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How to Help Kids Control Their Anger

Learn how to help children control their anger from anger management expert Dr. J. Ryan Fuller in this Howcast video.


I'm Ryan Fuller, I'm a clinical physiologist with a practice in New York City. I'm going to talk you a little bit about how to help children manage anger. So when we talk about anger management for children, again I want to specify that we're really not so much talking about anger, the feeling of anger, in terms of doing away with it. But potentially helping children to maybe become a little less angry, so it's not quite as intense. Or what's even more important is making sure that when they become angry they don't engage in behaviors that might get them into trouble at school or where they might hurt themselves or someone else.

So, the first key is to help them really develop an emotional vocabulary. So we want children to learn with their parents, words for the particular experiences they're having that are related to anger. So that might be simply first asking them the kinds of things their feeling in there body, whether its muscle tension or their heart rate coming up and things like that. And getting them to begin to learn and become familiar with emotion words like anger, annoyance, rage. But also other kinds of feelings that might come up before anger like hurt or embarrassment. So that they can begin to describe and understand what changes are taking place in their bodies and know what it’s about. So the first piece is awareness.

The second thing and this is critical is that we don't want children to believe that it’s wrong to feel angry and that's a message that comes across a lot in our culture. That you are not supposed to be angry especially at a family member. And unfortunately that creates a lot of problems for children. So they might experience that as invalidating. One, it might in fact intensify the emotion. But the second thing it does is it sends a message to them that they can't trust their own experiences. And that they're not necessary a good judge of understanding what’s going on around them. And that can potentially put them at risk for all kinds of other negative behaviors. So the first is we want to get them aware of their own emotional states and allow them to be able to describe and name those states.

Second, we want to make sure they can validate the feeling. We then though want to make sure they understand once they sort of see what these feelings are about, they begin to notice them, that they're able to stop themselves and do one of two things. One, even very young children can be taught to do simple breathing exercises. And it might be as simple as telling them to stop and count to ten, slow their breathing down to try to bring it down. The other thing is if they're for instance on the playground and they catch themselves feeling angry that might be a good time for them to take a timeout. Step away from their friends and possibly go off by themselves and do a little breathing or to go talk to a teacher.

So what we really want is to make sure they have some awareness and vocabulary of their emotions. What’s going on in their bodies, that it’s validated so that they understand that it's okay to feel angry. Three, they can do some breathing perhaps to relax and bring down the emotional intensity and perhaps learn to take a time out. And then finally we want them to be able to communicate and talk it through with adults like a teacher and then also with their parents at home and eventually even with their peers. So those are the steps, a few, that began to help children manage anger and aggression.

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