Helping Kids Express Their Anger Appropriately

Anger is Acceptable

As parents, it can be extremely frustrating for us when our child expresses his anger inappropriately. Learning to help that child channel his anger, however, is a whole new challenge. There are ways you can help your child recognize anger and cope with it effectively and appropriately at almost any age.

The first step to helping kids express their anger appropriately is to recognize that anger is a perfectly acceptable emotion. It's not wrong to be angry, it's natural. According to the Counseling Center of New Smyrna Beach's website, "the first step toward helping your child manage his anger is to understand that it's OK to be angry. It's a normal, human emotion."

Sometimes, life isn't fair. Sometimes someone will do or say something to hurt you physically or emotionally. And sometimes you'll have a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." As adults we often spend so much time trying to suppress or hide our anger that we forget that anger is a normal response to the bad things that happen in our lives. Teaching your child that anger is wrong will only confuse her, not help her deal with it.

Cool Down and Talk it Out

Before you can talk to your child about anger or show him how to express that anger in an acceptable way, sometimes you need to give him the space and time to cool down. The best time to talk about dealing with anger is right after something makes your child feel angry; however, if he's still living in the heat and frustration of those angry feelings he may not be ready for a heart-to-heart.

After your child shows signs of anger – whether they're appropriate expressions of that anger or not – pull her aside and tell her to cool down. Help her do this by encouraging her to take three deep breaths with you, in and out. Have her count to ten or even just close her eyes and sit quietly for a moment. For a younger child you may physically need to hold or hug her to help her calm down her body and her mind.

Once your child has calmed down, invite him to sit with you and talk about what made him angry and what he should do the next time something similar happens and he feels that way again.

Identify the Anger

When you talk to your child about her anger, ask her to identify what caused it in the first place. Maybe your child became angry when she wasn't able to do something for herself, such as reach a toy on a shelf or tie a shoelace. Maybe the behavior of another child made her angry, or maybe a reprimand or punishment from you caused her temper to rise. In any case, if you can identify the source of your child's anger you can help her understand how to manage the anger and move past the incident faster.

If your child cannot identify the source of his anger, it could be that he is still too angry to process it properly or that he has misinterpreted the cause of his feelings. For instance, if he couldn't tie his shoes he may say he's angry that he has stupid shoes, but in reality it was his own inability to tie them that made him mad. Ask your child guiding questions about what he was doing right before he got angry, if someone did or said something to upset him, or what is the last thing he remembers as you backtrack through the events that led to an angry outburst. In this way you can guide him to an understanding of the source of his anger.

Appropriate Responses to Anger

When your chid becomes angry, she may choose to scream at another person, throw something across the room, cause physical damage to the area or hurt someone. None of these are appropriate responses to her anger. If your child exhibits any of these behaviors, the cool-down period can do double duty as a time-out for inappropriate behavior as well. When you talk to your child about her response to the anger she felt, be sure to differentiate between the anger she felt (acceptable) and the behavior she exhibited (unacceptable).

Help your child identify a more appropriate response to a feeling of anger. If your child lashed out physically, he probably needs an appropriate physical response to anger. Alternately, if he had a verbal reaction the first time then he needs an acceptable way to deal with his anger verbally.

Here are some examples of unacceptable physical responses to anger and the acceptable behaviors to replace them:

  • Hitting a person (no); clenching fists and taking a deep breath (yes)
  • Throwing an object (no); crumpling up a piece of scrap paper (yes)
  • Temper tantrum full of kicking, screaming, destruction (no); moving around the room and quickly picking up toys, laundry and trash (yes)

For a verbal response to anger, your child may need several options. If your child lashes out at another person, teach her to use appropriate language to express herself. The University of Minnesota Extension web site suggests: "Teach a child how to express anger with words. Talking is a good way to get rid of feelings of anger and frustration." For instance, instead of telling another child she hates him, she should learn to say – calmly and quietly – that she is angry because of the behavior of another child. Instead of screaming, she can count to 10 in her head.

In some cases, your child may express his anger through the use of inappropriate language. Instead of using foul language, he can come up with a silly word to replace it (such as "balderdash" or "barnacles"). Not only will this keep him out of trouble, it will also infuse some humor into a situation, which can help diffuse your child's anger in the first place.

References and Suggested Children’s Books

University of Maryland Extension. Dealing with a Child's Anger. (

Counseling Center of New Smymra Beach. Dealing with an Angry Child or Teen. (

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day