Child Anger: Eight Ways Parents Can Manage Behaviour And Understand Their Child

'Anger and violence is a huge hidden problem in the UK.'

Often when a child is expressing anger, their parent may feel the child is becoming more powerful in that relationship.

It can leave mums and dads feeling as if they’re treading on eggshells around their kids, and that they should be able to manage this behaviour.

The topic of anger and violence is one of the top five issues that is discussed in calls to family charity YoungMinds’ helpline.

“It’s a huge hidden problem in the UK,” Emma Saddleton, parents’ helpline operations manager at YoungMinds told HuffPost UK.

“It’s enormous. It debilitates parents and leaves them questioning how they parent their children.

“It gives mums and dads a sense of inadequacy, making them feel under-confident.”

Photographed by Sheed via Getty Images

Children may experience the emotion of anger for a range of different reasons.

Some may be affected by family issues such as divorce, and others may be going through stressful situations at school with friends or bullies.

Anger can also be provoked by having to cope with hormone changes during puberty or just because a kid feels fearful about aspects of their life, states NHS Choices.

Saddleton said it’s important for parents to remember that a child’s behaviour is always a form of communication, so it’s a your job to understand what they are trying to convey.

Anger is not always a bad emotion to have, as Saddleton explained: “Sometimes anger is appropriate, it can be constructive, not always destructive.”

As a parent, you are your child’s greatest advocate and you will know more than anyone else if the anger issues you’re noticing are outside the realm of normal.

“Some children are naturally boisterous, some are more confident and some are more timid,” explained Saddleton.

“If anger is a change - and you know as a parent if it’s a change - that’s a point at which to seek help.”

Here are eight things parents should do to deal with their child’s angry emotions.

1. Acknowledge how they are feeling.

Saddleton advised: “You can always say: ‘You’re right to feel angry, I completely acknowledge how you are feeling’,” she said.

“Try to separate out their feelings from their behaviour.”

The NHS states parents should try and stay positive when acknowledging their child’s anger issues, stating: “Positive feedback is important. Praise your child’s efforts and your own efforts, no matter how small.

“This will build your child’s confidence that they can manage their anger. It will also help them feel that you’re both learning together.”

2. Look for underlying factors.

“Don’t just look at it as them being difficult,” said Saddleton. “Always try to look for underlying factors - have there been any triggers?

“It could be something about learning or development, and anger can often stem out of a sense of frustration.

“Could it be sibling rivalry?”

Understanding why your child feels angry will help you to help them work through the feeling.

3. Help your child spot the signs of anger.

“Being able to spot the signs of anger early can help your child make more positive decisions about how to handle it,” states the NHS.

“Talk about what your child feels when they start to get angry.

“For example, they may notice that their heart beats faster, their muscles tense, their teeth clench, they clench their fists and their stomach churns.”

4. Remember that it can be considered normal.

As children develop and reach milestones, some may have moments of acting out anger as part of finding their way in life, said Saddleton.

Tantrums are common in toddlers and even in children up to eight years old. So if your child is having a tantrum, don’t assume it is outside the realm of normal and do deal with it by disciplining them as you usually would.

By the time your child reaches seven to eight years old, these tantrums should be less frequent and not last for as long. At this age, kids will begin to develop a “sense of self” and will be able to articulate how they are feeling more easily.

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5. Give them consistent boundaries.

And don’t be afraid to do it.

“Children who are angry and aggressive feel out of control,” said Saddleton. “What they need is a parent to give them structure, routine and consistency - as well as consequences of their behaviour.

“Parents must have the capacity and space to give them consistent boundaries. Mums and dads may often feel like they’re treading on eggshells and feeling afraid of a child.

“In the short term, you may get a lot of backlash from boundaries such as sending them up to bed or curfews, but children need consequences as there is something emotionally stabilising about that.”

6. Talk to your child about their anger.

As well as acknowledging how your child is feeling, the NSPCC recommends communicating with your child about what is on their mind.

An NSPCC spokesman told HuffPost UK: “It can be difficult for parents to have conversations about sensitive topics with their children but it is important they do talk with them so they can get to the root of the matter and get them help, if needed.

“Listening, reassuring them that there is help available and not dismissing their reasons for being angry, can all help parents understand what their child is going through.”

When having the conversation, the NSPCC advised parents should:

  • Set aside time to talk so that there aren’t any distractions or time pressures.

  • Have realistic expectations about the conversation. It might not go as well as you’re hoping, but give it time. Your child might not be ready to talk straight away but could re-start the conversation with you a few days later.

  • For them to feel truly involved, it’s very important to show that you are listening to them and really value what they’re telling you.

  • Unfortunately things do happen that can turn young lives upside down. Separation, illness and death obviously have a huge effect and talking about them needs to be treated very carefully. Be prepared for things to get emotional and perhaps distressing too.

  • Reassure them that you are always there for them and they can always talk to you.

7. Get the school involved.

Schools are the main access point for information about your child, said Saddleton.

“Getting the school involved can be useful for a parent to gauge whether the anger is present consistently, or just at home,” she said.

“If a child is angry at school but not at home, that is very telling - it can help rule out developmental conditions and disorders.

“If they are being bullied at school, they may be explosive at home because it is emotional safety for them.”

8. Know when to ask for help.

Saddleton said anger can be tricky as parents don’t know whether to just excuse the behaviour.

“Some parents don’t want to be too hard on their child if they think they are distressed,” she said. “Others sway from that to embarrassment and shame.

“Parents need support themselves and often find it hard to focus on themselves when they are worried about their children.

“But your own resilience as a parent is key - speak to friends or colleagues, knowing you don’t have to do it entirely on your own. You have got to have the capacity to look after yourself. GPs can make referrals where necessary.”

For more information:

NHS Choices has information on how to deal with child anger here.

Parents can contact the YoungMinds parents helpline on 0808 802 5544.

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