Four Ways to Handle Toddler Anger: Teaching Anger Management Skills Early
An Angry Toddler
As parents, we've all been there. We've seen the meltdowns, heard the screams that tell us our toddler is angry. Angry at Mom or Dad, angry at their friends, or just angry at the world. If we would admit it, there are times when we feel exactly the same way. We would like to just lie down on the floor and kick and scream. However, we know that is unacceptable behavior and the wrong way to deal with our feelings of anger.
So, how do you teach that to a toddler? It's a complex lesson that even many adults do not know. It is essential that we begin training anger management skills to our children as early as possible. While the term "anger management" sounds adult-like, it is something that needs to be learned early in childhood. It's much easier to train children correctly than to retrain them later in life or as adults. Here are 4 strategies you can use to help your toddler learn how to handle their anger correctly.
Teach Them Words
One of the reasons toddlers get so physical when they are angry is because they don't have the words to explain how they feel. They have this strong feeling inside that feels like it could burst and they have to get it out. That is why hitting, kicking, biting, and screaming are so popular with young children. It allows them to show you what they are feeling and provide a release.
One way to teach them how to handle their anger is by teaching them the right words for it. Say to them "You're angry right now" or "You feel mad, don't you?" This will help them be able to say it to you in the future, "Mom, I'm mad." They will learn to associate that word with how they feel.
Help them learn why they are mad. You can do this by saying something like "You're mad because Johnnie took your toy, aren't you?" or "You're upset because I couldn't stop and play with you." This teaches them to associate the feeling with something that happened. In time, they will be able to tell you they are angry and why.
Teach Them Appropriate Behavior
Sometimes the anger is so strong that they want to do something physical to feel better. The parent's job is to help them find correct ways to handle it rather than hitting or throwing something. Here are some ways to provide physical release without hurting anyone or anything.
- Let them hit a pillow or other soft object.
- Give them play dough to punch and squeeze and pound.
- Have them draw an angry picture. It may just be scribbling with a dark color, but it can help them feel better.
- Allow them to scream for a few minutes in an appropriate setting.
- Let them run around. Exercise can help diffuse anger.
These are safe ways that allow your toddler to get rid of their anger. Once they have calmed down, you can discuss the issue. Trying to talk to them in the heat of the moment will probably not work.
Separate the Emotion From the Behavior
It's important to help the toddler understand that it is okay to be angry, but not all behaviors are allowed. You can say "I know you're angry at Johnnie because he took your toy, but it's not okay for you to hit him." Then suggest an appropriate behavior. Once they calm down, they should apologize for their behavior, but they shouldn't have to apologize for being angry.
Parents need to understand the difference between preventing wrong behaviors and preventing anger to help their children develop good emotional health. It's not healthy to avoid your feelings of anger or suppress them, but they need to be dealt with in the right way.
Set an Example
As with many areas of parenting, your toddler learns more about dealing with anger by watching what you do than listening to what you say. They will watch your behavior when you get upset, so it is essential that you demonstrate the appropriate behavior that you want them to show.
Don't try to hide your anger. It's alright to tell your child that you are upset. You don't have to give them a reason why or go into details, but allow them to recognize that feeling in you. Once they watch how you handle it, they will try to do the same thing.
Of course, parents make mistakes and there will be times that you will do something that you wouldn't want your toddler to do. That is a great teaching moment. Sit down with your toddler and apologize to them for your behavior. Let them know you did wrong and should've handled it a different way. Ask them what they think you should have done. You'll be surprised at how much they will learn from your mistakes when you discuss them.
It's Never Too Early to Begin Anger Management
As soon as your toddler starts exhibiting signs of anger you should begin helping them deal with it. If you start early, you will raise an emotionally healthy child that treats others with respect even when they are upset with those people. It may not seem like you are getting through to your toddler, but remember that you are raising them to be adults and not children forever. Your lessons will get through and make a difference in their lives.