4 Tips to Handle an Angry Child by Nicole Carpenter

POSTED BY on May 06, 2015


Like sardines in a can, we crammed ourselves into a shuttle bus and journeyed from the ballpark back to our car.  I was quietly grateful my husband and I and our four young children all managed to get a seat; I didn’t think the kids had the energy to stand up for the bus ride (or that I had the energy to hold them).

Then I noticed a young family similar to our own standing in the aisle in front of us. I quickly offered the edge of my 5-year-old son’s seat to a little girl about his same age and scooted him closer to me. His eyebrows furrowed, his jaw clenched and I knew I’d overstepped my boundaries. My son didn’t want to share his seat with anyone, let alone a girl.

Whether I like it or not, my son has a very short fuse and his emotions usually elevate faster than his ability to reason. We’d actually been working on his temper for a few weeks using a color scale suggested by his occupational therapist.

On the cartoon feelings scale, “blue” was the lowest or calm level, and “red” was the top level or very very mad. My son referred to it as “steaming mad” because the cartoon figure literally had steam jetting out of his ears.

I feared what might happen now on that bus as my son was forced to share his seat. Would he hit? Would he melt down on the floor? Oh, please no.

Thankfully, our efforts were paying off. My son folded his arms as tight as he could and cried. As he cried he yelled at me, “I’m red! I’m red! I’m red, red red!” It wasn’t a perfect end to the great night we had experienced, but it was progress. I’ll take progress.

Dr. Laura Markham says, “When kids live in a home where anger is handled in a healthy way, they generally learn to manage their anger constructively.” I’m not a counselor or therapist, but I have learned a few skills to deal with the anger in our home — skills that just might help you too.

1 — Speak the same language

Having a unified "feelings chart" posted on the fridge seems silly but being able to use the same terminology for feelings and emotions is tremendous. Previously, much of our frustration came from failing to understanding each other.

2 — Identify the triggers

After close evaluation, I realized a theme of common triggers that sent my child straight into a meltdown. Top on the list: equality. Everything in his life must be fair from his point of view and thus sharing his seat with a stranger rattled him to his core.

3 — Save the talking for later

For the longest time, every time my son (or any of my children) got angry, I wanted to talk them through it because that’s how I like to cope with my anger. Sadly, it took a pretty significant aha moment for me to realize each of my children, especially my son, handle emotions much differently than I handle mine.

4 — Find the calm in the storm

It’s extremely difficult and yet ever so important to stay calm during a child’s anger fit. Adding anger to anger only fuels the fire. It may be necessary to remove both your child and yourself from the situation to resolve it the best you can.

In addition, it’s a great idea to have calming strategies in place before an explosive moment or meltdown. My son has his favorite things and spots in the house that he likes to retreat to when he’s upset.

And frankly, I do too. As of late, it’s a cold toffee bar on the top shelf of the fridge.



Nicole Carpenter is the CEO of MOMentity.com and creator of the Define Your Time™ online course for busy women. She loves to help overwhelmed moms manage their time so they can chase their dreams while they still nurture their family. Nicole is a sought-after speaker, columnist, and Amazon best-selling author of 52 Weeks to Fortify Your Family: 5-minute Messages. But her most important role is that of 'mommy' to her four kids ranging in age from 10 to 4 (including a set of identical twins), and ‘wife’ to her college sweetheart.


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