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Dealing with Anger and Children

Dealing with Anger and Children

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Lots of things can make children angry. From the time they are babies, they get "angry" if they are not held enough, if they are wet or hungry and if they don't get enough stimulation or enough down-time. Then they start to grow and get angry because someone gets a bigger cookie or has a toy they want or are in a daycare situation they dislike or simply feeling helpless or rejected. Other than sleepless nights, dealing with angry kids is probably the most difficult thing about parenting. It's exhausting, embarrassing and nerve wracking.

Some children are rarely angry. There really are docile and obedient types. If you didn't get that type (the Heavenly secretary must run out of those types at some point) and you get the more defiant, willful types, you need an entire set of strategies to deal with their rage without losing your marbles or your character in the process. I'm only going to tell you what worked with my children—because I didn't get the docile ones either.

1) Train yourself to think, or to say out loud, "Thank You for this opportunity to work on my character." It sounds crazy, but this phrase gives you access to your spiritual powers—and that's what you need when you're dealing with their powerful drives. When children are angry, it really is an opportunity to work on your character! If you want your children to calm down, you must model patience, self-discipline and humility. Think: "G‑d caused my child to be angry/act wild, etc., at this particular moment in time for my own growth." Knowing that this is a divine experience, even though it looks like it came straight from hell, is what connects you to your soul; that's true power. Many times, just saying these words shocks the children into silence and gives you some breathing space to think rationally instead of giving in to your more primitive impulses. (You know what they are; they include strangling, hitting, screaming like a banshee, etc.)

2) Say, "It is natural to be angry." That's right. Human beings – ourselves included – need to acknowledge our feelings. It doesn't mean that we can act on them, or that we shouldn't work on ourselves to overcome or eradicate them, to actually program ourselves to react differently, but the first step in managing them is to know that they currently exist. It's kind of like "agreeing" to the fact that gravity exists. Whether you like it or not, right now it's there. Not acknowledging it won't get you anywhere. We do not have direct control over our instinctual feelings; but we can always control our thoughts and actions; and that is where we must do most of our spiritual work. Forget the feelings and focus on how you are functioning.

Unless you are Hillel the Elder, you will probably experience feelings of anger at times, especially when you feel betrayed, ignored, scorned or bored: when someone cuts us off when we're in line, puts us on hold for 45 minutes, doesn't offer to help when we're overwhelmed or does shoddy work.

3) Say the words, "Solutions! G‑d will help us find a solution." You can even do the "solution dance," in which you hold the child's hand (if he's not about to kick you) and sing, "so-lu-tion, so-lu-tion, we just need a so-lu-tion." If the child starts to laugh, all the better.

4) Tell the child what you do to calm yourself down when you feel angry. When you are waiting behind the garbage truck or waiting for someone who is late, you say, "I'm practicing patience." When you can't get through to the doctor, you say, "Here's a chance to practice making G‑d's will my will." When you are criticized by a relative, you say, "Even if someone does not like me, I know that G‑d loves me more than I can imagine." If something breaks or gets dirty, you say, "Thank G‑d, it's a triviality." When someone nags you, you say assertively, without hostility, "I know it is frustrating and disappointing, but practicing self-discipline is what builds self-respect."

5) Tell them what yes to do, instead of telling them what not to do. They need to know that acting on their anger and hurting others is not okay. Tell them, "Say with words what you want." Or, "You can let off steam by jumping on the trampoline or polishing the silver." Or, "Draw me a picture of how you feel and another picture of the solution." Or, "Write him a letter." Or, say, "write a letter to G‑d about what you are feeling." When they have finished the letter, hand them a magic marker and say, "now imagine what G‑d might say to you to help you handle this loss."

6) Don't give in to their demands if they are bullying you or an important principle is involved. State the rules: "I love you too much to buy junk food." "We don't use those words. Say what you want in a respectful voice." "We agreed to a half hour on the Game Boy." If they don't calm down, calm yourself by thinking, "This is temporary. It will end." Hang in there. How you react to their anger is going to be a lifelong lesson for them in how to cope with their own frustrations.

7) Praise them for handling their anger in a positive manner. Something like, "Good for you for not hitting your brother when he took your stuff." "I appreciate very much that you didn't get hostile when I said that it's too late to go out." "I appreciate your hanging up your clothes even though you were in a hurry to go out." "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." "Thank you for waiting your turn." "Thank you for helping me even though it was hard."

Remember, if you hit, they learn to hit. If you scream, they learn to scream. If you give in, they learn that you cannot be trusted to protect them. Being a good parent means that you will sometimes have to set limits that cause children to hate, reject and scorn you. How humbling! Each time we practice self-control, we grow spiritually. And that is why G‑d gives us so many opportunities to do so.


Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.
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DR. SAMUEL FELDMAN July 27, 2009

children and anger (AUTHOR) Congratulations on such a wonderful book. Reply

JEFFREY TOBIAS PORTLAND, OREGON via chabadoregon.com May 20, 2009

Teach your Children Well Whatever you do,be Positive,uplifting to your child,if he is Angry.Put on a Happy Face,and Play and Read books,and stimulate,his Mind. Remember,Fly with Children,not with Turkeys.Just as Children Flying with Eagles,not Turkeys,is Healthy.Go out,and buy your child,a Book,or Toy,and intereact with him,at the Moment.Do not ever get him Angry,be Kind,this is your chance to do a Big MITSVAH,Teaching him,instead of Anger,Reinforce techniques,your child would like to Intereact with. Perservere,be Patient,make him Laugh, Reply

Anonymous buffalo, ny May 19, 2009

normal "angry child" behavior When a 4 year old gets angry, is it normal for him to punch others or throw toys across the room? Reply

Miriam Adahan Chicago, Il May 19, 2009

SANITY CARDS I have a set of 39 sanity cards which I kept on the wall in every room - thoughts to help me stay calm. There are also kids cards (but only in Hebrew at the moment - actually, it's a good way to learn Hebrew).
To order, write emett@netvision.net.il Reply

Michael Coral Springs, FL May 18, 2009

Always wonderful timing I much appreciated this timely input. You sound like you are discussing my six -year old. He is a handful and many times I am able to take a deep breath and remember I am a role model for his future. But sometimes I can't when he repeatedly presses my emotional buttons, that he knows so well, in a short period of time.
Again thank you - I am happy to be reminded that I am not alone!
I have my peers and the Almighty. Reply

natalia colombia May 18, 2009

Thank you!! It was re-comforting to read the article... I was praying for an answer and found it in my mailbox!! I will start the strategy first thing in the morning... Reply

Anonymous Oak Park, MI May 18, 2009

Thank you that was very helpful Thank you that was very helpful Reply

Londongirl Israel May 18, 2009

so important i read this and felt like this was a description of my day with my two young children. the anger, the frustration, the challenges. i even thought to myself only 10 mins before reading this article how i complemented my 4 year old on NOT hitting her sister. i have begun praising what she is NOT doing, in the hope she will focus on what she SHOULD do. i'd love to hear some more on this subject. thank you for highlighting this important issue. Reply

barbara kent, wa May 18, 2009

dealing with a angry child or is it a angry parent? anyways this was very good. i loved it; i need to read something like this to help me with my problem as well.
thanks Reply

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Miriam AdahanDr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT ("Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah") ­- a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. She lives in Jerusalem, and has recently written on the struggles of life in the terror-beset land. Click here to visit her website.
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