Some children are like firecrackers and anger erupts quickly, faster than you can figure out what happened.
Other children allow things to slowly build until they finally can’t hold it in anymore.
Children who are quick reactors, those that store up emotion, or any child in between, can benefit from learning anger management.
6 Things Not To Say To An Angry Child And What To Say Instead
Emotional regulation, like other areas of development, takes time. How we respond can help or hinder their anger management.
We need to acknowledge their feelings, not dismiss them, while we teach them how to respond appropriately to their big emotions.
Learning what to say and what not to say can help diffuse a tantrum while giving them tools to handle their anger.
Every child is unique, and what works well for one may not work for another. It’s also important to know that what works for anger isn’t likely to work for a sensory meltdown.
If your child has a sensory processing disorder (SPD), these phrases may not be the best approach.
What’s The Difference Between Anger And A Meltdown?
At times, it can be confusing to decipher between a child that is angry and having trouble handling the emotion, and a child that is having a meltdown.
Any child can have meltdowns, but they are often more frequent in children with SPD. A meltdown can occur for many reasons including:
- Sensory overload
- A triggered “fight or flight” reflex which can be a response to a sensory overload
- A change in routine or difficulty transitioning from one activity to another
- Difficulty communicating
- Poor nutrition, blood sugar fluctuations
- Difficulty with self-regulation.
If your child has SPD, or if their behaviour is the result of one of the above, the phrases below may not be beneficial for that specific situation.
Even as adults, we joke about things such as being ‘hangry’ or so tired that you’re angry, or ‘slangry.’
If mature adults with mature emotional regulation can struggle to handle their emotions when they’re hungry or tired, it’s important to remember that children can be impacted by these things as well.
In the case of meltdowns, we can try and help the child cope with what is triggering them, and if possible, help to solve the situations (e.g. give their senses a break, give them food, settle them for rest, etc).
Be sure to read Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – What Is It? to learn more.
If your child is experiencing anger and having difficulty coping or expressing it properly, how you respond is important. If you dismiss their feelings, they’re unlikely to calm down and could escalate into more big emotions.
If they aren’t taught that anger is an emotion we all feel, one we can learn to manage, they’re likely to continue struggling with strong reactions to anger. Here are 6 ways to talk to an angry child:
#1: Don’t Say “Stop Whining” – Try “I Can’t Understand You, Let’s Try Our Normal Voice”
Whining – every parent’s favourite sound. As much as it makes our skin crawl, our knee jerk reaction is to say stop.
However, more often than not a young child may not even realise they’re whining. If they are consistently met with “I can’t understand you” in time they’ll whine less.
Their ultimate goal is to be heard. Telling them to stop can prolong whining because they don’t feel heard. Asking them to try a different tone so you can understand tells them know you want to hear them.
#2: Don’t Say “Stop Hitting” – Try “You Can Be Angry, But I Won’t Let You Hit”
You need to firmly let a child know that hitting is unacceptable. However, you also need to reaffirm that their emotion is okay and you understand they are upset.
Children need to learn that they can be angry but everyone needs to be safe.
#3: Don’t Say “You’re Being A Baby” – Try “These Big Emotions Are Hard, Let’s Work Through Them”
When’s the last time you cried or got so frustrated you felt pure anger? I’m guessing it was more recent than toddlerhood?
We shouldn’t teach children that big emotions are only for babies. We need to let them know that they will continue to experience anger, frustration, etc. as they get older. Don’t dismiss the emotions, help them express and process them safely.
#4: Don’t Say “Stop Throwing Things” – Try “It’s Okay To Be Angry, But I Won’t Let You Hurt Someone Or Something”
Like #2, you’re acknowledging your child’s emotion while letting them know you need to keep everyone safe.
Anger is an okay emotion. Hitting someone or breaking something, however, is not an okay response to the emotion.
#5: Don’t Say “You’re Embarrassing Me” – Try “We’re Going To A Private Spot To Work This Out”
It’s very important to remember that a public fit isn’t about you. Your child isn’t likely to settle just to stop embarrassing you. By going to a new spot you can stop drawing attention to the behaviour, reinforce appropriate behaviour, and help your child process their emotions.
You’re also reminding your child that you’re on the same team and you want to help them.
#6: Don’t Say “Stop Screaming” – Try “I Know You’re Upset, But I Can’t Understand You When You Scream.”
It’s pretty tempted to yell “stop screaming” over your screaming child. You can be desperate to make the noise stop. However, rarely does it actually work.
Acknowledging that your child is upset and letting them know you want to hear them, can sometimes be enough to diffuse a screaming match.
There are many phrases which could be used to help calm an angry child. Ultimately, the goal is to acknowledge your child’s emotions, help them to process them, and help them learn appropriate ways to manage their anger.
We often want to send an angry child away or quickly quiet them. While that can end the situation, it may not always help them learn how to handle their anger.
Taking time to help them cool off, feel supported and model ways to handle their emotions can help them towards mature emotional regulation.