When our children are first learning about their emotions, what they mean, and how to cope with them, it can be difficult for them to manage and, as a result, sometimes difficult for us to handle as parents.
An angry child forces us to deal with a common dilemma we find is trying to find the balance between supporting children to develop skills to manage their emotions and creating and enforcing boundaries for their behaviour.
This online guide will be your full, comprehensive guide to understanding childhood anger and learning to support your angry child in order to understand and manage their anger.
We will cover all aspects of helping children to manage anger in distinct, easily digestible sections using The DELTA Framework, our simple and effective structure for managing and addressing the causes of childhood anger, in a way that empowers our children to develop emotional intelligence and supports their healthy self-esteem and wellbeing.
The DELTA Framework
Our approach for managing childhood anger is called the DELTA framework.
DELTA stands for
When a child becomes emotionally heightened, it is our role as to help them to calm down, or de-escalate, from this state when we can. This book will discuss different methods of de-escalation that support children’s emotional development.
Emotional Literacy & Emotional Regulation
Emotional literacy refers to a person’s ability to understand their own feelings, which comes hand in hand with emotional regulation, the most important skill needed to manage anger.
The language that we use with our children when helping them to learn to manage their feeling is crucial, and a huge part of developing self-esteem and self-worth. In this section we will discuss the common phrases we all use in parenting and how we can adapt them slightly to support children to manage their anger.
Specific tools to help children to manage emotions can be very useful, as they give children a variety of healthy ways to channel their angry energy and help us to communicate with our emotionally heightened kids. The DELTA framework provides you with a range of tools to support healthy management of anger.
Anger – Why Do Children Struggle with Anger?
It can be helpful for you as a parent to understand your child’s emotional, intellectual and communication abilities at different ages and, therefore, your child’s likely capability for managing anger at their current age. This helps us to meet our children where they are at, and reminds us that everyone’s child will struggle with this, so we are not alone.
Let’s dive in to the angry child framework!
De-escalate your child’s anger
When our children are emotionally heightened, one of the first things we can do to help them is to de-escalate (reduce the intensity of) the situation. This will help them to feel calmer and therefore more able to address and manage their anger.
We will discuss two comprehensive skills within this section – body language and active listening – to prepare you for successful de-escalation in different situations where your child is experiencing anger.
What is De-Escalation?
De-escalation is the skill of helping someone, in this situation our children, to calm themselves down enough to find and address the cause of the problem. Often, children are unable to de-escalate their own anger without assistance as they haven’t yet devel- oped the emotional regulation skills to do so, but we can help them!
Why is De-Escalation Important?
Anger is almost always caused by an un- met need (or what your angry child perceives as a need, as they might not have the capability to understand the difference between needs and wants yet!). When we acknowledge this, it can help us to feel calmer and under- stand our child’s perspective, meaning we can then help them to de-escalate the feeling.
De-escalation helps your child to think more clearly by reducing the intensity of their feel- ings. This is important because, in order for children to understand, process and manage the feeling, they need to be in a calm enough frame of mind.
How Can I Help My Angry Child to De-Escalate?
Use Body Language
It may seem strange, but our body language can be a very important part of helping children to de-escalate. When we stand over an angry child, even when we are just trying to talk to them, this can be subconsciously (without thinking) perceived as threatening and prevent the angry child from calming down. To use body language to help your child to de-escalate, try to get down to their level (if your mobility permits you).
We recommend for you to try sitting or kneeling down on the floor near to your upset and angry child, facing them, with your hands in a relaxed position rather than folded. This open body language and the view of your facial expression for your child helps de-escalation by subconsciously encouraging communication and listening to the angry child.
Listen to your Angry Child
To de-escalate a situation, we need to show children that we understand that they are feeling strongly and give them an opportunity to express why, using either speech or action, such as pointing or gesturing. Active Listening can be really useful to achieve this.
Active Listening involves demonstrating listening with both verbal and nonverbal skills, which ties into the ‘Body Language’ section. When your body language is open and ready, we can also add a smile and copy small movements that our children make, such as hand placement or head slanting, to help our children to feel at ease and subconsciously demonstrate that we are listening to them.
To de-escalate our children’s anger through conversation, we can use active listening to find out their specific feelings about the situation and what caused the anger. This involves using our knowledge of the situation (what we could see caused the anger) to make observations to our children and give them space to speak about the situation if they want to.
