Light in the Dark: Helping Your Angry Child

Earlier that night my daughter had shown us some big feelings by screaming and crying when I set a limit for no more cookies.  Now, even though it was late and much past her bedtime, I could still see we still had work to do.

Don't need to calm children's angerMy daughter has a huge capacity for emotion. Just the previous night, she'd asked me to color with her. When I sat with her and colored the part of the paper she showed me, she suddenly leaned over and gave me a big hug and a kiss. I could literally feel her love overflowing.

This night, while she was tired and her cup felt empty, her feelings poured out again. This time it was anger.

From the moment I looked at her she began pushing me away and then tried to hit me, all the time yelling loudly. Maybe she wanted to connect and give a warm hug, but instead she lashed out with a swipe of her arm. It felt like she wanted to scratch my eyes out.

This emotion, although difficult to experience, is also a huge gift of trust. I knew that she felt secure enough to show me her ‘dark side,' a part of her she tries to keep buried down deep. I moved closer and attempted to cuddle with her while blocking her hits and scratches, trying to show her it was right to trust me.

Laughter and Tears

Then I held her gently and whispered “I love you,” over and over, and she melted into her feelings.

As the tears came and I encouraged her to yell and cry and punch and kick, so that she could learn that it feels good to let all those feelings go. She punched pillows and pushed against me with her whole body.

Sometimes I would let her knock me over, giving her confidence and making her laugh in the midst of her tears. Sometimes I would hold firm so she would have resistance to push against and letting out all those feelings of frustration and weakness and incompetence.

I stayed present, making sure I was the main focus of her big feelings, and when I asked her if she was done, she showed a great self-awareness by telling me she felt she needed to cry more.

And so, she cried until she felt that she was done. As the tantrum quietened, I felt my own emotion come to the fore. Honor. I felt honored that she trusted me to listen to her through her pain.

From the Hand in Hand Toolbox

Andrea used three Hand in Hand tools during to support her daughter through her angry spell; Setting Limits when her daughter wanted more cookies, Staylistening when her daughter cried and Playlistening to promote laughter as an alternative emotion release. You can download booklets on these tools for more information on these gentle connection parenting strategies.

Andrea McCracken is a candidate in the Hand in Hand Instructor Certification program.

Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges

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