Learning to tolerate and regulate one’s negative emotions (e.g. frustration, anger, etc.) is a developmental skill that often takes time and practice to master. If your child is exhibiting significant anger outbursts, or appears to “go from 0 to 60” when frustrated, he or she may benefit from learning more sophisticated self-regulation strategies. Below are some tips to help foster the development of self-regulation and anger management skills in your child.
(*Note- If your child is demonstrating increased anger/irritability which represents a significant change from his/her previous functioning, he/she may be reacting to a current stressor, or may be struggling with depression or other emotional/psychological concern. In this case, a professional consultation is strongly recommended.)
Tips to Assist Children in Self-Regulation:
- Label emotions. This may seem obvious, however children who are quick to anger or who have low frustration tolerance are often more engaged in their activity and less aware of their emotional state. Try to help them to develop a self-awareness of their emotions, with appropriate verbal labels (such as ‘angry’, ‘frustrated’, ‘disappointed’, etc.). Younger children may benefit from visual pictures such as faces, numbers, or other illustrations to represent emotional states.
- Attempt to catch children before they reach a high level of anger or frustration. Assist them to develop a self-awareness as to when they are ‘amping up’, or experiencing the mild to moderate frustration that occurs prior to an outburst.
- Introduce and reinforce alternate strategies for children to engage in when they are experiencing mild to moderate frustration or distress. These can include: a. Using their words to express feelings, wants or needs, b. Problem-solving the situation or using flexibility to compromise surrounding the situation, c. Taking a ‘breather’ – walking away from the activity to take deep breaths or count to 10, d. Finding a safe and appropriate activity to release physical tension (e.g. kicking a soccer ball outside, jumping on a trampoline, punching a pillow, etc.), e. Finding a relaxing or enjoyable activity to engage in.
- Model your own frustration tolerance and anger management strategies, including self-talk. Talk to them when you are feeling frustrated or distressed and inform them how you intend to cope with these feelings appropriately. For example, ” Oh no, I just baked muffins and they are burnt on top! I’m so frustrated! Oh well, I guess this happens to everyone sometimes, no one is perfect. I think I’ll try to cut off the burnt tops so that we can enjoy the rest. Then I’m going to go water my plants because gardening is something that makes me feel happy and relaxed.”
- Point out when others are frustrated, so that children get a sense of how ‘normal’ it is to feel frustration or anger. It is important that children know they are not alone in their feelings and there is nothing ‘wrong’ with them simply because they have not yet developed the ability to control their anger.
- Reward efforts rather than successes per se. This is a skill set that requires consistent effort, motivation, and practice on your child’s part. Try to find ways to recognize them for attempting to engage in more appropriate behaviors, even if they are unable to exert 100% self-control.
- Reinforce imperfection. Many children who tend to be ‘perfectionistic’ often have difficulty when things don’t turn out how they want it. Offer praise and encouragement to leave things imperfect, and enjoy the process rather than the outcome.