A de-escalation example
When a child feels angry because they can’t do something, we can use active listening skills to express our understanding of this and help the angry child to feel understood by saying something such as “I can see that you’re feeling angry be- cause you can’t open the door by yourself”.
At this stage, we do not want to offer solutions, but simply show our children that we under- stand their feelings and give them the oppor- tunity to talk to us about them. We will speak more about language in further detail later.
Emotional Literacy & Emotional Regulation
What’s the Difference?
Emotional literacy and emotional regulation are two of the most important skills in helping our children to learn how to manage anger. Though similar, there are distinct differences between emotional literacy and regulation.
Emotional literacy refers to the ability to understand, process and express emotions. In the context of anger, this could mean being able to say that we are angry and identify potential triggers for this anger. Emotional literacy skills also help our kids to understand and respond to the emotions of others around them, so it can have a huge benefit for your whole family to foster these skills.
Emotional regulation is the ability to manage emotions. This can involve expressing emotions verbally and having conversations to process them, as well as using tools to process and manage emotions. This skill is crucial in developing healthy outlets for anger.
These skills contribute to children’s overall emotional intelligence: this meaning the ability to understand, respond to, and process the emotions of ourselves and others. Emotional intelligence is one of the most powerful tools to manage anger, as it gives our children skills to identify, discuss and manage the emotions they are feeling in healthy ways.
How Can Parents Promote Emotional Literacy?
Calm conversation is the most powerful tool a parent has to promote emotional literacy in our children. This can look like casual discussion about how anyone in the family is feeling, to familiarise our children with the variety of emotions and where they come from.
Having these conversations casually will make it easier for your child to have conversations about their anger when they feel heightened, as they will already be familiar with the idea of talking about emotions.
When our children are having tantrums or experiencing high anger, we can encourage emotional literacy with conversation both during and after the tantrum or issue. When they are experiencing the tantrum, we can identify clearly to them both the emotion they are feeling and the reason for it (or what we can see of the reason), using a calm voice. For example: “I can see you are feeling angry because you want the toy. When you feel calmer, we will talk about it”.
This helps your angry child to begin to link their experiences to their feelings and understand what these feelings are called. Additionally, it adds an incentive to calm down: being able to talk about having a turn with the toy. This can help the child to feel calmer more quickly, as they will feel valued and will know that you want to help them to solve the problem.
It is important for us to stay calm for two main reasons: firstly, this shows our children how to appropriately discuss their feelings. Secondly, it shows them that it is okay to have these feelings. While it is difficult for us to manage outbursts, it is important to remember that this is a natural stage of development and our children are not choosing to be difficult – they are feeling completely overwhelmed.
How Can I Promote Emotional Regulation?
There are a number of ways that we can promote emotional regulation. Firstly, we can model good coping mechanisms to our children for our own anger, in the form of conversation, journaling, or creative outlets for example.
Another way to encourage emotional regulation is to have honest, calm conversations about what is and isn’t a good way to manage feelings after times of distress. Coming back to the tantrum mentioned previously, we can encourage emotional regulation with calm discussion about what could be a better way to manage the situation next time.
This conversation could be as simple as “I know you are feeling angry. It is okay to be angry, but it is not okay to shout at Mommy. Next time, let’s try talking about what’s wrong so I can help you”. This encourages emotional regulation by showing the child that it is okay to feel anger, but there are other ways to deal with it, and that you want to help them to manage this feeling next time.
Next time the same situation arises and your child is feeling anger, you can refer back to this conversation and suggest healthier ways to manage the feeling before the tantrum begins: “I see you are feeling angry again because you want the toy. That’s okay. Why don’t we try taking turns?”
Emotional regulation can also look like physical activity, such as exercise, fidgeting or creativity, to distract from the current situation and make your angry child feel calmer. Providing a variety of tools for our children to regulate their anger is key to helping them to manage this feeling. We will discuss this in more detail in our “Tools” section.
Language to help your Angry Child
Why is language important to an angry child?
Language plays a large part in our children’s journey to managing difficult emotions for many reasons: firstly, we can use language to show children new ideas to solve problems, preventing anger from taking over. Secondly, by developing language skills, children will be able to express their anger in healthier ways. Lastly, the language that we use when responding to children’s anger can have an impact on their self-esteem and our parent-child relationship.
Of course also the delivery of your message is very important, you can read more about that in the article Elizabeth wrote called Stop yelling at your kids! Now let’s dive deeper into the importance of language when it comes to dealing with an angry child.
How can I use language to help an angry child?
