My daughter was in a mood. As soon as she walked in the door from school the evidence was unmistakable. She didn’t walk, she stomped. She didn’t talk, she growled. “Hey sweetie, how was your day?” I asked. She glared at the floor and mumbled imperceptibly. I knew she was angry. I also knew from past experience she wasn’t likely to admit it. Sometimes confronting anger, even with gentle intentions, is the fastest way to fan it into a flame. And yet, when she threw her backpack to the floor just to make a point and aimed her evil eye at her siblings, silently daring them to give her a reason to pounce, I knew it was time to step in.
It can be tricky business trying to soothe an angry child. We might walk on eggshells, become a cheerleader, or try to distract in order to keep wrath at bay. We might even lash out in anger ourselves, exasperated when our many efforts to improve their mood fail. But anger rarely responds well to logic or force. Consider trying one of the following responses next time anger rears its ugly head.
Take a Breather
When my daughter came home angry, fifteen minutes alone in her bedroom to think and read transformed her. When I poked my head in to see how she was, we shared some of the most intimate moments in recent memory. All she needed was a little space.
Separate Discipline from Punishment
To give my daughter the space she needed, I had her go to her room. The way I told her was critical. Had I sent her off with a hard look and a stern tone, she would have felt she were being punished. Punishing a child for their feelings is never productive. Instead, I got eye to eye with her, put my arm around her, and reminded her how good alone time can feel. “You are not in trouble. It just looks like you could use some time to yourself. I’ll come visit you in a few minutes. Now head upstairs.” I made it clear that going to her room was not optional but emphasized it was for her good. I disciplined her by teaching, but I did not punish, and she fully cooperated.
Avoid Direct Confrontation
Our kids should not be required to tell us what’s bothering them. We may be interested or concerned; we may feel curious or eager to help. But we cannot coerce intimacy. Rather, foster a relationship that encourages open and free disclosure. Create a connection so genuine and loving they want to share with you. It’s okay to ask questions, but give them space if they resist. Sometimes we feel it’s our due to know all our children’s thoughts and feelings, but the deepest connections are built on voluntary participation. Give your kids room to share—or not—and honor their choice.
Remember It’s Not All About You
It’s hard for a mom to see her child angry and not take it personally. Sometimes our lives revolve so much around our kids we forget their lives do not revolve around us. The reality is their inner lives are as complex and rich as ours, and feelings of anger could come from any number of sources. Unless your child makes it clear their anger is aimed at you, your best bet is to assume it’s not.
What do you know about your child that can help you calm him next time he gets upset?