Conversations with Your Angry Child

conflict conflict management emotional intelligence negative emotions Mar 26, 2021
parenting emotional outburst

It’s hard for anyone—much less a child—to take constructive feedback when flooded with negative emotions.

This is because our thoughts and our emotions always match: You cannot think positive, constructive thoughts when you are overwhelmed with negative, destructive emotions.  

So, if your child is angry or frustrated, hold off on initiating “teachable moment” conversations or attempting to shift your child’s perspective.

Wait until they have had time to regroup emotionally.

Save the discussions about your expectations, the child’s questionable behavior, or the child’s bad attitude for later when they might actually be able to hear you.

When your children are upset, your best bet is to meet them with patience. If the situation calls for you to set boundaries, do so, but remain steadfast and calm in your word choice, demeanor, and tone of voice.

Let your child know you are listening and patient by saying things like: 

  •  “I can see how angry you are.” 
  •  “Yes, I can tell how upset that made you.” 
  •  “I would like to talk to you about this when you are calm, so I’m not going to respond to that right now, but I want you to know that I’m listening to you.” 

Let your child explode. Your job is to model the calm during the storm.

Remember: You cannot reduce your children’s anger by giving them your own anger. You cannot calm their frustration by meeting them with your own frustration. 

But who can remain calm at all times? The truth is, sometimes our buttons get pushed.

If you find yourself triggered and angry, then model something else.  

Model the self-discipline to walk away when triggered.

Model the respect to cool down before saying anything you might later regret.

Say, “I feel really angry right now, and I’m afraid I am going to talk to you in a disrespectful tone or voice or say things I don’t mean, so I’m going to walk away. I’ll be back in 10 minutes to check in.”

If you can regain your composure within 10 minutes, go back to be with your child. Be the calm presence your child needs to cool off.

If you cannot calm down, check in as promised and tell your child when you can revisit the subject. Say, “I would like to be calm when we next talk about this, and I’m afraid this pushed my buttons. Let’s talk about it tomorrow during breakfast so that I can take an emotional break.”

Then, revisit the conversation when you can show your child how to be calm and present during a difficult emotional conversation.

If, on the other hand, you do lose your composure, be the first one to apologize.

Model taking responsibility for your side of the equation at least. Then tell them you would like to talk about it when both of you feel able to address it in a calm, respectful manner.

People sometimes think it’s worse to have to bring something up and reignite the fire after things have calmed down, but that is exactly when to do it. 

If you can begin the conversation with validation—find one thing to validate about the child’s experience—and really listen instead of just preaching, you will get much further than if you address your agenda during the blow up or leave the issue under the rug to rear its head another time.

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