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Anger in Children Help

Anger and Children Table of Contents9_anger






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There wasn’t enough space for all the videos, ebooks, forms, and templates created so we had to make a new website for this indispensable resource. The best part is how much you can learn for under 15 bucks.


One of the more frequent questions I am asked in my office is “What do we do when s/he hits?” My answer is to say the better question to ask is “What are you going to do when they are not hitting?” I think you will get better results by putting more energy into when the problem is not occurring, making the good times get bigger and last longer. It’s hard to correct a behavior that already happened.

This blog is written to support a video I made about anger to help the leaders of children implement more loving and effective interventions when teaching and applying discipline to children.

One place to start is with identifying faulty core beliefs, or irrational beliefs.

Link to video sample:

Irrational Beliefs

I must do well and win approval for my performance or else I rate as a rotten person.

Others must treat me considerately and kindly and precisely the way I want them to treat me if they don’t society and the universe should severely blame damn and punish them for their inconsiderate behavior.

Conditions under which I live must be arranged so that I get practically everything I want comfortably quickly and easily and get nothing that I don’t want.

It’s awful if others don’t like me I’m bad if I make a mistake.

Everything should go my way.

I should always get what I want.

Things should come easy to me.

The world should be fair and bad people must be punished.

I shouldn’t show my feelings.

Adults should be perfect.

There’s only one right answer.

I shouldn’t have to wait for anything.

It’s my parents fault I’m so miserable.

I can’t help it that’s just the way IM.

It’s better to avoid challenges than to risk failure.

I can’t stand to be criticized.

Do any of these sound familiar? Oh, you do some of these, too? That’s right, we all do. We can help kids identify the difference between rational and irrational thoughts- those that make sense and those that aren’t true, and help them replace faulty beliefs with those that make more sense, so we don’t have to get so upset so often!
Does your child’s behavior upset you?

To teach your child how to handle emotional responses and gain the skill of mindsight, or empathy, there are some specific steps to follow.

A- Attunement: this means you get down on their level and reflect their emotional state back to them, with your words, your tone, and your facial expression, until they achieve a state of

B- Balance, and then

C-Coherence: you prompt them and guide them in telling a story about what happened and how they felt that makes sense to them.

When you can’t make sense of something traumatic that has happened, you tend to stay stuck in the past and with those unwanted feelings. For example, when adults have gone through a divorce and can’t make sense of what happened, they tend to stay stuck trying to understand what happened and why their ex-spouse behaved the way they did. The same can happen when children don’t understand the motivations of a bully.

You have likely already noticed that if you say “That’s nothing to be mad (upset, cry) about,” when you are dismissive of their emotional state, they often escalate their expressions to help you in hopes you will show that you “get it.”

Another strategy you can employ to be proactive in developing your child’s emotional awareness, control, and empathy, or perspective-taking ability, is to process the day with them. You can review the day with them, talk about the things they did, especially about how they felt and ask them how they think others felt about the events and situations.

Lastly, as you around others on the playground, in the grocery store, etc., you can ask them to make predictions about others’ plans and emotional states by reading the context cues and body language. For example, you might be at the grocery store watching an elderly woman pointing at her receipt and gesturing towards the cashier. Maybe she is disagreeing with the charges? At the playground the swings might be all occupied and perhaps a youngster is shaking his fists and crying in proximity to and towards a child swinging and yelling “No!” Could this mean the child on the ground wants a turn and is angry because the swinging child isn’t sharing?

Next, it is also important that you remain aware of your own emotional reactions. Basically, you have two modes of processing here. On the high road, you remain flexible and are able to consider multiple options in how you respond to their behavior. On the low road, you have been triggered and your emotional response compromises your thinking so that YOU become inflexible and far less likely to resolve the matter without disconnecting in your relationship with your child, leaving them alone when they need you most. The way you respond in these trying moments impacts the type of attachment style your child develops and creates a pattern they will repeat into adulthood. You are better off to state that you are too mad at the moment and remove yourself until you’re back on the high road again than to use your anger to control, manipulate, and hurt. Wait until you have balance before going back and processing the situation with your child to reach coherence and a solution.

For children to learn to trust others and form successful relationships in the future, they need a caregiver who is predictable and predictably  available. Caregivers who “check out” or who are sometimes calm in a crisis and other times they blow up at the child can effect the way a child maps out their relationships in the future.

A child’s security of attachment to parents is connected to parents’ understanding of their own early-life experiences. When the parent lacks self-understanding, an ability to make sense of their own early experiences, history is likely to repeat itself, and negative patterns of interactions pass down through generations.


