My son is a hot-tempered boy who gets very angry. What can I do to calm him down before he lashes out at the rest of the family?
Unless you're a saint, dealing with an angry child is challenging at best. While no parent enjoys their child's explosive outbursts, anger is a normal and human emotion. Help your son develop a better capacity for handling his anger with these tips:
1. Don't use your words! When a child is upset, think of him as residing in the right, emotional side of his brain where language is not terribly useful. Rather than explaining why he shouldn't be angry, join him where he is. "I get it--you really wanted to ride with me to pick up Grandma....Oh honey..." Say little, but deliver a big dose of empathy so your son senses that you understand his pain, even if you're not making it go away.
2. Offer a hug. Many children are grounded by physical contact; it seems to settle them down. "I know you're mad, but can I give you a hug?" Some children welcome the chance to feel comforted and contained by our physical presence.
3. Move! Anger is an energy--one that can feel overwhelming in the body. When your son is upset, offer to play catch, dance wildly around the living room, shoot some hoops, or go for a bike ride. By releasing emotions physically, he may find it easier to avoid acting out aggressively.
4. 3 + 10. This is an easy one for children to learn and remember, but it's best to practice ahead of time when the seas are calm, rather than stormy. Place your hand on your belly and invite your child to do the same as you take in three slow, gentle belly breaths. At the end of this short practice, count to 10. Using the "3 + 10" method regularly may help your son develop better self-regulation.
5. Stomp and squeeze. In my office, I always have a squishy ball for children to squeeze when their feelings are getting stirred up. I also encourage kids to stomp their feet when they're mad, with some optional noise-making, as well. Anger is an energy, one that can be better handled if we can shout or stomp through it!
If you find yourself triggered when your son turns up the volume on his anger, you may find that these tips help you, as well! And if your son is routinely angry, look beneath the symptom to address any underlying issues that may fuel his outbursts, including academic problems, social pressures, depression, or chronic frustration.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.