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What to do when your child is angry

Angry girl

Children and young people in care have usually experienced trauma and this can cause them to feel lots of overwhelming emotions. At times the child in your care may have trouble controlling their emotions and as a carer sometimes you might be on the receiving end of extreme anger.

Step back

South Sydney Child psychologist and trauma recovery specialist, Lauren Dearlove, advises that the best thing to do with an angry child is to step back and try to understand the anger.

Ask yourself why they’re angry? Is it to get needs met, are they pushing boundaries or maybe they can’t express their emotions? Are they reacting to trauma or a traumatic memory? The better you understand the anger the more likely you are to be able to deal with it.

Remain calm

“The most calming thing a foster parent should do when a child is angry is to check themselves and remain calm. Angry children need to see that although their internal world is exploding their external world is calm and consistent because this tells them that they are safe,” Ms Dearlove says.

She advises that it’s best not to try to communicate with the child or young person when they are angry. Talk about it later. Their brain is not able to process what you are saying.

“Just provide reassurance they are and will be okay and you are there with them,” she said.

Release the emotion

Help the child or young person to deal with the emotions, this may be by letting them know you are there and support them, or even guiding them to breathe, she says.

Allow them to let their emotions out or to cry. When a child is angry it’s best not to talk yet but to breathe, maybe give them a bear hug, enable them to express anger in a healthy way, or you may like to go outside for a walk.

Teach them about their emotions

When the child or young person has calmed down, start a process of helping teach them about their emotions. Listen and talk to them about what triggered them, ask them to name the emotion and encourage them to think about it and ask what they could do next time, so they don’t get so angry.

This helps teach them about emotions and how to deal with them. Don’t dismiss their feelings and encourage them to talk about it, Ms Dearlove says.

Praise good behaviour

Provide positive reinforcement when the child or young person is handling an emotion well or voicing their problems. Focus on developing a deep, nurturing connection with a child who struggles with their emotions. They will look to you for guidance and support.

“Just like babies who learn to soothe their upsets through the soothing of a parent, older children need to feel connected to and trust their attachment figure.

Attachment disruption

Maltreatment or trauma in children can often result in what is known as ‘attachment disruption’ Ms Dearlove says.

Their emotional development is disrupted, and this affects overall development. Without intervention it can appear as though the child’s social and emotional development is frozen in time at the developmental stage at which they experienced the trauma, she says.

Teach them about emotions

Help teach the child or young person in your care about emotions by discussing feelings and by looking back on the day in the evening. Sometimes you could try role-playing to help your child work through upsetting situations, this can help the child be prepared to deal with future upsets.

Be a good role model and express your own emotions in a healthy way, she says.

“Be patient with the child’s progress and with yourself. Progress can be slow and can be frustrating g at times. Celebrate small wins and provide an abundance of positive reinforcement when the child handles a situation with less or no anger,” Ms Dearlove says.

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Last updated: 11 Apr 2019