Deescalating Your Angry Child
Often in Christian circles, we equate anger with destructive behaviors. There is good reason for this, as our individualized culture encourages us to follow our hearts rather than training us to check our emotions and process them in a healthy way. See, anger is actually a secondary emotion, meaning it’s what erupts when other uncomfortable emotions have not been fully resolved. This can often happen for kids who have ADHD because they have too many emotions to process and don’t have the skills or opportunities to express and process what they are feeling. Instead, we need to teach them to identify, process, and act on their emotions in a way that honors God and shows His love to others. This takes time, patience, and practice. You’ll need to develop a plan that works for the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses unique to your family. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but don’t forget to begin with prayer!
Time and Space When children are angry, their bodies are in fight, flight, or freeze mode, flooded with adrenaline, and you will not be able to reason with them. The best thing is to give them time and space to calm down. If you have a child who struggles with anger, find a time when they are calm and develop a plan together. Here’s how the time and space plan works.
Identify some triggers and primary emotions (fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment, discouragement) that cause your child to become inconsolable.
Agree on a three-tiered code and assign a label for each. We use a simple 1-2-3 system, but you may want to try something different. Just keep it simple and steer clear of symbols like green-yellow-red that may escalate anxiety. The first tier is when your child is in their typical emotional state. The second is when they are experiencing heightened uncomfortable emotions which they are not sure how to process. The third is when they have gone beyond the primary emotions to anger and are now unreasonable and in danger of hurting someone or something.
Set up a calm down space. It should be a private area and should include activities that calm your child such as play dough, building blocks, stuffed animals, fidgets, drawing, music, a journal, and a Bible. Make sure there are plenty of options. You can do an internet search for “calming corners” and find tons of ideas. Have fun with your child picking the location, collecting items, and giving the space a creative name.
The next time you notice your child is in the second tier, say something like, “It seems like you’re at a 2 right now. Can you tell me what you’re frustrated with?” You may need to offer a few suggestions. Remember to stay calm yourself so you don’t make them feel defensive.
This is the time to resist the temptation to try to fix the situation. Your child needs to feel heard and valued before you can safely jump in and help. Summarize what they are telling you and ask if you heard them correctly. Ask clarifying questions like “Can you tell me more about that?” Empathize by saying, “I’m really sorry you’re feeling that way. That is really hard.” Affirm how much you love them. If they are able to feel heard and validated, hopefully they will be able to calm down enough that you can help them resolve the problem.
The hope is this will all de-escalate your child, but it might not. If your child continues to become angry, it’s time to take a break. Gently tell them they are at a three (or whatever you label your third tier) and they need to go to their designated space to calm down. Give them 15-30 minutes and then check on them if they haven’t come back.
Follow up. It is very important to process what happened, but it is often best to wait until the next day when the child is totally calmed down. Identify with your child what made them go from their primary emotion to angry and then talk about how to change that.
Listen with Humility When a child is learning to express their emotions, especially anger, it can get messy! Children don’t have language to describe what they are feeling and they certainly don’t know what is socially acceptable. They need gracious, patient training. As parents, sometimes we need their grace and patience too, so we need to model it for them. And sometimes we mess up and we need to be willing to confess and ask for forgiveness. If our children feel they can safely process their emotions at home, they will be able to more quickly learn what are appropriate ways to express themselves in more public environments.
Talk about Emotions Often If we want to help our children express their emotions effectively and appropriately, we need to be talking about emotions on a regular basis. We struggle with this, especially with boys, because we’ve been taught to be tough and not to show emotions because they are weak. In reality, the opposite is true. Improper handling of emotions leads to hurting others and dishonoring God, and that is certainly weakness. Properly identifying and responding to our emotions is hard, and takes a great deal of knowledge and strength.
Not sure how to talk about emotions? Don’t worry, I’m going to keep sharing more strategies with you each week. Scroll down to subscribe and be sure you don’t miss anything! Need one on one help? Ask a pastor or trusted mentor or counselor for help, or you can book a free Discovery Session with me by going to www.flourishingfamilycoaching.com/services and enter the code: ADHD in the checkout.
The content found on Flourishing Family Coaching’s website and blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding ADHD, anxiety, depression or any other medical conditions. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.