Social Skills: How to Teach a Child to be Angry (and sin not)

This is the 3rd installment of the Social Skills series. If you have not read the previous two, I would encourage you to do so HERE and HERE.


As humans we all experience moments of anger. Sometimes extreme anger, while others is just minimal. Although intense and extreme anger is not healthy for anyone, it is a natural emotions we all posses, even our children..

In children, there are many things that can cause anger. Most often a child’s anger is fueled by not getting their way, not getting what they want, or from being overwhelmed, overstimulated, excessively tired, or sick. As adults, aren’t the reasons listed above the exact reasons we get angry??? The differences though are that as adults we have learned along the way that punching our boss in the mouth would get us fired, that slapping the sales clerk who is rude could get us arrested, and burning our neighbors home because they don’t mow their grass would be a little excessive. But it doesn’t mean we weren’t angry about the situation, or that these things didn’t cross our minds… We just knew not to act on it. (If you haven’t learned that, then you are reading this from your prison cell I guess). But it is never too late to learn… So keep reading please….

Our children, especially those with special needs, must be taught how to deal with their anger in the appropriate ways. As parents we often find ourselves, (or at least I do) of saying, “Oh that’s not nice”, “we don’t do that”, or pulling the Jesus card of “oh that makes Jesus so sad when you act that way.” But how often do we give our children an outlet for their anger? Or agree with them that you would be mad too and you are sorry that they didn’t get their way. ETC… Let me give you some examples before you start thinking I am nuts…

Let’s say your child wants to go to McDonald’s… (Mine wants to everyday three meals a day) instead of just telling him no… which often leads to an all day screaming meltdown, we instead say, “man, I am sorry, I would like to go to McDonald’s today too, but we can’t right now, maybe later”… Do not offer him another suggestion… like eggs, an apple or a sandwich… I mean if you are woman and you want some chocolate does it not make you mad if someone where to say, no you can’t have any chocolate but how bout some crackers, a salad, or some gummy bears??? Did that make you want chocolate any less. Or for you men, if you wanted a beer and you were out, would it not aggravate you a little if you were given the choices of, water, apple juice, or V8,those are nowhere near a beer right… So why would our children NOT be mad when we do that to them…

I am merely suggesting that when your child gets angry give them other outlets to express their anger. Instead of hitting people, their wall, or their door, provide them with a punching bag for them to hit when angry… Teach them to pace, exercise, use their words, jump on a trampoline, swing, go for a walk, take a shower and any other technique you feel would be beneficial to them… As adults, we calm are anger by smoking, drinking, eating, gambling, shopping, exercising, playing sports, or cleaning house. But we expect our children to stifle their anger because it is inappropriate. And yes, throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of Wal-Mart is not appropriate, but do we give them suggestions on what to do with their pent-up anger instead of expecting them to stuff it…

Many children, especially those on the spectrum, are fueled by anger. This could be from their lack of communication, their lack of understanding, or their frustration by their surroundings. Here are some questions regarding your child’s behavior that can solve your behavior problems…

1. Is the child’s behavior part of their developmental stage?

Toddler’s are known for demonstrating excessive behaviors, thus its name the terrible two’s. They are establishing their boundaries as well as testing your authority. During known development stages such as toddlers, puberty, etc. it is best to provide the child with choices, approach every situation with humor and optimism, and remain FIRM while being supportive.

2. Is the behavior an individual or temperament difference?

Some behaviors are based on the child’s personality, some children are easier to discipline than others. You must also consider your personality vs the child’s… Are some issues a difference in personalities and not true behavior issues? As parents we must keep in mind that all children are different, even our children by the same parents. Many children must be treated different based on their personalities, their disabilities, as well as their developmental ages. Their is not a one discipline fits all technique which in my opinion is much of the problem. As parents we try to be FAIR in our discipline, providing the same for all of our children, but you must remember FAIR is NOT ALWAYS EQUAL!!!

3. Is the behavior being caused by their environment or surroundings?

Too often I see children having meltdowns in locations that appear as though the parent’s set them up for failure… Are we not asking too much from our children when we take them to places that are not “child suitable”…. For instance, if you have a child on the spectrum, don’t take them to eat at a loud restaurant at 6:30 on a Friday night and not expect them to have bad behaviors. Or the local grocery store when you know they are hungry, you are setting your kids up for failure…. It is really no different than taking an alcoholic to a bar and not letting them drink… Before you become too harsh on your children for their behaviors, consider the environment or surroundings you have placed them in, is that is what is causing their misbehavior? Have you placed them in an adult situation or environment that is really not conducive to a child’s needs?

4. Are you expecting behaviors from them that haven’t been taught?

Let’s consider the child that has no siblings, he is basically around adults all the time but has recently joined a play group. We can’t expect him to immediately know the skill of sharing or taking turns… Taking turns with mom and dad is not the same as taking turns and sharing with other kids. There are many times as parents, we often expect our children to conduct themselves in certain ways that they have no knowledge of…. Skills must be taught before they can be followed…

5. Is the child’s behavior driven by unmet physical or emotional needs?

Consider the situation, is your child experiencing a change in their routine, dad’s work schedule changed, mom’s been out of town, grandma passed away, best friend moved, a new sibling arrived? Any of these are major causes of depression in adults, so why would they not affect our little ones? Sometimes demonstrated behaviors can be overcome by a little extra attention, affection, care, and concern.

As you can see there are many contributing factors that can affect behaviors. The most important keys to better behavior is this in a nutshell: Don’t put your child in unnecessary situations that will more than likely cause unwanted behaviors. Provide your child acceptable ways of demonstrating their anger. Pre-teach social skills that will be needed in life, don’t depend on the child to pick it up naturally, learn the hard way, or wait for them to learn it at school. (not all skills should be left to the school to teach, as parents many skills should be introduced by us in the home environment.)

Check out our other blog entries under the Behavior 911 tab for more insights on behaviors!

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