Child anger can seem like it comes out of nowhere. One minute you are enjoying a peaceful afternoon at the park, and the next your child is screaming and upset because she can’t figure out how to manipulate a toy the way she wants.
There are many causes for child anger. For some children, their temperament tends to be more labile and since birth they’ve had challenges with emotion regulation. Their physiological makeup can makes them more prone to angry outbursts than other children. For example, challenges related to executive functioning and impulsivity make it difficult to manage the highs and lows of feelings. Other children who are physiologically more prone to anxiety or sensory sensitivities can also struggle with anger outbursts.
Environment also plays a big role in child anger. If under lots of stressors, like a move or parents separating, children can feel less in control of their environment, leading to anxiety and irritability. Parents also are significant models for how to manage frustration, and naturally children absorb and their parent’s behaviors like sponges.
Our culture also makes it difficult for us to help our children manage anger. It’s often socially unacceptable individuals to express anger in public in the same what that it its okay to be concerned or fearful. A child having a full-blown tantrum in a public space is sure to draw some raised eyebrows and glances.
Child Anger is a Normal Physiological Response
Anger causes physiological and biological changes. Heart rate and blood pressure rise and the body produces a boost of adrenaline. That’s a lot going on in a little body! These bodily changes manifest as a result of an adaptive response to something that the child perceives as a threat that will harm them, whether that threat is real or not. It’s helpful to explain that anger and the body’s reaction when mad is a normal response that a lot time ago our ancestors needed to keep them safe from real stressors, like a big saber-tooth tiger. Our brains and bodies continue to use the same communication systems, and this may or may not be helpful. Like when a car is coming, and we need to jump out of the way, this would be an example of a helpful reactive response from our body and brain.
Here are strategies for helping children manage their anger:
- Teach them feeling identification so they can sense through body awareness when are beginning to get upset
- Encourage them to communicate using words, pictures, or acting to describe how they feel. Sometimes all they need is to scribble on a piece of paper.
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation strategies each day so that when they are feeling upset, they can easily access these coping skills in times of need
- Model how to redirect their energy to something else, like running, screaming into a pillow, jumping jacks, shooting hoops, etc.
- Deep breathing techniques to calm down the nervous system is very grounding and effective for children. When we breath in, our heart rate naturally goes up, and when we breath out our heart rate naturally drops. Teach children to breath out longer than they breath in to help calm down their heart rate.
Over time, these skills will help children learn to recognize physiological symptoms that anger is building and start the process of managing them effectively.
Paradox Psych Services is a child and teen therapy center with two Carlsbad locations: Bressi Ranch and Aviara Parkway. Our child therapists at Bressi Ranch are also near San Marcos. We offer an action and goal-oriented approach to child and teen therapy. To learn more about our services, contact us today for a free phone consultation.