Human feelings allow us to adapt to different situations. Therefore, every emotion is necessary, including negative ones such as sadness or anger.

Anger is something that takes on a very important role in life, since it is an emotion that motivates us to defend ourselves from aggressions or situations that we consider unjust. However, uncontrolled anger can be very harmful, both to us and to those around us.

This basic emotion is especially delicate when it occurs in children, who have not yet acquired all the social rules that make them regulate this feeling. Therefore, emotional education focused on anger can become an important tool.

We are going to look at some strategies to be able to deal with and control anger in children , promoting their emotional intelligence and giving them tools so that they can develop as future adapted adults.

Anger: a basic emotion

If human beings did not feel anger, many of the unjust situations such as slavery, oppression of ethnic minorities and the denial of women’s rights would not have been overcome. Anger allows us to move towards what we feel is not right and show our discontent, either by discussing it or by fighting to prevent it from happening again.

The factors that cause this emotion in children can be very varied . They could be classified into two types: the internal ones, which would be the child’s own, for example, being upset because he has not got good grades, and the external ones, which would be due to a factor alien to him, such as having fallen and hurt himself or having been hit by a classmate.

The bad thing about this emotion is not the fact that it occurs in children. It is something natural and adaptive that allows us to face a situation that we consider unfair or in which we have been harmed. However, despite the fact that it is a basic emotion, it has repercussions at a physiological level, such as changes in blood pressure and heart rate. Moreover, given the still premature socialization and culturalization of children, they do not know how to behave and may react by attacking and insulting others.

How do you manage children’s anger?

Humans, by instinct, tend to react aggressively, however, doing so in each of the situations that generate anger is neither healthy nor adaptive.

It can lead to problems with friends, at school or with one’s own family, being a very detrimental feeling for the correct development of the child, having repercussions in the emotional sphere. This is why it is so important to teach children how to handle this emotion .

1. Developing empathy

It involves making the child understand that other people also have feelings , and trying to put them in the other’s place.

To encourage empathic thinking, you can present situations to the child, such as that a peer has been hit or that someone has been hurt, and ask how you think he or she would feel in that situation, what you think the angry person might do…

2. Recognizing and expressing anger

When the child is immersed in an episode of anger it is more difficult to negotiate with him . He does not listen to us, especially if he is making a lot of noise slamming doors, hitting or even breaking dishes.

The best thing to do in these cases is to wait for the storm to subside. Talk to him when he has calmed down to make him see what he has done or why he is angry. You understand things better when you are calmer.

As we have already said, the instinctive thing is to act aggressively when one gets angry. This often results in violent actions that can be very destructive.

A very interesting option is to give the child tools that do the opposite, that are constructive and promote creativity. Some of them are to paint, draw or write on a paper how he feels and, while doing so, to tell him what he is painting or writing means.

3. Breathing exercises

Although it may seem a cliché, taking a deep breath before doing something you might regret is a good way to reduce anger , even if it is not the panacea.

While doing this, you can tell them to think of a nice place, like a forest, a field with flowers or a tent full of candy.

These pleasant images, along with deep breathing, help you relax and think more clearly.

4. Self-control techniques

Children should learn that any feeling is valid, but not any behavior . They have to see that they have the right to feel offended when someone does something to them that they don’t like, but they have the obligation to respond to it in a non-violent way.

Kicking, hitting, hair grabbing, spitting, and name-calling are behaviors we cannot tolerate in children, and we must reproach them for doing so. If they have done it several times and in a very violent way, punishment is a necessary measure.

But the best way to avoid having to punish them is to teach them techniques to use when they are angry.

One of the techniques that can be used to start promoting self-control is the traffic light technique. A traffic light is made of paper cards, which has three coloured lights: one green, one red and one yellow.

With the red light we indicate that you should stop what you are doing, because you are not controlling your anger. With the yellow one, we indicate that you should meditate on what you are doing and why you feel this way. With the green light, we tell you to express what you are feeling.

5. Releasing tension

Children who do physically demanding activities, such as football or swimming, come home relaxed . Sport causes the production of endorphins that contribute to a general state of relaxation and well-being.

It also acts as a self-control technique, since it allows them to handle anger more calmly.

In addition, coaches of soccer and other sports often have techniques to teach kids how to behave sportily in the game, without getting angry because they’ve been yellow-carded or accidentally elbowed by a teammate.

Coaches’ techniques are not only useful on the field, they also have a positive impact on other parts of the child’s life, such as home and school.

6. Do not react to their anger

Whether a child behaves well or badly does not depend solely on his personality . Education is a key factor for the child to become an adapted person as an adult.

The first educational environment in which the child is immersed is his own home. Parents who do not know how to respond adequately to their child’s episodes of anger are like throwing gasoline into a fireplace.

If they are shouted at, scolded very loudly or, in the most serious and dysfunctional cases, parents physically assault their own children, we should not magically expect them to behave well.

If the child does not behave as he should, the parents should not listen to him. Many times they seek to be the center of attention for whatever reason. If they are listened to, they win and continue to behave badly, knowing that they are getting what they want.

Although it may seem that they have a lot of energy, children get tired and if they see that what they are doing does not achieve what they want, they will most likely stop doing it.

When should we look for a professional?

Normally, children learn how to manage anger , either through the discipline offered by parents and teachers or by receiving the influences of the culture with which they have contact.

However, sometimes children do not acquire sufficient self-control, even though everything possible has been done to enable the child to act appropriately in the face of an angry episode.

Before parents blame themselves for thinking they are not good educators or believe their child has no solution, it may be necessary to see a mental health professional to make sure the problem is not really due to a developmental or behavioral disorder.

The professional will analyze which are the triggers of the child’s anger, if it is due to family factors or if the child has some kind of problem that makes it difficult to control.

In addition to having the therapeutic tools to promote proper development in the child, it will also take into account the age at which it is, in order to apply the most appropriate treatment according to their stage of development.

Bibliographic references:

  • Harris, W., Schoenfeld, C. D., Gwynne, P. W., Weissler, A. M. (1964) Circulatory and mood responses to fear and anger. The Physiologist, 7, 155.
  • Di Giuseppe, R.; Raymond Chip Tafrate, Understanding Anger Disorders Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 133-159.