When a child escalates in anger, it often feels like a tornado is raging through the house. It can be so powerful that parents find themselves bracing for impact, and they can easily get swept up in its fury. Either way, it is exhausting. While it is difficult to predict when a tornado will hit, there are things we can do as parents to prepare ourselves and our children ahead of time.
1. Tornados don’t just magically appear.
A tornado is created when warm, moist air mixes with cool, dry air causing instability. Anger is not much different. Anger is a secondary emotion that rears its ugly head when another feeling is being ignored or not heard. In other words, there is usually something going on behind the anger such as embarrassment, jealousy, sadness, fear, and even shame. Having this awareness as a parent allows us to have more compassion and empathy for the angry outburst and not get swept into its path.
2. How to prepare for a tornado.
Anger is not bad, but how we choose to express it can be. We often assume our children know how to calm down, so we don’t take the time to teach them. Create a calming corner in your house. This is a place where your children can go when they are angry, sad, or in need of quiet time. Focusing on soothing activities will ultimately help them de-escalate. Here are a few examples:
Calming Corner: Find a quiet place in your home. Fill it with pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, and books. Let them go there whenever they want to relax or calm down.
Squish Box: Find an appliance box, cut out some windows, and allow your child to create a calming place to sit. Stock it with crayons or markers so they can decorate the walls. Make it a place of no judgment where they can express their feelings with drawings and words.
Birthday Candles: Pretend your five fingers are candles, take a deep breath, and slowly blow each "candle" out.
Tight Body: Tighten every muscle in your body, relax every muscle and then repeat.
Sky Stretch: Stretch up onto your tippy toes, relax and then repeat.
Squish Ball: Focus your energy on squeezing a ball.
Magical Music: Listen to calming music with headphones.
Rocking Chair: Rock back and forth in a rocking chair.
Burrito Blanket: Wrap yourself tightly in a blanket.
Play-Doh: Kneed and create with Play-Doh.
Paper Basketball: Crumple up paper balls and throw them into a garbage can.
Touch: If your child will let you, rub their hands, lay shoulder to shoulder while reading a book, or give them a hug.
3. Wait for the tornado to pass.
When a child is escalated, we try throwing everything at the anger hoping that something will stick—we scream, we yell, we ground them until college and then we take away everything they have ever owned. None of it works because they are too escalated. Think about the times when you have been escalated in anger. It is difficult to hear anything except your pounding heart or your ringing ears. Save yourself the effort and do nothing until they have calmed down. Wait for the storm to pass and then work on the cleanup effort.
4. Focus on the cleanup.
We all get angry, and we all make mistakes. When the tornado has passed, it is time to rebuild what was broken. Listen to your child, validate how they felt, and then if needed, give your child a consequence if they hurt himself, hurt someone else, or damaged property. Being consistent with your rules and giving consequences is just as important as listening and validating. Your reaction doesn’t need to come from a place of anger.
5. When the tornado has passed, let it go.
Once the tornado has passed and everything is cleaned up, it is time to let it go. There is a mentality that when things have been really bad, we need to punish our children even more; the worse the crime, the worse the punishment, and the more they will hear about our disappointment. I challenge you to let it go. Children learn better choices through the mistakes they have made. If we choose to teach them a lesson through discussion and consequence, they will grow. If we choose to punish and dwell on the mistake, they will shrink. Let’s help them to grow.
It often feels like our children escalate in anger just to make us crazy, but the reasons for the escalation are deeper. Jump off the crazy train, begin discussing what anger is, prepare for when it happens, and help your child to be successful when they do feel out of control. Anger is not bad; it simply is a way for our children to tell us what is not being heard. Our gift to them is when we listen.