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Dr. Hallowell’s 10 Tips for Managing Anger in Children

Of all the emotions that can get a child into trouble, at home or at school, anger leads the list. While sadness or anxiety can lead to misery, it is anger that leads to trouble, i.e., punishment, suspension, expulsion, and a host of other outcomes we don’t wish our children to suffer.

Of course, it is also important that a child be able to express anger. But anger should be like a sneeze: it clears the passageways, then disappears. A child who cannot get angry can be in as much danger as a child who cannot control how angry he gets.

So the goal is to learn how to manage the often difficult-to-manage emotion we name anger.
Here are 10 tips.  All of these cost nothing, can be used anywhere, and do not require the assistance of an expert. If you’d like to learn more, I refer you to my book, When You Worry About the Child You Love, from which these tips are loosely adapted.

1. Exercise –  One of the best tonics for the brain is physical exercise.  My friend and colleague, Dr. John Ratey, showed in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain how dramatically helpful exercise is in promoting healthy brain function, including the ability to control aggression.
2. Put feelings into words –  One of the more common reasons a child loses control is that he is unable to articulate his frustration.  Learning simple phrases like, “I’m really angry” can prevent the more violent expressions of that anger.
3. Limit excessive use of electronics – Not only do electronics numb the mind, they also preclude the more useful activities of exercise and face-to-face social interactions.  Some electronic use is fine, indeed desirable.  But too much, say more than 2 hours per day, should be avoided.
4. Teach your child than anger is a signal, not an outcome – When he feels anger, he should learn to stop and think, why am I angry?  Then, if he can put that into words, it will be much easier to control that feeling. Furthermore, if he is angry because he is being mistreated or is in danger, he can ask for help.
5. As a family, practice compromise and negotiation – In his excellent book, The Explosive Child, Ross Greene introduced a method he calls collaborative problem solving. Read the book, and learn the technique. It works wonders. And it all depends upon negotiation, rather than  the unilateral giving or orders.
6. Consult with a professional – make sure there is no underlying diagnosis that you might not know about. Various conditions, including ADHD, Tourette syndrome, conduct disorder, seizure disorders, thyroid dysfunction, or even brain tumors can manifest as uncontrolled or impulsive anger.
7. Make notes to yourself – If your child has a problem with anger, take a few minutes every day to document what he’s done. After a month or so, you will be able to read through the entries and perhaps see a pattern that will suggest a means of intervening more effectively.
8. No physical punishment – Families run best if they have a shared agreement, “We never put hands on each other in anger.”  The days of spanking should be long gone.  It only makes anger–and a host of other issues–worse.
9. Be the boss – That does not mean you should run your family like the military. But children do much better knowing that their parents are in charge. In fact, they will up the ante until one or both parents finally does take charge.
10. Never worry alone – If none of these suggestions help, talk to people you trust. Almost every child who has problems with anger can learn to control that anger. It may take some time and some backing and filling, but solutions can be found for sure. Just never worry alone.

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