Attachment styles


Category                                                              Parental Interactive Pattern

Secure-                                        Parent is emotionally available, perceptive, and responsive

Insecure-avoidant-                Parent is unavailable, imperceptive, unresponsive, and rejecting

Insecure-anxious/ambivalent-     Inconsistently available, perceptive, and responsive, intrusive

Insecure-disorganized-         Parent is frightened, frightening, disorienting, alarming


As adults, the

Securely attached as a child is secure, free, autonomous

Avoidantly attached is dismissing

Ambivalently attached is preoccupied or entangled

Disorganizedly attached is disorganized, has unresolved trauma or loss

Parenting From the Inside Out



Toxic ruptures occur when a caregiver loses emotional control and screams, name-calls, or threatens the child. Adults with leftover or unresolved issues are especially at-risk for this type of interaction. At the heart of this is shame, for both the child and adult. This can result in rage or shame, feeling deflated, and withdrawal or aggression. Repeated ruptures of this type can result in the child developing rigid defenses  to accepting any form of correction or criticism, and the internal belief that they are somehow defective.

I got some of these ideas from an excellent resource, “Parenting From The Inside Out,” a book about raising children and being a good parent based on behavioral research and neuroscience. It’s a bit of a tough read, but the rewards can be lifelong. I had been reading a chapter in this book written to help parents notice more closely how they react to their children and emotions, and here’s a true story about what I learned.

I had been building a crystal radio kit with my eight year old son, Jack. It was a Saturday and several games found their way to the kitchen table where we were working. As dinner time approached I asked the kids to clear the table, which they did.

The next day, Sunday, I had this nagging thought that the germanium diode that makes the radio work may have been lost in the shuffle. I checked the box and sure enough, it wasn’t there. I looked over the table and the floor, which I had vacuumed the night before (and so, no doubt, had the dogs, who have been known to eat power rangers and paper clips).

I started to tell Jack about the missing piece, and noticed a tightening in my stomach as I did so. I realized I was about to lecture Jack about putting things away carefully. It would have been something like “Jack, how many times do I have to tell you, you don’t pay attention and the parts get lost and everything is ruined!” Jack is sweet and sensitive, and would have readily accepted the guilt and felt bad. Really, any of many things could have happened with the crystal diode, a tiny little piece. It occurred to me it would be unfair to lay the blame on him and make him feel bad.

Then the voice in my head turned on me, and I began to think that if I were more attentive and organized, bad things like this wouldn’t happen. Then I would have felt bad and inadequate. So instead of my first two emotional and inflexible reactions, I had a better idea. I opened my arms to give Jack a hug, and said “Jack, I will be sad if we can’t find the diode and we don’t get to finish what we were working on, I really wanted to see it work with you.” Jack hugged me back and said, “Me too, Daddy.”

On Monday I emailed the company the radio kit came from, Slinky, describing what happened and asking if I could buy the missing part. They sent me a brand new kit for free. How’s that for serendipity?


Anger and Aggression- Free May Newsletter from

It's tragic what we teach men about anger in our society, starting when they are
little boys. We teach them to be afraid of their feelings, like anger. The typical
choices portrayed in the media are stuff it and be a wimp or get physical and be a
hero. Except don't get physical with people you care about, who also happen to be
the most likely people for you to feel angry with.

It seems the implied message is, "Don't get too angry or you have to hurt someone or
break something." So we see lots of adult men walking away from a debate with their
spouse, or going the other way, becoming abusive. We see boys get really uptight and
anxious about their anger which makes it get worse and then they act out or try to
control the people in the situation to make them match unmet expectations.
What about teaching kids how to notice they are getting annoyed, before it is too
late, express it appropriately, and do something to manage their feelings and return
to their emotional baseline and rational thought process? What about congratulating
a child for being mad the right way, before things get out of hand? What is the
right way to be mad in your house?
Anger in itself is not a bad thing. Expressed in the right way, at the right time,
with the right person, is how we stand up for our rights and our position. In fact,
studies have shown that one of the characteristics that separate popular from less
popular kids in high school is knowing how to be mad the right way.
People gravitate towards someone who can stand up for them, insisting on fair
treatment and equal rights, speaking out against abuse and mistreatment. They would
like to have a friend who will confront others directly and effectively, someone
who will represent their group and not allow other groups to take advantage of them.
This is a quality of a leader.
Yet we commonly focus on no hitting, don't be so angry, that's not something to be
angry about. No wonder kids love the power of their violent characters in their
video games. The rules for resolving and winning conflicts are simple.
I am often asked what to do after someone has been angry the wrong way to correct
the behavior. I think this is the wrong question. We would do better to ask what to
do when someone is not being mad the wrong way, what do you do when someone is mad
the right way, how do we catch them being mad without hurting before it's too late.
We would do better to put more energy into when a child is gentle with hands and
words, when they are being mad the right way, teaching them how to resolve conflicts


Our culture’s fascination with biological explanations for behavior and “mental illness” have led many to believe they can’t help themselves, that external events and other people “make” them angry, which is wrong. You make yourself upset. “I can’t help it, this is just the way I am.” Well, if that’s what you think, there you are.