We know how frustrating it can be to deal with our angry child when their actions are testing our own patience! It’s absolutely natural to feel stressed in these situations, and to resort to the parenting script we all have embedded in us from our own childhoods of “Because I said so!”, or “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you!”.
However, sometimes these phrases can make our children even more defensive, meaning the problem ends up going on for longer! With this in mind, we have compiled a list of common phrases or actions that every parent has used with their kid and some simple ways we can adapt these requests to support healthy anger management and avoid the power struggles of everyday parenting.
Examples of language to help your angry child
× TRY NOT TO make demands
It is part of our role as a parent to teach our children to listen to us, in order to learn about boundaries and the roles within a family. However, the phrasing can be important here. When young children are told to do something, it is natural for them to resist this as they are still developing a sense of self, meaning that they are more inclined to say “no” and avoid demands. So, what can we do instead?
✔ INSTEAD, make requests!
When we phrase requests as a question, this gives children an opportunity to communicate any problems they have with the request, which encourages anger management by promoting communication and problem-solving skills. We can support this by working with the child to find compromise when tasks must be done. For example, “I hear that you don’t want to get dressed right now. We need to get dressed to go to daycare. But we can wait for 10 more minutes if you need some more time”.
This helps children to feel valued and encourages them to communicate issues in the future, which will encourage them to manage anger in healthy ways.
× TRY NOT TO say “Tidy your room”!
When children are given a large task, like tidying a room which has a lot of smaller steps involved, this can feel quite overwhelming for them. When children are overwhelmed, they are less likely to be able to do the task at hand and more likely to become angry. Of course, we still need to teach children about responsibility and give them tasks to help around the home.
✔ INSTEAD break it down into smaller tasks.
As adults, we can usually easily picture the steps needed to complete a task. Children don’t have this ability just yet and so breaking tasks down into smaller steps for them can really help to make the task feel more manageable for them.
For example, we can say “We need to tidy up”, and follow up with “Can you put all of your cars in this box?” or “Can you put your clothes in the laundry basket?”. This breaks the task down into manageable chunks and helps to encourage anger management skills by preventing them from becoming frustrated.
× TRY NOT TO say, “Because I said so!”
We’ve all been here! This one comes out most at bedtime in our house, when our children are refusing to do anything we’ve asked, we’re frustrated, and we know that they need to sleep soon to be ready for daycare tomorrow. But when we use responses like this, we dismiss children’s feelings about the situation. This can lead to feelings of anger from feeling ignored and not having a chance to assert their own needs.
✔ INSTEAD, ask children to explain why tasks are necessary
It’s normal for us as parents to become frustrated at having to keep repeating ourselves about why certain tasks (like going to bed!) are important. However, children need to develop an understanding of why tasks are necessary. Therefore, it can be useful to try asking our children to explain back to us why tasks are necessary. For example, regarding bedtimes, I explain to my children once or twice “We need to go to bed so we can sleep, because sleeping gives us energy for tomorrow”. Then, when my children resist going to bed and ask “Why?”, I ask them to tell me why.
This encourages healthy anger management by giving the child a chance to be heard, developing a mutual understanding of the importance of tasks and engaging children in the discussion of why tasks are important.
Tools to help your Angry Child
When helping our children to learn emotional regulation skills and find healthy anger outlets, it can be helpful to have a range of resources readily available to support this. In this section, we will talk about some of the different tools and techniques that you can use with your children to help them to manage their anger.
Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts can help children to process anger in many ways; creativity helps children to develop self-expression, giving them a healthy outlet for their feelings. Additionally, developing creative skills can nurture self-esteem and self-worth. This is especially beneficial because research suggests that children with higher self-esteem are less likely to react in anger.
We can encourage the use of arts and crafts as a healthy outlet for anger in varied ways. Firstly, we can model the use of arts to manage feelings. This could look like doing something creative together while reflecting on a memory you’ve shared together. For example, painting from a photograph taken on a family day out and talking about the feelings you felt together on that day. This encourages your child to link the creative process to thoughts and feelings that they have experienced, which will empower them to use art to process feelings in future.
We can also encourage the use of arts and crafts as a healthy anger outlet by making creative resources available at all times, especially when anger is likely to arise. For example, my children often argue, and therefore become angry, in the car on the way to places. We found that providing them with colouring books, crayons, pens and drawing pads that they can access in the car means that they are less likely to use their restless energy for arguing, and more likely to use it to be creative. Not only does this mean that our car journeys are a lot calmer, but our children seem to feel a lot calmer for having something creative to use their energy on.
