how to calm an angry toddler

More often than we would like to admit, we lose control and raise our voice. In a previous column, we talked about how our stresses build and burst and often our kids see and hear the worst of us. We suggested five things we can do to stop releasing that stress on our children.

Our children also deal with stresses and anger of their own. It’s a ripple effect: the anger of one family member easily reaches everyone else. If we can help even one child better handle their anger, we can improve the atmosphere in our entire home. Here are five ways we can help our children handle stressful situations, even anger.

 

1. Keep a calm voice

Avoid the yelling all together if you can. Add to your bag of parent tricks a quiet but stern voice that lets your kids know you mean business without yelling at them. It’s even possible your kids can learn from your example and see that yelling does not have to be the first choice in communicating their frustration.

Liz Gunderson of Centerville, Utah, is a mother of two teenagers. Gunderson has tried to teach her children the importance of not yelling since they were young. “I’ve found that when the kids are yelling to communicate, I didn’t need to yell over them to be heard. We would just start over,” Gunderson said. “We yell for joy and pure delight, or if a little one has something dangerous or is heading into the road; but yelling should not be common place.”

Gunderson suggests rather than yelling back at your children, or yelling at them in the first place, take a “try again” approach: “When our kids didn’t speak kind or respectfully, my husband and I would say, ‘Oh, I didn’t hear you … let’s try again with nicer words.’ ”

 

2. Get down on their level

 

As a teenager I remember sitting in a waiting room with few reading options. I picked up a parenting magazine and began flipping its pages. I can’t even tell you what magazine it was, let alone which issue, but I can tell you a helpful tip I gleaned from those pages all those years ago:

When your child is upset and you can’t talk to them right away, the magazine suggested to simply grab their hand and hold it so they know you know they are there. Then, as soon as possible, get down on their level and make eye contact with them.

Maybe every mother already knows this instinctively. But as a teenager, I thought the advice was brilliant and even now, as a mother myself, I should use this tip more often. It’s sad that it’s much easier to just wave a finger at a child and “ssshhh” them away than it is to hold their little hand with love.

 

3. Completely engage them

Yes, it’s important to make eye contact with our children — especially when they are angry. It can be more effective to also engage them with our whole body, showing them with our body language we are attentive.

Rather than just glancing their way, we can close the laptop, tuck away the tablet, or pocket the smartphone. This seems like a no-brainer and yet we often see a screen rather than their beautiful — or angry — eyes.

Our attention, or a cuddly hug, might be all our child needs to calm down. When my oldest son was 3 years old he would get very agitated and would need what we called “squishes and squashes,” which were nothing more than big tight squeezes and a long hug.

4. Ask “understanding questions”

I can only imagine just how frustrating it must be for a toddler to need or want something and not have the verbal skills to communicate that to an adult; or for a teenager to express their frustrations or emotions and feel validated.

We can help our children of any age work through their frustration by asking questions that will help us understand what they are thinking or feeling and also let them know we really do understand.

For example:

  • “I know you are mad because you wanted the blue sippy cup and I gave you the red sippy cup.”
  • “It must make you angry when you have a curfew and your friends don’t.”
  •  “Do you know what was wrong with this situation?”
  • “What do you think would have been better?”

 

5. Provide a place for them to be angry

 

Sometimes we just need be mad. Is there a place your child can go to be angry? My son struggled with his emotions and his occupational therapist suggested several things that really helped. He was encouraged to have a place in his room where he was allowed to be mad. His therapist even suggested hitting a pillow to “get out the anger.”

This same angry zone also included tools to help him calm down on his own, like a weighted blanket, books that he liked and favorite toys.

As his mom, I could only do so much for him. But I could empower him to control his anger on his own.