Five steps to a calmer, happier child and home.

One of the trickiest parts of parenting comes down to one main theme: BIG EMOTIONS. Every parent deals with them personally, simply because we’re human. Kids? They are little humans too.

Navigating these big emotions is tricky at any stage. I watch my toddler when anger or sadness hits and it truly takes over his whole being. He literally cannot remember that it has only been FIVE minutes since he was happily playing doctor or sliding with Elmo. The big emotion takes over his day, his body, and his mind.

In time, the hope is that my two year old will learn what to do with that big emotion and will have some ability to regulate as he goes. Until then, it’s my job to help him learn.

The big emotions are going to hit. If we’re honest, they don’t look a whole lot different sometimes for toddlers or middle schoolers. Every child is in the process of developing their brain. So there’s a generous learning curve, but we still want to help them develop well.

If we’re honest, couldn’t we all sit down and make a list of five different adults who don’t know what to do when a big emotion hits them? I know I can. I also know if I’m really honest with myself, sometimes that adult with the big emotion and no clue what to do is me.

Usually those times for adults who have done their emotional work of growing up well are fewer and more far between. When do they normally hit? High stress and crisis.

So, if mature adults have moments of big emotions taking over our brains and bodies, doesn’t it make perfect sense that kids (whose brains are under all kinds of construction) would struggle in high stress and emotion with their emotions even more?

The big emotion we’re addressing today is the doozy: Anger. Depending on your background, anger may have been shut down by adults around you or used as a weapon only for adults. I don’t know. Some adults avoid anger like the plague and some overuse it in everyday scenarios.

I don’t know where you fall on that spectrum or how your family uses anger, but I know we’ve all felt it and our kids have too. In fact, it’s likely that all of our kids need to learn what to do with that anger when it arises, especially now.

We’ve talked a little before about anger and why or how it arises in times of divorce. Anger can take on a lot of faces. It can come on strong because of other emotions like grief, shame, or loss. It can be the response to hurt, fear, or rejection. In kids, it can also raise it’s head due to simple confusion.

If we can slow down enough to step in our kids’ shoes right now, it makes sense, right? Through the divorce, of course they are feeling some or all of these feelings and of course they are angry.

Slowing down enough to simply acknowledge it makes sense is monumental for your kid. The empathy created through “getting it” takes huge strides toward helping your child.

After you’ve reached that pivotal slowing down empathetic place, a couple of times, you may simply be wondering… “Okay, I get it. So what do I do now??” That’s what we’re here for.

A few of us have combined to bring you a simple 5 step resource for beginning to help your child deal with his or her anger.

Helping Your Child Deal with Anger in Five Step

1. Start with You

-Ask yourself: Am I angry right now too?

-Ask yourself: How will my feeling impact how my child is feeling?

-Ask yourself: Because I know children repeat what they see, am I acting how I want my child to act?

2. Take Time to De-escalate

-Allow yourself to slow down. You have to be calm first to help your child calm down.

-Have your child take time to calm down. One good way to do this is to count to 10 taking slow breaths. (Doing this together will help you both stay calmer!)

3. Connect with your Child

-Take time to express love to your child and connect emotionally, no matter their feelings. Without connection, any words or explanation will be lost in the chaos happening in your child’s brain.

-Keep in mind that it is often when your children’s emotions are running high or when they are misbehaving is when they most need your attention and connection.

-Examples of connecting: Getting to or below your child’s eye level, physical touch: a hug or gentle hand on the back.

4. Remember and Express that Feelings are Allowed

-Express to your child that anger is a feeling that everyone feels sometimes. We simply must decide is what to do with that anger.

-Have your child explain to you why they are feeling angry. (Without connection in the previous step, this will likely not be possible.)

5. Teach your Child Ways Manage their Anger

-Have your child explain what happens before they have an angry outburst. Do they feel hot? Clench their fists? Lose control? (Helping your child identify these markers will help them become more self aware of what their own feelings feel like in their body, a crucial part of staying connected to themselves and others.)

-Ask your child what they can do to help slow down their anger before an outburst occurs. Be creative and encouraging.

How to Adjust to the Process:

At first, this process may feel rusty and strange. You may be thinking, “I have 2 other kids and a dog and a job and meals to prepare and homework to oversee, and I do not have time for this.” I understand. It’s not easy to raise emotionally aware, healthy children through the process of divorce.

However, I have a hunch that once you get in the swing of it, this process will become easy to remember and much less foreign. Your kids will get the hang of it too.

Sure, their emotions are still going to run high at times, but with this process, you’ll be able to hang with them and develop them along the way. It will also impact your whole home as you each learn to slow down, connect, and brainstorm with each other through those big emotions.

It is important to note that this process will likely look different with each child and throughout each stage of development. A toddler will not be able to brainstorm with you in the ways that an adolescent will. Adapt and be flexible as necessary. Just remember: children of every age need your consistent connection and boundaries to learn along the way.

Also, though it may seem unfair, remember that children often show their anger most to the parent they feel the most emotionally safe with. You may be thinking, “But that’s not fair! I know he’s angry with his mom because she left us. Why do I have to deal with the fallout?”

The answer is simple (and maybe still seems unfair). Showing you the fullness of their emotions is a gift your child is giving you. They are telling you that they trust you and know you are safe enough to handle that struggle.

My encouragement to you would be this: prove them right. Show them you absolutely are safe enough to hold any of their big emotions and never love them less. I cannot think of a more beautiful, compassionate gift to give your child in this time.

Overall, the story is the same for every parent in every struggle: helping our kids learn to deal with, process, and effectively cope with their big emotions is challenging and not for the faint of heart. But not many parts of parenting are! You, my fellow parents and friends, have got this. I believe your kids are lucky to have such a present, attuned parent to help them on their healing journey.

For more information on what’s going on in your child’s brain during these outbursts and how to connect and discipline effectively, check out Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson’s work in No-Drama Discipline.

April Moseley

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