How to Discipline an Angry Child

July 9, 2005 at 4:15 pm  •  Posted in Early Childhood Development by  •  0 Comments

By Lynn Hagan, PsyD, CTRL, LCSW

What You Can Do
The Use of Punishment
Teach Discipline by Teaching Consequences
Listen for and Reflect Feelings in Your Child’s Complaints



Very few things try a parent’s patience more than disciplining children. At every age, conflicts with children over their behavior can be a serious source of stress. Expressions of anger by children often bring on angry responses by parents, and often do nothing to correct the child’s behavior and can cause even more harm. Here are some pointers on how to maintain control of yourself as you parent your child through difficult situations.

Be angry over the right things!

A parent’s misplaced anger usually happens for two reasons:

  1. We take what children say or do too personally. Sometimes we give more meaning to a child’s actions than they intend. Harsh words or refusal to do chores can be felt as rejection when in fact it has nothing to do with how a child feels about us. In addition, we must remember the emotional capabilities of children at different ages. Maintaining control of our feelings can best be achieved when expectations are at the right level to suit a child’s age.
  1. We allow anger from other situations to spill over onto our children. When we arrive home from work after a long day and a long wait in traffic, our frustrations over our rough day may cause us to lose our temper with our child in a way they do not deserve. There may also be some other ongoing problems, perhaps with our marriage or other family issues, that cause us to be short tempered over small things that are totally unrelated.
What You Can Do
  1. Parents can give themselves some “decompression” time between work and home so we can clear our heads before dealing with the family. Set up an agreed amount of time with your family, even if it is only a few minutes after you get home, to adjust yourself.
  2. Be aware of other things that are bothering you and seek support from a good friend or other family member. Anger that spills onto our children is confusing to them and can make them afraid to approach us over important things.
The Use of Physical Punishment

The urge to hit our child means we are close to losing control of ourselves. Physical punishment usually takes care of our need to release frustration, at the expense of our child.  Do not hit your child.  It usually results in more resistance and rage in them. Instead, take a “time out” and then go back and try again with our child.

Teach Discipline by Teaching Consequences

Communicating to your child what behavior you expect and what consequence will follow their failure to comply with your expectations is essential. The end product of the consequence must be something that has importance to your child, such as reduced television privileges, permission to visit a friend’s house or talk on the phone. You must be consistent and follow through in applying the consequence. Having patience in waiting out a change in behavior is key.

Listen for and Reflect Feelings in Your Child’s Complaints

Many parents will handle conflicts by trying to reason with a child. Young children have yet to attain the brain maturity for this kind of reasoning. Tell your children you understand their feelings rather than argue or try and reason with them over their demands. Mirroring and reflecting their feelings results in the child understanding that you understand what he or she is feeling. It is less important to solve their problem that it is to address their feelings.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Association of Social Workers or its members.

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