2 Tools to Help Kids Do Anger Better

She was angry. There was no doubt about it.

Her words, “You stupid egghead,” made it clear … even if they proved to be an oxymoron. After all, it’s common knowledge that eggheads are smart, right? Well, at least to all of us over the age of five.

I swiftly placed her on our designated “thinking spot” and set the timer. I knew she needed a few minutes to calm down; that her anger had to subside before we could really talk about her words.

Five minutes later, the timer beeped. And there I was, sitting next to her.

“Savannah,” I said, “Do you remember our verse? ‘In your anger do not sin’?”

She nodded, ever so slightly.

“You were angry at your sister, weren’t you?” I probed.

Again, a nod.

“Did you act unkind when you were angry?”

Another nod.

I hate to admit it, but I haven’t always been intentional when it comes to helping Savannah process her anger. It’s not that this type of heart-probing conversation was a foreign concept for me. I’d read the books on it. So you’d have thought I had this thing down by now. You know, since she is our third kid and all. But I didn’t. Our first two never struggled with anger to this degree.

It threw a definite curve ball Ted and my direction. Even though she was only in kindergarten and couldn’t spell the word “anger,” she felt it—and still feels it a year later—intensely. When things don’t go her way. When we tell her “no” instead of “yes.” When one of her sisters doesn’t listen or choose to play with her.

Until last year, I’d often reacted by simply focusing on her behavior, on how the anger was expressed. I poured my energy—and yes, sometimes frustration—into merely punishing words like “you stupid egghead.” But that didn’t work so well.

Cue the sarcasm . . . surprising, huh?

Something had to change. And it did. I started to slow down and offer her more than simply discipline. I started to take the time—even if it meant we had to interrupt dinner or be 10 minutes late to the next puppet show — to give her hope and practical help. Here are two ways I’ve learned to not just discipline, but equip my little girl:

1. Remind her that it’s what she does with her anger that matters most

The truth is, Savannah will feel anger. We all do sometimes. The primary problem isn’t that she feels this emotion at all, it’s what she chooses to do with it.

Now in those post “thinking spot” talks, I don’t stop at correction. I don’t just tell her, “When you’re angry, don’t hit and call names. It’s not nice.” I go on to instruct, “Here’s what you can do when you feel really, really upset. First, you can pray. You can say, ‘God, I’m really angry at my sister right now. Please help me not to be mean to her.’ Second, you can run to Papa or me. You can tell us you’re upset and ask us to help you calm down.”

2. Remind her what God made her mouth and hands for

When Savannah gets angry, she has tended to hit, scratch, or call her sisters names. Yep, no sugarcoating of my kids’ behavior here. While, sure, I still instruct her not to do these things, I also remind her what God did make her hands and mouth for. He wants her to say kind, encouraging words to others, for example. He wants her to use her hands to offer loving hugs and affirming pats on the back.

The “stupid egghead” incident ended with a hug for me and an apology for her sister. It wasn’t the last time I had to correct and instruct Savannah when it comes to anger. But now that I’m being more intentional about the process, we’re making progress. I’m seeing that with my help and God’s, Savannah is slowly learning how to properly handle this anger.

What about you? What’s one practical way you’re equipping your kids to deal with emotions such as anger?

About Ashleigh Slater

Ashleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together (Moody Publishers). As the founder and editor of Ungrind Webzine and a regular contributor at several popular blogs and websites, she loves to combine the power of a good story with biblical […]

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Comments

  1. Beth Wittenberg Mast says:

    This could not have come at a better time! Such simple advice! Why didn't I think of this? Thank you for sharing.

  2. Beth, I'm so glad it's timely for you.

  3. Nikki Hodges says:

    I needed this! My baby boy has an anger issue too :/

  4. Nikki, hang in there. It's been such a struggle at our house, but over the last year we've been seeing much improvement. So be encouraged!

  5. Julie Linczak Sems says:

    This has been an ongoing issue with two of our girls. Thanks for the reminder on being intentional with them on how to process and what to do with that anger. Will need to work more diligently with them this year.

  6. Thanks for this! I have an 8 year old who I'm trying to make understand how to "react" to emotions. This gave me good suggestions.

  7. Michelle Gentile Litle says:

    Oh my! My 5 year old son had a meltdown today! This is very timely! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Brandi B Hulsey says:

    How young did you start this? My son is 2.5 and has what everyone says are normal "terrible two" meltdowns! But that's not a good enough answer for me!! Thank you for your advice!

