Teaching Rage-Control to Your Kids

Last week I wrote about some of the characteristics of temper tantrums (Violent outbursts of anger) and their underlying causes. I also, described the changes in the child’s routines as a source of frustration and helplessness leading to temper tantrums. Such changes vary from moderate variations in routines such as the child’s school or the parent’s work schedule to more dramatic changes like the birth of a sibling or parental conflicts or divorce.  Strong emotions are hard for a young child to hold inside.

When children feel frustrated, angry, or disappointed, they often express themselves by crying, screaming, or stomping up and down. As a parent, you may feel angry, helpless, or embarrassed. But, in general, temper tantrums are a normal part of the child’s development while they learn self-control. Also, most temper tantrums stops by the age of four. In my last article, I listed some specific causes of usual temper tantrums. However, when anger outbursts are too frequent, overly expressed, or continue beyond the age of four, other underlying causes may be present that need to be explored and treated.
Studies show that children who are exposed to abusive behaviors are at a higher risk of developing psychological conditions with behavioral manifestations such as temper tantrums.  Also, in some cases temper tantrums can be caused by neurological disorders.  Certain brain abnormalities can result in sudden personality transformations and behavior changes such as temper tantrums. In those instances a thorough medical evaluation to rule out any physical causation, would be necessary prior to any psychological interventions.
Moreover, changes in social, economical, or environmental conditions can affect the child’s temperaments. Difficulties in cultural assimilation of the migrating parents into the new society can also have strong effect on the children’s emotional development.  Still, modeling is another source of misbehavior for children.  For example, the child can model abusive behaviors of adults and act out her frustrations by engaging in disruptive behaviors such as temper tantrums. 
At times, kids may try to manipulate the parents by screaming, yelling, or crying.  With good attention and careful observation, parents are usually able to tell if the child is only trying to manipulate them into giving into his demands.  Otherwise, if the child’s behavior is a genuine anger outburst, regardless of the cause of the behavior, it is important to deal with it immediately as it happens and always be consistent in the way you respond to that behavior.
There are several techniques that can be used by parents to remedy this condition in their children. Depending on the natural style of parenting that you have some methods may be more appealing to you than others. Most techniques emphasize the need for the child to learn to express her feelings more appropriately so that she learns to become assertive but not aggressive. 
One way to accomplish this goal is to stay with the child during his temper tantrums and calmly talk to him. You need to acknowledge that you are aware of the child’s anger. For example “I know you are upset. I can see that you are angry.”  Also let them know that you will stay with them until they feel better and become calm. You also want to tell them in kind but firm words that it is okay to be frustrated and angry. But, it is not okay to be destructive and hit or kick the toys. If the child becomes physically aggressive you will need to control the child and make sure he does not destroy property or harm self or others. 
Do not be surprised if your child displays tantrums only in front of you but not in the presence of others. This is their way of testing your rules and limits. They feel more comfortable and safer showing their feelings to people they trust than to strangers.  Thus, be aware that you will not be able to prevent all tantrums, but by implementing the following tips and techniques, you can manage their outbursts much more effectively.
It is important that you do not take children’s behaviors personally and not lose your control. Try to understand you your child. Ask her to use words to express how she feels, i.e., I’m really angry, mad, etc.”  You need to show the angry child that you understand her.  By helping her to make herself understood to you and by validating her emotional reactions with love and support, you can help her develop more trust in herself and her environment. Treating the children’s anger in this firm but loving manner teaches them to express their feelings more openly and comfortably. It will also assure them that no matter how they feel you are always there for them.  
Pay attention to your own inner feelings and thoughts too.  You will need to explore your own emotions including anger, resentments, and doubts as well as feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
As parents, you need to acknowledge and accept your own emotions. It is okay for you to become angry.  However, you need to remember that if you cannot control your anger and if for example yell back at the child, the child will learn to deal with frustration by yelling and screaming.  That of course will defeat your purpose. But, if you were able to control your anger and try to understand and relate to him with emotional control and love, then you are teaching the child how to control his emotions. 
Other ways of dealing with the children’s temper include: Distracting them from activities that can lead to tantrums or calling their attention to something else. Reward them when they are good and to punish them or ignore them when they are not. For example, when the child displays temper tantrums, she is advised to tell you calmly and appropriately why she is angry otherwise she will lose a privilege like watching TV or will get a timeout. But, on the other hand the less temper tantrums she displays the more love and attention she gets from you. This strategy has its own plus and minuses. If it is applied consistently and appropriately it has a very good rate of success. But, parents need to make sure that when implementing these techniques they do not inhibit the kids from expressing their feelings appropriately and assertively.
Always know your child’s limits and avoid situations that frustrates him, such as playing with children or toys that are too advanced for his abilities. Set reasonable limits and do not expect your child to be perfect. Try to keep a routine as much as possible so that she knows what to expect.
In summary, the important lesson for the angry kids is to learn appropriate means of expressing their emotions.  At the same time the parents need to learn not to take the child’s behavior personally and not to blame themselves.  But take charge and make sure that, firmly and consistently, they teach their kids appropriate behaviors with love and understanding.