We have a rule in our house — you’re allowed to have feelings, you’re allowed to be angry, but you're not allowed to take your anger out on people or objects. Door slamming? That's a hard no. Throwing things? Also a hard no. Name calling? Not OK. But angry harmonica music coming from behind my 5-year-old's bedroom door? Play your little heart out, kid. If you’re feeling frustrated with your little hothead, there are some creative ways for your kid to deal with anger that are constructive and effective.
Feeling anger is a normal part of being human, and I want to teach my son that he's entitled to his feelings — but he's also responsible for how he deals with those feelings. Last week at 8 a.m. I heard the glass lid to our candy dish open from in the kitchen. Knowing exactly who the culprit was and what he was up to, I got up from the couch to investigate. Sure enough, there was my 5-year-old caught red handed, reaching for a lollipop. Knowing he's not allowed to eat candy for breakfast (oh, the horror), he closed the candy dish, and stomped off empty handed with a frown on his face. He stomped all the way to his room and before long, I could hear him making music with my old finger cymbals, followed by what sounded like some very angry harmonica playing and then fierce strumming on his guitar. Either he's joined a one-man band or he's exercising the options I've given him for when he's experiencing anger.
After several minutes of a very angry show coming from his bedroom, it got quiet. I poked my head in to remind him that he can come out when he's ready. When I opened his bedroom door, he was doing a puzzle on the floor. I asked if he was ready to come out and have breakfast, but he said he was busy doing "angry puzzles". So I closed the door and enjoyed a warm quiet breakfast by myself with no interruptions — which I think most would consider a mom-win.
If you're looking for some similar tools to help your kid with anger, this list is for you. I also checked in with New York family therapist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and mom, Marina Lenderman to get some expert advice. Lenderman says that "anger is a complex emotion which is commonly expected to present itself as violent behavior." She explains that anger can also be directed inward and some children may be extra hard on themselves when they're angry, which is another reason why it's beneficial for kids to have some anger outlets, like these.
OK, I might be biased because I work in fitness, but there is nothing better than letting your frustrations out with a good sweat. I tell my son if he needs to let it out, he can do some burpees (my kid loves burpees for some reason) or jumping jacks, push-ups, etc. If you have a yard, you can have them run some laps. Whatever they want to do, let them do it. This redirects their attention and lets them focus on something productive instead destructive while letting out those angry emotions.
In our house, we have angry harmonicas, angry guitar playing, and a cat keyboard that meows when you press the keys, so there's a lot of acts to this angry one-man show. I mean, if you think about it, some of the greatest melodies have been born out of some intense feelings, right?
If you have a little creator on your hands, why not encourage them to take out their frustrations with some paint — I know, that sounds messy. But, Lenderman says some kids may not be able to communicate their anger and may "communicate through art or using objects such as toys to express themselves. Encourage your child to express the intensity of the anger and what caused them to feel that way. Do not try to talk them out of feeling angry."
Reading is a great way to escape. If your kid is a reader, or even if they aren't usually inclined to reading, you can offer them some books to help them cool down.
There are tons of guided meditations for kids on YouTube. My son loves this unicorn princess one, but there are tons of others, too. He loves meditating and even seeks me out when he needs to "do a meditation".
If your child is old enough to write, you can prompt them to write their feelings in a journal. As a kid, letting my feelings out on paper in my diary was a huge stress release and helped me deal with a lot of emotions that I otherwise didn't know how to deal with.
This is a great one for kids because it allows them to breathe deeply and move their body, plus it's fun for them to do all the animal poses. It's also a great way for kids to learn to relax their bodies when they feel tense, and it teaches them mind-body awareness.
Lenderman says parents can help their kids understand the connection by asking them to "share where they are feeling the anger in their bodies." She explains that not all children communicate the same — some kids are "great speakers," but others may benefit by moving and connecting to their body. Yoga's a great way to do that.
What are animal breaths? It's a fun way to guide their breathing so they can refocus and eventually calm down, according to an article on Positive Parenting Connection. The article noted that "when a child is feeling angry, if we can help them breathe through their thoughts, it can be incredibly grounding, empowering and eventually calming. A giant lion's breath with roaring included is a great way for children to release anger." Other animals include "short bunny breaths" that can help with focus and "long snake breaths" that can help children calm down.
The article also offers some advice by suggesting that you not worry about problem solving or offering solutions during those difficult moments. "A simple 'I hear you' or 'would you like to share anything else' can keep the communication open," the author wrote.
Lenderman has her own take on this exercise and says, "I like to use the metaphor of a balloon and have the child imagine that their anger is filling a balloon that is slowly deflating as they take deep breathes. Once they close their eyes and start to visualize the balloon deflating, you can see their anger dissipate." Both are such great tools to help kids refocus, calm down, and stay in control of their emotions.