Children and Teens Program
>Dealing with an Angry Child -
Alternatives to Spanking -
Dealing with an Angry Child
Everybody gets angry. You do, and so does your child. But figuring out what to do with that
anger is tough. It makes parenting one of the hardest jobs in the world.
What do you do with an angry child? Letting your anger or your child's get out of hand is
dangerous. But so is hiding it. Hidden anger only smolders until it explodes later "for no
The first thing you can do is get control over your own feelings. It will help if you think of
your job at that moment as a teaching job. Little Jimmy or Susy probably doesn't understand the
strong feelings building up inside, obviously doesn't know what to do with them, and may well be
frightened at the sense of going out of control.
In fact, the anger of a child is often an easily available substitute for some other feeling the
child can't identify. A child will act angrily when the real problem is deeper and more
frightening: a feeling of failure, low self-worth, loneliness, boredom, fear, confusion, or
If you can help the child discover what feeling lies under the anger, and talk with him or her
about it, the anger is likely to lessen or even disappear.
Remember that anger is a natural human feeling. Your child has a right to feel and express
anger. So do you. Just as everyone has a right to feel hunger, happiness or sadness. But
anger is different from aggression.
Aggression is an attempt to hurt someone or destroy something. It infringes on the rights of
others. This distinction may help you to react appropriately to the many kinds of upsetting
things an angry child may do.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with an angry child. Some of them are designed to help
the child avoid unnecessarily frustrating situations. Some are on-the-spot actions you can take
when you see your child is having a problem.
Catch your child being good. Every day find lots of ways to praise your child's good behavior --
and you'll start seeing more of it. Some examples: "I really liked it that you came in for
dinner today without being reminded"; "Thanks for hanging up your clothes after school. I know
you were in a hurry to get out to play"; "You sure were patient when I was on the phone"; "Thanks
for telling the truth about what really happened."
Ignore inappropriate behavior that can be tolerated. Ignoring it is one way of showing the
child that the behavior is inappropriate. This doesn't mean you should ignore the child, just
Make it easy for your child to be good. Give him or her plenty of opportunity for physical
exercise to let off extra energy. Plan surroundings so that unnecessary temptations aren't
there. Make sure the child isn't too "crowded in" by cramped physical space, or overly confining
rules and regulations.
Use closeness and touching. Sometimes a sudden hug or show of affection will help an angry
child regain control. You can move physically closer to a child to calm him or her, and help
the child curb the angry impulse.
Say "No!" In order to stay within limits, a child needs a clear idea of what those limits are,
and needs to be free to operate within them.
Explain situations. Understanding a situation can help a child understand the cause of the
anger, and begin to calm down. Your explanation can include telling the child how you feel, and
asking for consideration. Example: "Playing your drum usually doesn't bother me, but today I
have a headache. Could you please do something else?"
Help your child build a good self-image. If your Jimmy is convinced he is a "bad boy," then you
can be sure he will act like one. He needs to know he is a valued and valuable person, that he
has strengths as well as weaknesses, that he is able to reach his goals, that his angry feelings
don't make him a bad person.
Teach your child to express anger in words. Talking is an acceptable steam valve, and helps the
child to avoid "blowing up." If Susy is free to tell her little brother, "I don't feel like
sharing just now," and if that desire is respected, chances are she isn't going to slug him the
minute you turn your back. Teach her to put the angry feelings into words instead of fists.
Be a good model. If you hit Susy because she hit her baby brother, will she believe you when you say
it's wrong to hit people?
Use physical restraint -- carefully. Sometimes physical restraint is necessary to stop a child
from hurting himself or herself, or others. This also will help the child save face. Physical
restraint is not a means of punishment or angry behavior by you, or a chance for other children
to ridicule your child. Neither should it hurt the child physically or emotionally. This is
simply a way of saying, "You can't do that."
Use punishment cautiously. Your rule might be, "Is this punishment educational, or just a way
for me to let off steam?" Let off steam some other way, and then decide what action is needed
to correct your child's behavior.
Adapted from a publication by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Material drawn from "The Aggressive Child" by Fritz Redl and David Wineman.