When it comes to emotions, children don’t have it easy. They’re old enough to experience powerful feelings but too young to have developed the ability to control them. It can be hard enough for us adults to articulate our emotions, so it’s inevitable your child will struggle at times and risk becoming frustrated, confused and angry.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can help your child turn anger and aggression into calm and mindfulness. We can split these into two broad categories: short-term tips to help alleviate your child’s tantrum and longer-term methods to prevent them from being angry in the first place.
Say the right things
You might not always think it, but what you say to your child when they’re angry can have a big effect, so long as you say it in the right way.
In dealing with an angry child, your first reaction might be to say “Don’t”. “Don’t throw your toys,” “Don’t get angry”, “Don’t hit people” and so on. But to an angry, defiant child, this is as much a challenge to carry on as it is a command to stop.
Instead, stay calm (easier said than done, we know!) and try to empathise with your little one. Rather than saying “Don’t throw things”, say something like: “It’s okay to feel like this. I get mad sometimes, too. Now, shall we try our Monster Yell and get it all out there?”
Centre the conversation around empathy and working through their feelings as a team. After all, there’s nothing more cathartic than a good old parent/child “Arghhhhhh!” to get rid of anger.
Take a deep breath
Taking a series of deep breaths is a time-served piece of advice for angry children – and grown-ups – for good reason. Breathing slowly and deeply from your stomach not only focuses your little one’s mind away from what’s making them angry but also sends a signal to their nervous system to slow down, calming their physiological response.
In one of our Mindful Monster activity cards, Giggles the Positivity Monster recommends ‘bubble breathing’. You ask your little one to take a breath and hold it in their mouth, as if it were a bubble. They then imagine the bubble is a thought making them anxious or angry and then slowly breathe it out, blowing away the anger in the process.
(Quick tip: this also works for adults)
Just like all our Mindful Monsters tasks, ‘bubble breathing’ teaches your child to be in the moment, replacing the situation that made them angry with a task that helps them calmly overcome that anger.
Prevention, as they say, is better than the cure, so try out these techniques to stop your child’s tantrum before it starts.
Teach your child about feelings
A child’s frustration often stems from being unable to understand or articulate what they’re feeling. This means parents have a vital role to play in helping their children understand the emotions they’re going through and how they can manage them.
This requires the two Ts – talking and teamwork. Help your child give definition to name their feelings by naming them and talking them through scenarios in which they crop up. This turns something abstract – airy fairy feelings – into something concrete and helps your child understand:
- that what they’re feeling is anger;
- that feeling anger is normal;
- the reasons why they’re feeling angry;
- and what they can do overcome it
In turn, this helps them relate negative emotions like anger to the positive coping techniques you’ve shared with them, such as deep breathing deeply or encouraging them to voice their emotions.
That last one is particularly important. Simply encouraging your child to tell you when they start to get angry means that, together, you can head off any eruptions from Mount Child before they happen.
Build routine mindfulness for children into your day
Mindfulness is defined as “the process of bringing one’s attention to what’s happening in the present moment without judgement.” Essentially, mindfulness for children gives them the ability to calmly acknowledge and process their feelings in a positive way.
Mindfulness is a great long-term way to make calmness a default setting in your household and is something your little one could benefit from for their whole lives. And, like anything, the earlier they’re introduced to it, the quicker they’ll pick it up.
Research on mindfulness shows that it decreases anxiety and stress whilst increasing focus and positive behaviour – and which is why we created the Mindful Monsters activity cards.
Our Mindful Monsters cards provide a whole host of simple activities designed to create moments of calm, positivity, focus and relaxation. They help you and your child take routine time-outs, so you can spend quality time together and de-clutter your minds from the everyday bustle and stress we all deal with – child and adult.
Our Mindful Monsters activities help in the short-term by encouraging your child to be in the moment. But they also teach positive thought processes and ways of dealing with emotions that your child can take into their teenage years and beyond.
Lead by example
When it comes to learning, children are like sponges. They soak up information and behaviours from a very young age, mimicking the actions of those around them as ‘the natural way of things’. As Lisa Nalven, M.D., a developmental and behavioural paediatrician, puts it: “Imitation is vital to the development of abilities ranging from language to social skills.”
Which means when it comes to teaching your child not to be angry, it’s very much a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’. As such, you should consider your home to be like a classroom – and you as the teacher. If you don’t want your child to be angry, try not to show anger yourself. If you want your child to calmly vocalise their feelings rather than react with aggressive behaviour, show them how it’s done.
Essentially, this is the rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. As we said earlier, children struggle to articulate their feelings, so it’s up to you to show the behaviours you want them to learn rather than just telling them to do it.
So, there are a few short- and long-term options on how to deal with temper tantrums and to help an angry child calm down. And remember, you can always use our Mindful Monsters to help make child mindfulness an everyday part of your little one’s life.
Have you any tantrum-busting tips to share? Send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org.