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Anger Management for Kids: The Caregiver's Responsibility with FREE Printable

A special thank you to Sunshine for permission to share this experience.

I woke up this morning so energized and excited. Sunshine and I had been talking about her goals for the new year.

The first goal she mentioned was that she didn’t want to (physically) hurt people anymore.

Sunshine’s emotions have always been big. Whether she’s too excited, too anxious, too angry, or too sad, it’s as if her body is on fire and she can’t control herself. 

This issue is compounded by a very low frustration tolerance.

Sunshine’s go to response is fight which can become dangerous very quickly.

After Sunshine calms down and comes back to the present, she is absolutely shattered by her behaviors. 

She spirals downward into negative self-talk and at times self-injurious behaviors.

It is devastating and so painful to watch, especially as we’ve been working so much on self-regulation skills.

Teaching anger management to kids can be so difficult.  It's hard to navigate the caregiver's responsibility.

Anger Management for Kids: The Caregiver's Respnsibility

Implement an Emotional Regulation System

Sunshine does really well with the emotional regulation system we’ve implemented at home and school.

She can identify her emotions.

She follows the steps we’ve implemented to calm down.

But when she’s on fire, nothing seems to work.

Prepare for the Fire

So as I was saying, this morning I was excited. Sunshine and I had talked about her behaviors during these “fire” moments and come up with safe physical alternatives to match the harmful behaviors she displays. We had even started putting some of them together.

She has such a strong desire to NOT hurt others, even in her worst moments.

Instead of throwing breakable, hard objects, we gathered a bunch of her small stuffed animals that are safe to throw and put them in a special place for when they’re needed. They have no glass eyes or button noses. None of them are filled with beans or anything but stuffing.

We identified a wall in her bedroom that was safe to throw things at. The two of us practiced throwing the stuffed animals so she would understand what to do during those “fire” moments.

Instead of screaming in people’s faces, we talked about grabbing a pillow and screaming her guts out into it.

Instead of biting people, we talked about biting toys that were meant for biting and could provide the sensory input she needs.

Instead of hitting, punching and kicking people and objects, we talked about getting a punching bag for her to use.

Instead of hurting people, use punching bag-Anger Management for Kids: The Caregiver's Responsibility

Sunshine was so excited about these options. My husband and I were thrilled by her excitement.

At this point we know as much as we try, there’s no way to stop the behaviors from occurring. There’s a sensory component to them that she craves. We just need to provide safe alternatives.

Brace Yourself for Life's Unexpected Events

Today’s afternoon plan was to pick up some more of the items we needed to help Sunshine.

We would also take Sunshine to go see Frozen II a few days earlier than planned, in hopes to avoid any major “fire” episodes and the self-defeating behaviors that come after.

Sunshine desperately wants to see Frozen II.  After unsafe post-Christmas behaviors we made the mistake of telling her she needed to have several good behavior days in a row in order to go to the movie theater.

We were worried about unsafe behaviors while traveling to the theater, while in the theater, and especially the transition home, when it hits Sunshine that all of the fun and excitement has ended.

The anxiety and excitement about going to see the movie has been increasing daily for Sunshine. Every morning she’s been telling me how many more days are left until Saturday (the day we had planned to go). She has been holding in negative emotions to be “good.” By this morning, I could tell she was ready to blow.

Sunshine was overjoyed when we revealed our plan to see Frozen II a couple days early. We expressed to her that we saw how hard she was trying to earn the movie, but we noticed the anxiety and excitement were a bit much and we wanted to help.

We got in the van, ran a couple of errands, realized we forgot Sunshine’s medications, and started back to our home before making the hour drive to the nearest theater playing Frozen II. It was during that drive home that we realized something was wrong with our van.

We prepped Sunshine as best we could for devastating news that we probably wouldn’t make it to the theater today. I reminded her that it was okay to feel big emotions, she just needed to be safe when doing so.

Daddy dropped us off at home and headed to the car repair shop. No preparation would help with the flood of emotions that came when Daddy returned and said that we would not be going anywhere.

