Helping Your Child Express Anger Appropriately

Learn how to help your toddler properly express her emotions.

Part of the reason two-year-olds have tantrums is because they don't have the words or other tools they need to express their anger or frustration fully or appropriately. For this, your toddler needs your help.

Thus the most important rule in handling tantrums is this:

Ignore the behavior, but don't ignore your child.

Q-tip

Challenging your child by saying, "No laughing," may be a good way to transform anger into a burst of the giggles. Yet although this is a very useful trick at times, this approach also slights your toddler's anger. So if you decide to diffuse your child's anger in this way, be sure to take the time to encourage her to talk about her anger with you afterward, when she has calmed down.

What is your toddler trying to communicate to you through her tantrum? Anger? Frustration? Ask your child what's wrong and at the same time, encourage her to calm down enough so that you can help her. Let your child know that if she's frustrated with something, you can't possibly help her unless you know what's wrong-but that you can't understand her when she tries to talk to you in the midst of a hysterical tantrum.

Don't ignore your child's expressions of anger. In fact, if they are appropriate, encourage them. Suppressed anger can become even more explosive. So don't encourage your toddler to rein in her anger or frustration. Instead, teach your child to express it in non-destructive or non-hurtful ways. Allow and encourage your child to express anger and frustration:

  • in words;
  • by punching a pillow or mattress;
  • by slamming clay around on a cutting board;
  • by banging a drum;
  • by running around outside;
  • by doing something brief, loud, and angry: letting out a "primal scream," yelling, dancing, or singing about her anger; or
  • by creating an angry work of art.

The lessons you teach your child about expressing anger and frustration may seem to have little impact during her third year—and perhaps even her fourth. Your toddler (and later, your preschooler) will no doubt still have angry outbursts, violent episodes, and uncontrollable tantrums at least occasionally. In time, however, your child will absorb these lessons. And learning how to handle anger without becoming destructive or hurtful is an invaluable lesson for anyone, child or adult.

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