  9. Jacqui Mccalister says:

    I label the feeling (you're angry). By doing this, I validate my son's feelings which helps calm him. I have a spirited son who feels things intensely. Then I listen to him and set clear limits as needed. "Raising an emotionally Intelligent Child" is one of the best books I've read on this subject. The technique is in part derived from the evidence based on the results of a pretty convincing study. Here's the link if you are interested… http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Emotionally-Intelligent-Child-Parenting/dp/0684838656/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421724407&sr=8-1&keywords=emotional+intelligence+kids&pebp=1421724422375&peasin=684838656#customerReviews

  10. Bryan-Kelda Hart Zog says:

    Wow!perfect timing! We are dealing with anger issues (8 yr old daughter) really for the last several months, To the point of my husband and I looking at each other going what do we do? Wording is key by reading this! Hoping to put these 2 simple steps into motion in our house, prayers for positive results.

  11. I've found it just takes time and continually working with them. I had the conversation again today with my kids about 'not sinning in anger'. I reminded them that when we say hurtful things or act out physically, or feel hatred towards people, Jesus counts it the same as murder. His standard is perfection–not that we'll reach that, but we seek His guidance thru His word continually until it becomes more and more who we are. The patterns of this world may seem appealing when we live in and indulge 'sin', but we're made new In Christ and we're not to gratify the cravings of our flesh…this includes anger with retaliation. The words that come out of our mouths, and our actions show what's in our hearts. These conversations are also great opportunities to talk about repentance and God's Love, Mercy, Forgiveness and Grace towards us. (Ephesians 2:1-10, 1 Cor 13:4-8 and Romans 12:1,2).

  12. I've found it just takes time and continually working with them. I had the conversation again today with my kids about 'not sinning in anger'. I reminded them that when we say hurtful things or act out physically, or feel hatred towards people, Jesus counts it the same as murder. His standard is perfection–not that we'll reach that, but we seek His guidance thru His word continually until it becomes more and more who we are. The patterns of this world may seem appealing when we live in and indulge 'sin', but we're made new In Christ and we're not to gratify the cravings of our flesh…this includes anger with retaliation. The words that come out of our mouths, and our actions show what's in our hearts. These conversations are also great opportunities to talk about repentance and God's Love, Mercy, Forgiveness and Grace towards us. (Ephesians 2:1-10, 1 Cor 13:4-8 and Romans 12:1,2).

  13. Susanna Miller says:

    I have an 8 yr old with anger issues. I've been divorced for a year now & my son thinks a punching bag will help. He wants to be physical which scares me. His daddy has moody, anger issues. I'm at wits end ;(. I pray. I tell him to pray.

  14. Susanna Miller says:

    I have an 8 yr old with anger issues. I've been divorced for a year now & my son thinks a punching bag will help. He wants to be physical which scares me. His daddy has moody, anger issues. I'm at wits end ;(. I pray. I tell him to pray.

  15. Thank-you for this. I like the idea of trying to help her learn how to handle the anger. I don't know that my 8yo would do the thinking chair etc as timeouts have been a battle since she was a toddler. She will not stay and after hours of putting her back we are still in the same spot. But the discussion is important

  16. Agnes Ledvina Kersey says:

    It sounds like he may be dealing with a lot of pent up feelings resulting from your divorce, & acting out because of them. It might be a good thing to try to get to the bottom of why he has those feelings. Also, some boys are just more physical than others. Martial arts may be a good outlet for that.

  17. Brooke Horner says:

    Thanks. We need help with our 10 year old daughter. It's gotten out of control and I'm afraid we are to blame for that. I can't wait to share with my husband. We needed the help to help her. So thanks again.

  18. Nicole, I have a 9 and 10 year old also. They don't struggle with anger in the same way that my now 6 year old does, but when they hit of point of being irrational and I can't reason with them in the moment, I normally ask them to go to their room to calm down. It's the same concept as the "thinking spot," just for an older age. So perhaps that would work with your daughter.

  19. Brandi, I started #2 with my youngest at around 2 when we hit a phase where she started hitting. She seemed to be able to understand and process it.

  20. Thanks for the book recommendation, Jacqui. I've read a similar title, but I can't remember what the name of it was.

  21. Carla, thanks for sharing the way you deal with anger at your house. Some really great, helpful thoughts here!

  22. I hope they prove helpful at your house too!

  23. Amber Merson Keeney says:

    Thank you! I've been trying to teach this to my kids and to myself sometimes too. Sinning in our anger can be so easy as we rarely take time to process our emotions first. WithbGod all things are possible!

  24. My thought is that it's more about, "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,". Teach them how fill their hearts up with the goodness of the Lord and that will be the basis they operate out of. The key is to identify the root of the problem and destroy it at it's source.

  25. June Warren Fleming says:

    I have 3 teenagers. When they start to argue, before it escalates, I have them write 5 nice things about their sibling . Then they read the affirmations to each other one at a time, back and forth. Then they can talk about whatever was bothering them in a more respectful manner…. I've done this since they were little. Now all I have to do is announce that if the arguing continues, they'll have to write 5 nice things and then they somehow quickly resolve their differences.

