Anger is a strong feeling of frustration, unhappiness, or opposition. It generally occurs when there is a difference of opinion … and, as you are aware, children do have opinions. It is important to remember: (1) do not lose your self-control when your child loses theirs; and (2) your child watches to see how you behave during frustrating situations and mimics your behavior.
Ages 4 – 7
By the time your children reach the age of 4, you have learned to recognize when they are becoming agitated. The shoulders tense up, the head either drops back or forward, the eyes intensify, and facial complexion reddens. Whether you are in front of or behind them, you can see the anger building. This is your most advantageous opportunity to waylay behavior that may escalate into a tantrum.
A soft voice, a gentle touch on the shoulder, or a reassuring word is your most valuable tool at this point. When your child calms, then ask, in a soothing tone, “Hey, what just happened?” If there is no apparent reason, your child may be in physical discomfort — has a headache or is simply tired — and is responding to this physical distress. Ask, “Are you okay?” This allows your children to communicate how they feel.
If your child expresses an unreasonable demand and behavior escalates to a tantrum, your best option is a “time out” that you oversee. This gives your child a chance to become calm. Once time out is served, have a short conversation about why an outburst is not the best choice of behavior.
Ages 8 – 12
Where younger children lash out in frustration, older children may be more prone to become introverted and non-communicative. They sulk and go to their rooms. They demand you “leave them alone.” This is actually a good sign. It shows that your child has embraced your advice over the years and is requesting a self-imposed time out.
An important aspect of this “leave me alone” response is to add an option that keeps the communication lines open between you and your children. Before you honor their request, say, “I am willing to listen to you anytime.”
Once the quiet period has ended, approach the subject that caused frustration with a simple question, “Do you want to talk about it?” It is always good to ask questions to determine what led up to and eventually became a point of contention between you and your child. Adults need to remember that a child in this age group is gaining life experience and does not have the tools to evaluate many situations that seem simple to a grown-up.
Ages 13 – 17
This is the time in a child’s life that is most trying for you as a parent. You have to remember that your child is undergoing physiological changes that impact their words and actions. You know who your child is, basically, but be prepared for surprises along the way. Now you are responsible for a rapidly emerging adult who has decided that you are not as smart as they are.
A sense of humor, along with consistency and earnestness, is the best approach to situations that lead to angry outbursts or defiant behavior. These are the years during which you must adjust your discipline to suit a maturing young man or young woman. To keep the lines of communication open, say, “Tell me what you are thinking.” Then listen carefully. The root of the defiant behavior may become clear in your child’s response.
Remember, often you are simply the target for your child’s frustration because you are their safe zone.