Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash
Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Dealing with Anger in Your Child

Question

I think that our three-year-old daughter is the stereotypical angry child.  When she doesn’t get what she wants at the grocery store she shouts, screams, kicks, holds her breath, and becomes the center of attention.  It’s embarrassing and frustrating and usually pushes our anger buttons which just makes things worse.  Any suggestions?

Answer

Your “precious little girl” is having a classic “temper tantrum” which is not uncommon at her age.  They usually last as long as it takes for children to get what they want or realize that their outburst isn’t going to work.

It’s not uncommon for temper tantrums to appear during a child’s second year, peak between the ages of two and three, then usually decrease by the age of four.  This is an age when the child is forming a sense of self.  They are old enough to have a sense of “me” but too young to control getting what they want when they want it.  Most tantrums are fueled by the combination of high energy and low self-control.

Your first step is ask God to help you stay aware of your own emotions and to help you reprogram yourself to respond rather than react.  Discuss where and when the tantrums are most likely to occur.  Most children throw tantrums in particular places and with a particular person.

As you leave the house prepare your mind and your heart to respond and not react to the next outburst.  We respond out of strength when we remind ourselves that this is a teachable moment for our little one.  We react out of weakness when we choose focus on what others might be thinking of us rather than how God can help us turn this into an opportunity to model healthy emotions and clear boundaries.

Proverbs 15:1 tells us that “A gentle word turns away anger but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (HCSB).  A gentle response might be for you to pick her up, holding her firmly and in as gentile and kind a voice as possible, look her in the eyes and slowly let her know that you love her and that she isn’t going to get what she wants.  No debate, the discussion is over.

Remember that reactions only fuel the fire and reinforce the problem rather than extinguish it.  You don’t have to surrender to theatrics.  Your response to your daughter is so much more important than what anyone in the grocery store might think of you.  “The child should gain no request by anger,” an ancient philosopher said.  “When he is quiet let him be offered what was refused when he wept.”  That’s still good advice today.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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