  26. What a great idea, June!

  27. Carrie, have you ever heard the sponge analogy or the tapped cup one? It's this biblical idea you're talking about of when we feel frustrated or angry, what's really inside of us comes out. I've personally found those analogies helpful for me as an adult and plan to share them with my daughter as she gets older.

  28. Thanks for commenting, Amber!

  29. I'm so sorry it's a struggle with your daughter too, Brooke. Praying right now that the Lord would work in this area and amaze you at what He can do in your daughter.

  30. Thanks for commenting, Julie. It's nice to know that I'm not the only parent who's having to learn how to help my kids deal better with anger.

  31. I'm so sorry that you and your son are going through this, Susanna. Praying for you today.

  32. Dana, I'm so glad it was helpful!

  33. Michelle, I'm glad it was timely for you.

  34. No, I haven't heard of those analogies. Could you please expound on them or tell me where to get information about them. My grandson is seven years old and he's the one I'm trying to teach these concepts to. Maybe the age group that your adressingn this article is a little bit younger?

  35. Carrie Henderson , here's an article on the sponge analogy:

    http://www.boundless.org/faith/2010/you-made-me-sin

    The cup tapping one is essentially the same. It's just rather than a sponge being squeezed, it's a cup that's tapped and the water that splashes out represents what's in our hearts.

  36. June Warren Fleming says:

    Ashleigh Slater Loved your article. Thank you for sharing!

  37. I'm struggling with anger in my son, he just turned 2. Is it too early to use this approach at this age? I suppose my concern is that he may not be able to comprehend 1) this is an emotion, and 2) here is how to handle it.

  38. Lore Becerra says:

    I have a 10yr old that can really anger out of "go take a shower" he slams and stomps and cries he is very dramatic. Idk what to do any more I tried speaking softly time outs spanked him took electronic s away for like a weekend then a week he still gets very angry at little things.

  39. This is great, but what about older kids, say, 12 year old boys? I will still try this with him, but I am afraid a "thinking spot" might be too young for my pre-teen.

  40. My third child who is 15 turns 16 next month. Deals with anger issues. He has had counseling on and off for the last 5 years. After reading this I see the mistakes that I have made with him concerning how to handle it. I am going to try these and hopefully with God's help it is not to late. Out of 4 children he is the only one with this issue.
    Thank you so much for sharing
    Mary Ann

  41. I needed that, as in not my kids

  42. My son was physical with his anger as well around 3-4 years old. We put him into a martial arts class near us, telling him that anger is not a reason to be physical or violent. Defense of others and confidence in our own bodies and abilities is what we said martial arts was about. We also told him there were places where he could be physical, but he still had to follow the rules and respect others. He now plays soccer and ice hockey at age 8, but he loved his 3 years in martial arts and recently asked to take some again over the summer.

  43. I stumbled upon this article and it was no accident.. Our third child has an anger problem, and our others don't.. So it has been a struggle to say the least. Your words are exactly what this weary Mama needed. Thank you!!

  44. I've been feeling like my efforts in this aren't working, but I will continue in hopes to see a change. A lot of the time, my little girl won't acknowledge the wrong. She will completely deny it even if I watched her hit/pinch/shove her sister…….any tips on that?

  45. Mine too Michelle, The Lord knows what we need to hear and when we need to hear it. Thank you Ashleigh for sharing your heart and thoughts with us it's easy to feel alone and defeated and forget that there's growth for both baby and parent through this. God bless us all through these growing pains 😉

  46. I have taught my 2 year old daughter to run away to go calm down before she throws something h or hits someone. She has learned to recognize when tension is building and she will literally run to her room and yell "I'm going to my room to go calm down!" Then she comes out when she is more calm and we either move on or talk about what happened. At age 3.5 now, she has really mastered this. Good for grownups to take note of this, as well. 😉

  47. I have taught my 2 year old daughter to run away to go calm down before she throws something h or hits someone. She has learned to recognize when tension is building and she will literally run to her room and yell "I'm going to my room to go calm down!" Then she comes out when she is more calm and we either move on or talk about what happened. At age 3.5 now, she has really mastered this. Good for grownups to take note of this, as well. 😉

  48. Thanks-this really helpful. I have a 7yr old son that doesn't process any emotion very well, so this a great starting point for me!

  49. I did that too with my sonbut the only thing is now that he is in school he as gotten into trouble a few times cause the teaches thought he was trying to run away from them when all he was doing was finding a spot that no one was that he could calm down… it became a big issue

  50. I am a teacher of 4 year olds. This is a really good article and it works. I've done this alot with a child in my class and now when he's angry he'll clinch his fists, fold his arms and go stand alone somewhere. Then when he's calm we'll talk. I give him affirmation and point out how well he handled the situation. I also use this in Sunday school class and with my grands.

  51. Wow thank you so much this really helps a lot.

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