Personally, I don’t like the idea that someone else has control of my feelings, that they can make me feel things I don’t want to feel. So I don’t give them that power over me, and I take responsibility for each and all of my feelings. Well, most of the time. We’re all a work in progress, unless we are holding ourselves in a stuck place and we are not changing.

Just because people do not exercise self-control does not mean they can not.

Teaching people that they were creating the hurt, scared,  and angry reactions in their brain and body, not their ADHD, or their bipolar, or the door that won’t close right, or that parent who won’t give you what you want; this can be tricky and meet with hostile defensiveness.

I learned a technique to help with this process from an Indian “medicine man” in Kerrville, Texas, last year, his name is Hal Robinson. When people “get it,” it can be transformational. When it comes to anger, some people are suppressors, they  wait to think  about it, avoid conflicts, and have their feelings later, others are “repressors,” they seem unaware that they are angry and will deny it. The latter group tends to get really mad when I do this technique called “enemy way” with them!

One of the explanations for the “repressors” I came across in my brain research is that logic and language originate in the left hemisphere, emotions from the right, and some people have weaker white connective tissue between the hemispheres which inhibits the two halves from talking to each other. Having practiced this with hundreds of children and adults to help with fear, panic, and and angry behaviors, I would say that some people really do seem disconnected from the sensations they feel in their bodies , and insist they feel “nothing, nothing at all,” below the neck. I also notice they get squirmy and uncomfortable or even angry when I try to get them to feel what they feel and relate it to me.

Physiological signs of arousal for fear and anger are the same within a person but different between different people.

What do you feel in your body when you get angry or worried? What are the physical sensations? How has anger affected your life?

Different Anger Rules

Problems stemming from different anger languages- volcanic fury can be intimidating to the more easy going avoider of conflict, even if they never say anything unfair or cruel, the avoider holds it in and it accumulates until all the grievances come out at once and overwhelm the other party, the quick to express anger who thinks anger is safe and empowering and thinks remarks made in the heat of the moment “don’t count,” the slow to anger who takes those words literally and broods over the unfairness for months and withdraws emotionally from the offending party. Different anger rules can cause serious disruption in relationships. It would be good for you to know what yours are and those belonging to the people with whom you live.


What is anger used for?

Self defense- keeps abuse from others at bay

Control- if a tantrum helps a child get what he wants or avoid doing something he fears, especially if it only works SOMETIMES, then that behavior is encouraged to occur more often (intermittent reinforcement has greater power over increasing frequency than consistent reinforcement).

Tantrums typically occur in primarily one setting and with one person, shutting off  immediately when they get their way. What does this tell you?


How do you avoid or diffuse unwanted angry feelings and behaviors?

Make a list of triggers, clues or signs a storm is brewing, and management strategies. Eliminating triggers is the easy route. Work on earlier recognition of cues that an emotional response or stress is building. Put management strategies into a toolbox organized into categories ( has great workbooks for this). The Incredible 1-5 Scale is a book that can help with recognition.

The environment can be reorganized to reduce sensory input and triggers, build in breaks and teach relaxation or meditation scripts.

Experiment with changing antecedants and consequences to target behaviors and track frequency results. Identify rewards for when the unwanted behavior is not occurring.

Identify and teach the right way to be mad and assertive.

Teach positive self-talk and self-esteem enhancing strategies (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)

Identify the hidden list of shoulds and should-nots that trigger anger and resistance. Consider allowing others and the rest of the world to be as it is, rather than resisting what is.


Beliefs such as “winning is everything” can be identified and altered.

Parental over or under involvement- yes overly dependent children will get angry with parents, this can enable them to become angry and demanding when an overly earnest parent does too much for their children.


What doesn’t help

Screaming, punching, “release” helps only when people believe it will. This is not a consistent construct across cultures.

People who experience emotions intensely personalize events, pay selective attention to anger provoking details, overgeneralize, and exaggerate, see if your child struggles with letting go of teasing and bullying incidents.



The expression of anger can be useful under the following five conditions:

Anger must be directed at the target- complaining to third parties is useless and makes anger increase]

Expression of anger restores your sense of control or justice; it inflicts the appropriate harm on the other person

Anger expression changes the behavior of the target or gives you new insights

You and your target must speak the same anger languages

Their must be no angry retaliation from the target


Some research indicates that release of anger, such as yelling, confronting, hitting, and complaining does not make anger less it makes it more, however, telling the story about what made you mad or confessing may make anger less due to the insight gained by the story teller. It seems to help to organize the information about a trauma, to reinterpret the event, to find meaning it it, and put it behind you. Expressing anger over and over can make people more angry, if they are just retelling the same tell over and over. That’s making yourself a victim. It is often better to distract yourself with something pleasant while your fury simmers down and then address any remaining problems you have with someone else.

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There wasn’t enough space for all the videos, ebooks, forms, and templates created so we had to make a new website for this indispensable resource. The best part is how much you can learn for under 15 bucks.

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