cues from their
caregivers. This can feel like a pressure cooker for parents. We don’t always
have the best reactions in the heat of the moment. The good
news is that when we go back and process what we did, and what we might have
done instead, we teach our kids that learning to cope with big feelings takes
time and practice, and it’s okay to make a mistake as long as we apologize,
take responsibility, and figure out a new way to handle a similar problem in
That said, there are a
few strategies you can use at home to help your kids learn to work through
anger. Anger can actually be a useful emotion at times; it’s what we do with that
emotion that matters.
This simple tool, when
used daily, helps kids keep tabs on their emotional thermometer. When kids
learn to take their feelings temperature regularly throughout the day, they
begin to recognize when they’re feeling anger and frustration. When they feel
their temperatures rising, they can evaluate whether they can cope
independently or need assistance.
You can draw or
download an image of a thermometer and write varying degrees of warming up and
cooling down along the side. Ask your child to color where they “feel” on the
thermometer throughout the day.
gets your child in the habit of getting in touch with emotions and seeking help
when necessary. It’s a good idea to write your child’s top three favorite
calming strategies along the other side for easy-to-use strategies in the
Pro Tip: This
thermometer can be adapted for worry/anxiety, sadness, and various other
There’s a reason those
relaxing coloring books continue to pop up everywhere: coloring works! The
combination of tension relief from the act of coloring and using colors to
express emotions is a great strategy for coping with anger.
Here’s how this
First, ask your child
to assign emotions to a variety of colors. Many kids choose red for anger and
yellow for happiness, but it’s important to give your child the opportunity to
match colors to feelings.
Next, ask your child
to color on a blank piece of paper how much of each emotion he felt that day.
If your child had a great day, for example, it might be primarily yellow
(happy) or green (calm.) If your child had a hard day, you might see a lot of
red (angry) or blue (sad.)
Finally, comment on
the colors on the page. Resist the urge to ask a ton of questions. Instead, try
empathic phrases like, “I see a lot of red. It looks like it might have been a
hard day,” or, “There’s a lot of blue on that page. I know what that feels
like.” Empathic responses invite further exploration while providing much-needed
a “Mad List”
Sometimes kids are so
frustrated that they struggle to find the words to even verbalize what they’re
thinking. This is where a “mad list” comes in handy…especially for frustrated
First, respond with empathy.
It might be hard to stay calm when your child is feeling out of control, but
the best thing you can do for child in the heat of the moment is meet her anger
with your calm. Be the sunshine to your child’s stormy weather.
Next, meet your child
at eye level and comment on what you see. “It looks like you feel really
mad right now. You must feel so frustrated!” Keep repeating some
version of this until your child sees that you understand. Follow this up with,
“I wonder why you’re feeling so frustrated?”
Give it time. Yelling
and crying are natural reactions to feel angry. Your child needs to relieve the
tension inside of her before she can work through it.
Finally, say, “Let’s
make a list of all the things that make us mad and tear it right up?” Make one
for you and one for your child. Start writing down things that make you
frustrated (traffic, losing your keys, etc.) and ask your child to start
thinking of things that make her mad. Write them all down and tear them up
together! This helps your child verbalize her emotions and triggers and relieve
pent up tension by tearing the paper.
This exercise helps
with anger, anxiety, worry, and just about any other uncomfortable emotion. I
tell kids and parents every day that if you can learn to regulate your
emotional responses through deep breathing, you can find healthy ways to cope
with the ups and downs on any given day.
It’s super easy and,
with daily practice, it really works:
Ask your child to
think about what color/design balloon he wants to blow up. It can be any shape
and design he wants. Tell him that to blow up a balloon (even an imaginary one)
you have to bring the balloon to your lips, take a really slow deep breath in
to get enough air in your lungs, and exhale very slowly into the balloon. You
can demonstrate the first time, and then count in for four, hold for four, and
out for four when he tries.
To make your balloon
so big that it floats off into balloon land, it helps to use three really deep
breaths before you tie it off and send it on an adventure.
Pro Tip: Practice when
calm to be able to use this strategy during a moment of anger.
a Calming Kit
activities come in handy, and it helps to have a dedicated calming box at the
ready to use when you sense that frustration is rising. You know your child
best, so you know what calms your child.
Some ideas include
finger paints, a stress ball, a coloring book, Play Doh, a favorite book, and
something soft and cuddly.
Learning to cope with
anger is a process, and it’s natural for kids to have explosive reactions to
feeling upset. Empathize in the moment and practice strategies to release
tension and anger when they’re calm to help build this skill.
For more information
on helping kids learn to cope with anger and frustration, get your copy
of The Happy Kid Handbook.