The van had to be repaired and couldn’t be fixed until tomorrow at the earliest.

We tried to help Sunshine with her emotions.

Instead of screaming at people, scream into a pillow-Anger Management: The Caregiver's Responsibility

I asked if she wanted a pillow to scream into or if she wanted to go hug Stitch, her favorite stuffed animal.

Daddy asked if she wanted to go throw stuffed animals.

Instead of throwing unsafe objects, throw stuffed animals: Anger Management for Kids: The Caregiver's Responsibility

She refused, screaming back at us in anger.

And that was it.

She was on fire, and all we could do was brace ourselves for the unsafe behaviors that followed.

Have a Safety Plan in Place

Life happens.

Sometimes it really stinks.

This situation was absolutely no one’s fault.

But, the emotions were too strong for Sunshine to bear.

For the 45 minutes that followed, my husband and I followed our usual family safety plan, taking turns switching out every five minutes, to ensure both of us were physically safe and could keep our own emotions under control.

Process Your Own Emotions

I won’t lie. We were pretty discouraged.

Besides dealing with Sunshine’s behaviors and emotions, we had just found out our van (our one and only vehicle) needed costly repairs.

We had made the horrible mistake of setting a behavioral expectation followed by a reward which we know does NOT work well. (I blame my poor decision making on the holiday break, but still I’m kicking myself for being so stupid.)

All the excitement from the morning about our plan had been smashed to pieces when Sunshine refused it.

Was it even worth it to invest in more equipment if she already refused to use what we had at home?

How do you help a child with emotional regulation and anger management skills when they refuse it?

Children only become bigger and stronger.

Consequences for their actions only become worse.

The Caregiver's Responsibility

That’s when my husband and I had to remind ourselves, that ultimately Sunshine makes her own choices.

All of her choices have consequences.

Our job is to do the best we can to teach her the skills she needs to be successful in life.

These include emotional regulation and anger management.

If she refuses to learn, that’s on her.

Understanding consequences to choices may be the very best lesson we can teach.

I would much prefer she learn and experience them now, when she’s young, and there’s still time to change, than when she’s older and those consequences have long-term effects on her life.

If she’s not capable, all we can do is do our best with the time that we’re given.

But no matter what…

We as parents can’t give up.

We can’t lose hope.

We need to believe our kids can get better, especially when they can’t believe in themselves.

We need to love unconditionally… not matter what.

And in those moments when our kids are on fire…

We can model appropriate behavior.

We can invite them to do the right thing.

We can set safe boundaries and enforce them.

We can help put out the fire.

My husband and I will move forward with our plan to help Sunshine manage her emotions when she feels like she's on fire.  To help with this process we've created a printable to provide the visuals she'll need to memorize and practice what to do.

FREE Anger Management for Kids Printable: When I'm on fire I can...

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Update:  Sunshine continues to practice expressing anger in safe ways.  She may not be successful every time, but each time she is we celebrate.  The day after I wrote this post Sunshine had three incidents where she was on fire.  During one of those incidents she was able to put part of our plan into action and did great! 

I'm so glad we didn't give up.  Our hope is that over time (months or years) she will be able to choose safe ways to express anger every time with lots of support and practice.
 

Note: If your child exhibits the behaviors discussed in this post beyond the toddler years it is very important that you discuss them with your child's pediatrician.  

Sunshine is monitored by her pediatrician and psychiatrist, as well as teachers, behavioralist, and therapist at her day program. Respite workers help out in the home.  All behaviors are documented and reported to specialists.  If she is unable to be safe, law enforcement has been and will continue to be involved.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the resources below.

4 Steps to Managing Aggressive Behaviors One Sure Way to Help Your Child Work Through Emotions Four Prompts to Encourage Mindfulness in Children A Safety Plan for Mental Health Our Pediatric Mental Health Crisis From the Mother of a Bully
Anger Management for Kids: The Caregiver's Responsibility

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