We also pack a bag with creative resources which we use to take breaks during long days out or during times where the children might have to be quiet or still for longer periods, such as waiting in restaurants, to give them the ability to let their energy out in ways other than anger or aggression.
Emotion Flash Cards
For many of us, it can be helpful to have a visual accompaniment to help us to understand a concept. Think PowerPoints during business presentations, or diagrams in books. The same idea applies to children; especially young children, as education theory suggests that children think and understand primarily through the use of symbols before the age of 7.
It can be valuable for this reason for children to have a consistent visual example of their different feelings, like flash cards with facial expressions representing emotions, to help them to both understand their emotions and describe them to us, helping them to manage feelings of anger by encouraging emotional literacy.
To help our children learn to use emotion flash cards, we can regularly go through them together and identify each feeling, so that children learn to connect the name of the emotion with the picture on the card. We then show the child the emotion card that corresponds with their mood when they are experiencing various feelings, such as happiness, sadness, and excitement as well as anger.
Once they know what feeling is represented by which card, we can then empower them to use the cards independently to show us how they are feeling by leaving them in an accessible area and encouraging children to show us their feelings as they come. This will help our children to deal with anger by giving them an additional communication tool to identify and talk about their anger, which will help them to process the feeling.
Since you are reading this article I think maybe you could use these emotion cards we are talking about. Great news we’ve made it available for free! So, go and download a free printable copy that you can use in your own family.
And be sure to let me know how it worked out in the comments! 🥰
Fidget toys can be helpful for managing anger in various ways: by giving a physical outlet for angry energy, by redirecting the attention of the child when they are feeling overwhelmed, and by helping them to focus during different situations, such as conversation or on a challenging subject. Research shows that fidget toys can be a powerful tool for emotional regulation and the management of anger.
There are various different types of fidget toys that you can use for children depending on their preferences, such as fidget spinners or cubes, putty, slime, tangles, push pops (think popping bubble wrap!), and even cheaper everyday objects such as Blu Tack, soft material, pens with clicking tops, and rubber bands.
One of the most effective ways to encourage children to use fidget toys to manage emotions is by making them available in various environments. For example, we have a box of fidget cubes in our living room, which we all use at different times to let our energy out. We also pack some in school bags, in the car and in our children’s “calm down area”.
Calm Down Areas
Another tool to help our children to learn to manage anger is by making calming spaces available to them within the home. This is distinct from a “naughty step” because children should not be made to sit in this area when they become stressed, but instead have it available to them and be gently encouraged to use it when it may help them to regulate.
Calm down areas don’t need to be big or complicated: this can be as simple as a comfy chair in a quieter room of the house, such as a dining room or even the child’s bedroom, with some calming activities nearby, such as the fidget toys and art tools we have previously mentioned. They should be inviting and have comforting items for the child, such as soft toys or favourite books, to encourage them to use them.
“Calm down” areas can help an angry child to manage anger by giving them a designated space that they can move to in order to remove themselves from a stressful situation. This means that they can engage in other activities and process their emotions before they become overwhelmed.
Anger: Why Do Children Struggle with Anger?
Having to manage our children’s anger can be one of the most challenging aspects of parenting young children. It can be emotionally taxing and demanding to calmly manage such large shifts in mood and emotion from another person, particularly when you are the safest place for them to express their anger, meaning that you see it more often than anyone else!
For this reason, it can be useful to understand why our children are so prone to anger and angry behaviour, so that we can continue to support them to manage this and be aware of the different factors at play during times of elevated emotion.
As we know, babies do not have the capacity to understand and differentiate between their emotions. This skill begins to come in at around 2 years, where children will start to link experiences to sensations. This is where we begin to teach them about when they are “Happy”, or “Sad”.
Because children of this age are only just developing their ability to name emotions, they are unable to regulate them. At the same time, they are beginning to develop a sense of self and understand that their needs are separate from ours. This, in combination with a limited ability to communicate verbally and express emotions, means that children begin to show tantrums at this stage.
While tantrums are difficult for us to handle as parents, it is important (and can be reassuring!) to remember that they simply come from a place of high emotion that the child is unable to manage, name, or talk about at this stage, meaning that they are not yet able to respond to the emotion properly.
As children get older and develop the ability to communicate their emotion and what has caused it, it is easy to assume that they have now developed the ability to regulate these emotions.
