Ministry of Education, Guyana

Taming Tempers

Parents expect temper tantrums from 2-year-olds, but angry outbursts don't necessarily stop after the toddler years. Older kids sometimes have trouble handling anger and frustration, too.

Some kids only lose their cool on occasion. But others seem to have a harder time when things don't go their way. Kids who tend to have strong reactions by nature will need more help from parents to manage their tempers.

Controlling outbursts can be difficult for kids — and helping them learn to do so is a tough job for the parents who love them. Try to be patient and positive, and know that these skills take time to develop and that just about every child can improve with the right coaching.

A Parent's Role

Managing kids can be a challenge. Some days keeping the peace while keeping your cool seems impossible. But whether you're reacting to an occasional temper flare-up or a pattern of outbursts, managing your own anger when things get heated will make it easier to teach kids to do the same.

To help tame a temper, try to be your child's ally — you're both rooting for your child to triumph over the temper that keeps leading to trouble.

While your own patience may be frayed by angry outbursts, opposition, defiance, arguing, and talking back, it's during these episodes that you need your patience most. Of course you feel angry, but what counts is how you handle that.

Reacting to kids' meltdowns with yelling and outbursts of your own will only teach them to do the same (and actually is associated with an increase in children's negative behaviors). But keeping your cool and calmly working through a frustrating situation lets you show — and teach — appropriate ways to handle anger and frustration.

What You Can Do

Regulating emotions and managing behavior are skills that develop slowly over time during childhood. Just like any other skills, your kids will need to learn and practice them, with your help.

If it's uncharacteristic for your child to have a tantrum, on the rare occasion that it happens all you may need to do is clearly but calmly review the rules. "I know you're upset, but no yelling and no name-calling, please" may be all your child needs to gain composure. Follow up by clearly, calmly, and patiently giving an instruction like "tell me what you're upset about" or "please apologize to your brother for calling him that name." In this way, you're guiding your child back to acceptable behavior and encouraging self-control.

Also, tell your child what will happen if he or she doesn't calm down — for example, "If you don't calm down, you need to go to your room until you're able to stop screaming."

Kids whose temper outbursts are routine might lack the self-control necessary to deal with frustration and anger and need more help managing those emotions.

These steps canhelp:

Help kids put it into words. If your child is in the midst of an outburst, find out what's wrong. If necessary, use a time-out to get your child to settle down or calmly issue a reminder about house rules and expectations — "There's no yelling or throwing stuff; please stop that right now and cool your jets." Remind your child to talk to you without whining, sulking, or yelling. Once your child calms down, ask what got him or her so upset.

Listen and respond. Once your child puts the feelings into words, it's up to you to listen and say that you understand. If your child is struggling for words, offer some help: "so that made you angry," "you must have felt frustrated," or "that must have hurt your feelings." Offer to help find an answer if there's a problem to be solved, a conflict to be mended, or an apology to be made.

Create clear ground rules and stick to them. Set and maintain clear expectations for what is and what is not acceptable without using threats, accusations, or putdowns. Your child will get the message if you make clear, simple statements about what's off limits and explain what you want him or her to do.

Coping Strategies for Kids

Kids who've learned that it's not OK to yell, hit, and throw stuff when they're upset need other strategies for calming down when they're angry. Offer some ideas to help them learn safe ways to get the anger out or to find other activities that can create a better mood.

Take a break from the situation. Tell your kids that it's OK to walk away from a conflict to avoid an angry outburst. By moving to another part of the house or the backyard, a child can get some space and work on calming down.

Find a way to (safely) get the anger out. There may be no punching walls, but you can suggest some good ways for a child to vent.

Building a Strong Foundation

Fortunately, really angry episodes don't happen too often for most kids. Those with temper troubles often have an active, strong-willed style and extra energy that needs to be discharged.

Try these steps during the calm times — they can prevent problems before they start by helping kids learn and practice skills needed to manage the heat of the moment:

Make sure kids get enough sleep. Sleep is very important to their well-being. The link between a lack of sleep and a child's behavior isn't always obvious. When adults are tired, they can be grumpy or have low energy, but kids can become hyper or disagreeable or have extremes in behavior.

Help them label emotions. Help kids get in the habit of saying what they're feeling and why.

See that kids get a lot of physical activity. Active play can really help kids who have big tempers. Encourage outside play and sports your child likes.

Recognize successes. Many times these go unnoticed so be sure to comment on how well your child handled a difficult situation when you see positive behaviors.

Try to be flexible. Parenting can be a tiring experience, but try not to be too rigid. Hearing a constant chorus of "no" can be disheartening for kids. Sometimes, of course, "no" is absolutely the only answer.But other times, you might let the kids win one.

As anyone who's been really angry knows, following sensible advice can be tough when emotions run high. Give your kids responsibility for getting under control, but be there to remind them how to do it.

Most kids can learn to get better at handling anger and frustration. But if your child frequently gets into fights and arguments with friends, siblings, and adults, additional help might be needed. Talk with the other adults in your child's life — teachers, school counselors, and coaches might be able to help.


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