How can I help my child with her temper?
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
This question comes from a parent who has tried to help her 10-year-old daughter through her anger with breathing techniques but this gets her daughter more worked up.
The first thing I like to do in situations where children manifest negative behavior or emotions is to try and determine a root cause. I am going to run through a list of possible causes that may or may not have already been looked into.
Often times feelings of anger that cannot be easily calmed stem from other emotions being bottled up or pushed down. I have known many children who tend to be young people pleasers lash out in unexplained rage or tears.
Some of these children have feelings that they have not been expressing for fear of hurting others or being seen as other
These feelings get pushed down, unexpressed and even unexplored causing them to surface as anger. In this case, what is helpful is for the child to start a journal or diary of feelings. Each day have your child write down what she is feeling about that day. If there was something that upset her, have her log it and then either have a discussion about what she wrote or if she is more private have her explore through writing why she may have felt that way.
Sometimes the food we give our children can effect their mood. My daughter cannot have artificial red dye. The first time she ate it was at another child's party in the from of a lollipop and she was about three. She got really sleepy and took a long nap. I didn't really think much of it. The the next time she had dye was a year later, when she had a shaved ice. This time she started slurring her words and acting strange and then again took a long nap. I put the two events together and started researching. Dyes, soy, gluten, corn, dairy and some other foods can affect our children's behavior.
Food sensitivities do now always result in rashes or stomach upset but can be emotional reactions.
I would observe your daughter and see if the anger occurs after certain foods have been eaten. You may also want to see if there is a correlation between the outbursts and her being hungry or thirsty. I know my own children are most raw right around dinnertime. I supply them with fruit and water as often as I can to replenish them with glucose to keep their brains fed and them happy.
Given your child's age and gender and whether or not she has always had a temper, this issue could be due to a hormonal change. Your daughter is getting close to beginning menstruation and a doctor's visit might be needed to see if she is feeling off because of her hormones.
Sometimes anger can come when depression or anxiety goes untreated. I know this from personal experience. I was an incredibly anxious child and would often have outbursts of anger. I would just feel the anger rise but I could not stop it.
Children do not show the same signs as us when anxious or depressed.
Often times they do not have the words to express how they feel. An anxious or depressed child may say she has a stomach ache, have to use the bathroom a lot, pick at her skin or hair, seem hyper or lethargic, cry a lot, eat too much or too little, be obsessed with her grades being perfect or not turn in her homework habitually and complain of little ailments often. Again, a journal would be a good exercise to explore. I know that once I started writing poetry, I was able to really explore my emotions and better understand them. Using the List of Core Emotions, in the resources at the bottom of this post may help your daughter name her feelings.
Now that we have explored some possible causes, I have some ideas of activities to help your daughter prevent an outburst and a list of techniques for when she is already angry.
How to keep the anger away:
1. As mentioned earlier, I recommend a journal or a diary. If your daughter doesn't like to write, she can draw her emotion each day or record an audio entry on a smart phone or a computer. The journal will help the two of you be able to explore her emotions more fully but also you will be able to look for any patterns.
2. Make sure your daughter is getting regular exercise. Exercise helps anxiety and depression by giving a physical outlet for the energy of the emotion to go somewhere.
3. Teach your daughter meditation. I recommend the free apps Insight Timer and Plum Village and also Thich Nhat Hanh's book in the resources below. This can be something you do together or separate but try to get her started on a routine.
4. Talk to your daughter about emotions and give her an emotion vocabulary so that she can name the feelings she has.
What to do when the temper flares:
1. Try to remain calm, do not show signs of fear, anger or repulsion. It is important for her to know that even when she is angry, she is still loved.
2. Give your daughter a safe place to be alone to work through the anger (but remain close). You do not want her in a room with a door shut in case she turns violent but she needs space to get calm on her own.
3. Have your daughter go outside and look up at the sky. I used this technique often with my middle school students. It resets the brain and usually calms them down.
4. Have your daughter write while angry, if possible. Or write immediately after.
5. Offer a snack or a drink to change the mood and maybe replenish blood sugar or hydrate her.
6. See if music helps. Does she have a favorite song or some music that calms her? I personally like Jai-Jagdeesh and find her music to be very calming.
7. If you have a pet, see if being in the presence of that animal helps her to calm. It is hard to stay angry while cuddling a friend.
Thank you for you question and thank you for working so hard to help your daughter. Helping her understand her own feelings is the best thing you can do. Good luck, on your journey.
Resources: Brene Brown has a List of Core Emotions available to download and print. You can use the list as is or make flash cards from the list. It will benefit your daughter to have a vocabulary to better express herself. https://brenebrown.com/downloads/
Thich Nhat Hanh has a very simple introductory book to meditation for children. It would probably be best if the two of you did the activities together: https://amzn.to/31HUIhR