However, research suggests that in these early stages of emotional development (between ages 3 and 4), children are not able to manage their feelings of anger or frustration for long enough to complete tasks (these could include tidying a room, or finishing homework), and have difficulties communicating these feelings.
This means that they may not have the attention span required to engage with calming tasks such as distraction techniques or talking through their feelings. Therefore, it will be harder for them to manage anger as a result.
Finally, when helping our emotionally charged, angry children it is important to remember that young children do not yet have the ability to accurately predict what may influence other people’s feelings or what may influence them – meaning they often do not understand that their behaviour is causing you stress and difficulty.
The ability to empathise by accurately understanding the different factors that can influence a person’s mood or experience is often referred to as “Theory of Mind”, and research suggests that this is an instinctual process that we cannot rush or bring forward through conversation or teaching alone.
There is some argument as to when children actually develop Theory of Mind, but general opinion in research suggests that the ability to understand and use Theory of Mind in interactions with other people rarely happens before the age of 4.
This guide has given you a mixture of supportive and practical tips, ideas and resources to help you to support your angry child in a handy, easy-to-remember framework designed to be informative and useful, but accessible in everyday family life. The areas of the DELTA framework include:
D – De-Escalation: How you can calm your angry child first when a situation causes anger
E – Emotional Literacy & Emotional Regulation: The key skills your child needs to manage and respond to their feelings of anger
L – Language: How we can use language to prevent children from becoming emotionally charged
T – Tools: Specific ways that your angry child can manage their anger
A – Anger in Children: How and why children experience anger, and why it is important for us as parents to understand their developmental capability to respond to anger well.
The framework includes all of the key information needed to understand the cause of your child’s anger and how you can help them to manage it in various different ways, while encouraging healthy self-esteem and emotional development.
Thank you for reading!
With this Guide I’ve tried to offer a mixture of supportive and practical tips, ideas and resources to help you to support your children to manage their anger.
I hope you can apply the DELTA framework in your everyday family life.I really appreciate you reading our guide. I hope it was useful and that you enjoyed it! Please leave a comment if you have any kind of of feedback!
This guide could not have been created without the work of the talented researchers and writers below. If you want to dive in deeper, I encourage you to read the great books and/or articles mentioned below.
Biel, L. (2017) Fidget Toys or Focus Tools? Autism File, Jun-Jul. Available online: https://www.sensorysmarts.com/ AADJun17.pdf [Accessed 9/4/2021]
Conte, E., Ornaghi, V., Grazzani, I., Pepe, A., Cavioni, V. (2019) Emotion Knowledge, Theory of Mind, and Language in Young Children: Testing a Comprehensive Conceptual Model. Available online: https://www.frontiersin.org/arti- cles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02144/full [Accessed 10/4/2021]
Daniels, E., Mandleco, B., Luthy, K. E. (2012) Assessment, management and prevention of childhood temper tan- trums. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 24(10), pp.569-573
Faupel, A. W., Herrick, E. J., Sharp, P. M. (2017) Anger Management: A Practical Guide for Teachers. London: Rout- ledge
Hopkins, B. (2015) Restorative Theory in Practice: Insights into What Works and Why. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Jack, G. (2010) Place Matters: The Significance of Place Attachments for Children’s Well-Being. The British Journal of Social Work, 40(3), pp.755-771
Lowry, M., Lingard, G., Neal, M. (2016) De-escalating anger: a new model for practice. Nursing Times, 112:4, pp.4-7
Morris, A. S., Criss, M. M., Silk, J. S., Houltberg, B. J. (2017) The Impact of Parenting on Emotional Regulation During Childhood and Adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 11(4), pp.233-238
Piaget, J. (2003) Part I: Cognitive Development in Children – Piaget Development and Learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(1), pp.8-18
Ramsook, K. A., Benson, L., Ram, N., Cole, P. M. (2020) Age-related changes in the relation between preschoolers’ anger and persistence. International Journal of Behavioural Development, 44(3), pp.216-225
Stuckley, H. L., Nobel, J., (2010) The Connection Between Art, Healing and Public Health: a Review of Current Litera- ture. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), pp.254-263
Turner, K. A., White, B. A. (2015) Contingent on contingencies: Connections between anger rumination, self-esteem, and aggression. Personality and Individual Differences, 82, pp.199-202
Wahyuni, A. (2018) The Power of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication in Learning. In Strielkowski, W. (ed) Ad- vances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research. Beijing: Atlantis Press.