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Anger - helping your child to manage it

anger; management; self; control; feelings; frustration; stress; disappointment; behaviour;

Anger is a result of feeling stressed, disappointed or frustrated, and not being able to cope with those feelings. It is really important that you learn how to help your child manage feelings of anger effectively while your child is young. 


Everyone -  including parents feels angry at times. Anger is a result of feeling stressed, disappointed or frustrated, and not being able to cope with those feelings. There are many ways of expressing anger, many of which are not helpful or safe.

Part of the process of growing up is learning that we cannot have everything that we want, that we may not always be successful, and that life is sometimes unfair. We learn to accept that there are some things we cannot change, that sometimes we have to accept or put up with things, and we also learn to be assertive and not aggressive.

Anger and young children

Very young children may express their anger and frustration by throwing tantrums, often in places where they are going to create maximum effect and embarrassment to their parent or carer. Our topic on Tantrums can help you understand and deal with tantrums.

It is really important that you learn how to deal with your child's feelings of anger effectively while your child is young. Coping with a 2 year old is a lot easier than trying to restrain an older child who is unable to control her feelings and who resorts to physical actions such as hitting or kicking.

What is causing the feelings?

If your child is expressing anger, look first at what is causing the feelings.

  • Is your child getting enough sleep?
  • Is he wanting to do something that he is too young or physically unable to do?
  • Are you wanting him to behave better than he can because he is not yet old enough?
  • Is he getting enough 'good' attention? Do you make positive comments for good behaviour and small improvements?
  • Do you explain why you say "no" to a request?
  • Do you stick by your decisions or do you allow yourself to 'give-in' to constant whining and nagging?
  • Is your child unsettled by changes in the family - like a new baby, moving house or splits in the family?
  • Is your child unwell, hungry or overtired?

Outline the rules

Let your child know quietly but firmly that there are rules for dealing with anger - that everyone gets angry at times, but that we all have to learn to be the boss of anger, and not let anger be the boss of us.

Teach your child that we can all learn to work through the anger and keep ourselves and others safe by:

  • taking a deep breath and breathing out hard
  • counting to ten slowly in the mind before saying anything - keep breathing and counting while you think about what to say or do
  • waiting until we feel in control and can speak in a quiet voice
  • saying what we feel quietly, not shouting
  • walking away (not running) until we feel calm enough to think what to do
  • being careful not to say hurtful things, which we may regret later
  • never hitting out to hurt others or ourselves
  • finding safe ways to release anger, such as screaming into a pillow, running round the garden or some other safe place, squeezing a ball or a cushion.

Make sure that when you are angry, you do the same things as you are asking your child to do. Let him know what you are doing by saying your thoughts out loud.

Looking after yourself

Coping with a child who is upset and angry is very tiring.

Start as you mean to continue by:

  • always insisting on quiet voices when you are talking together
  • saying "no" once and explaining why, then ignoring any further discussion by changing the subject
  • meaning what you say! - make simple rules for your child to follow, and do what you said you would do (consequences) if they are not followed
  • not giving in to whining and whingeing - it is hard at first, but it is not good for yourself or your child if you  give up on helping her to manage anger
  • using 'time-out' from each other, either by deciding together where a safe place is for your child, eg. on a particular chair in the family area, or even where is a safe place for yourself to 'time-out' for a while - somewhere your child can see you but knows not to disturb you until you are ready
  • trying to use the 'time-out' sign, making a letter T with your hands, to show that you are not going to talk any more about this, rather than shouting or repeating what you have just said
  • teaching your child about the values you have in the family, like respect for others and their property, honesty, responsibility and working together to help each other, and praising when these values are shown by the child
  • being fair - everyone needs to feel loved and special; sometimes it can be all too easy to 'play favourites', so that an older or more 'difficult' child can feel less loved
  • making it quite clear that while you love the child, you do not love angry, aggressive behaviour.

Who can help you to help your child?

In spite of all the love, care and attention you can give, some children still have problems dealing with anger. Do not struggle on alone!

Looking for help does not mean that you are a hopeless parent! On the contrary, it means that you are caring enough to realise that your child has difficulties and you want to help her overcome them. The old saying, 'You can't see the wood for the trees,' is very true. Sometimes we are so involved in struggling through daily life, we can't see what is happening.

  • Talk to your doctor or the nurse at your local clinic.
  • Talk to your child's teacher and find out how things are going at school.
  • Find out what is working well in your child's class, and whether your child knows the rules and what she and others have to do. You may be able to use the same things at home.
  • Talk to the school counsellor if your child is having difficulties controlling anger at school. Doing the same things at home and school can work well, and it's good for the three of you to work together.
  • Talk with whoever is helping your child - talk about when things are working well. Let you child know what you like about what she is doing.

When adults feel angry

 Look after yourself. You are the adult. It is important that you model dealing with anger by not showing anger yourself, not shouting and not hitting. Have a look at Anger and anger management for parents on he Raising Children Network site.  

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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