Responding to the Angry Child has 18 suggestions. Take your time reading each point.
Some of the following suggestions for dealing with the angry child were taken from The Aggressive Child by Fritz Redl and David Wineman. They should be considered helpful ideas and not be seen as a “bag of tricks.”
1. Catch the child being good. Tell the child what behaviors please you. Respond to positive efforts and reinforce good behavior. An observing and sensitive parent will find countless opportunities during the day to make such comments as “I like the way you come in for dinner without being reminded”; “I appreciate your hanging up your clothes even though you were in a hurry to get out to play;” “You were really patient while I was on the phone”; “I’m glad you shared your snack with your sister”; “I like the way you’re able to think of others”; and “Thank you for telling the truth about what really happened.”
Similarly, teachers can positively reinforce good behavior with statements like “I know it was difficult for you to wait your turn and I’m pleased that you could do it”; “Thanks for sitting in your seat quietly”; “You were thoughtful in offering to help Johnny with his spelling”; “You worked hard on that project and I admire your effort.”
2. Deliberately ignore inappropriate behavior that can be tolerated. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the child, just the behavior. The “ignoring” has to be planned and consistent. Even though this behavior may be tolerated, the child must recognize that it is inappropriate.
3. Provide physical outlets and other alternatives. It is important for children to have opportunities for physical exercise and movement, both at home and at school.
4. Manipulate the surroundings. Aggressive behavior can be encouraged by placing children in tough, tempting situations. We should try to plan the surroundings so that certain things are less apt to happen. Stop a “problem” activity and substitute, temporarily, a more desirable one. Sometimes rules and regulations, as well as physical space, may be too confining.
5. Use closeness and touching. Move physically closer to the child to curb his or her angry impulse. Young children are often calmed by having an adult come close by and express interest in the child’s activities. Children naturally try to involve adults in what they are doing and the adult is often annoyed at being bothered. Very young children (and children who are emotionally deprived) seem to need much more adult involvement in their interests. A child about to use a toy or tool in a destructive way is sometimes easily stopped by an adult who expresses interest in having it shown to him. An outburst from an older child struggling with a difficult reading selection can be prevented by a caring adult who moves near the child to say, “Show me which words are giving you trouble.”
6. Be ready to show affection. Sometimes all that is needed for any angry child to regain control is a sudden hug or other impulsive show of affection. Children with serious emotional problems, however, may have trouble accepting affection.
7. Ease tension through humor. Kidding the child out of a temper tantrum or outburst offers the child an opportunity to “save face.” However, it is important to distinguish between face-saving humor and sarcasm, teasing, or ridicule.
8. Appeal directly to the child. Tell him or her how you feel and ask for consideration. For example, a parent or a teacher may gain a child’s cooperation by saying, “I know that noise you’re making doesn’t usually bother me, but today I’ve got a headache, so could you find something else you’d enjoy doing?”
9. Explain situations. Help the child understand the cause of a stressed situation. We often fail to realize how easily young children can begin to react properly once they understand the cause of their frustration.
10. Encourage children to see their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Help them to see that they can reach their goals.
11. Use promises and rewards. Promises of future pleasure can be used both to start and to stop behavior. This approach should not be compared with bribery. We must know what the child likes–what brings him pleasure–and we must deliver on our promises.
12. Say “NO!” Limits should be clearly explained and enforced. Children should be free to function within those limits.
13. Tell the child that you accept his or her angry feelings, but offer other suggestions for expressing them. Teach children to put their angry feelings into words, rather than fists.
14. Build a positive self-image. Encourage children to see themselves as valued and valuable people.
15. Use punishment cautiously. There is a fine line between punishment that is hostile toward a child and punishment that is educational.
16. Model appropriate behavior. Parents and teachers should be aware of the powerful influence of their actions on a child’s or group’s behavior.
17. Teach children to express themselves verbally. Talking helps a child have control and thus reduces acting out behavior. Encourage the child to say, for example, “I don’t like your taking my pencil. I don’t feel like sharing just now.”
18. The Role of Discipline. Good discipline includes creating an atmosphere of quiet firmness, clarity, and conscientiousness, while using reasoning. Bad discipline involves punishment which is unduly harsh and inappropriate, and it is often associated with verbal ridicule and attacks on the child’s integrity.
As one teacher put it: “One of the most important goals we strive for as parents, educators, and mental health professionals is to help children develop respect for themselves and others.” While arriving at this goal takes years of patient practice, it is a vital process in which parents, teachers, and all caring adults can play a crucial and exciting role. In order to accomplish this, we must see children as worthy human beings and be sincere in dealing with them.
Next week: The “ME” “ME” Virus