I would love to hear some strategies for managing anger in a 5 year old child. Frequently my requests (for simple things - "please put on your shoes" or "please clear your plate") will be met with an on-the-floor tantrum or straight up verbal defiance. If I send him to his room for a time out (our typical consequence for tantrums) his anger escalates. He yells and hits me or tries to throw things at me. He has the same reactions with his father. Just to be clear, he has not learned this behavior from his parents!

We talk to him after he's calmed down, and try to help him think about his choices, but I'm not sure we're making progress. :( Ideas?

EDIT: Thanks for the responses. We do try to give lots of warning before changing activities - "pick up time is in 5 minutes...2 minutes...ok, time to pick up!" It doesn't seem to help much.

This isn't a new problem, but an escalating one. He's always been an intense child, from day one!

The meltdowns do not seem to be tied to over-tiredness or a specific time of day.

We are homeschooling, with twice-a-week 1 hour classes away from home. One of the reasons for that was to try to avoid the "I've been good all day and now I'm done" melt-downs, which we anticipated occurring. But now I'm considering putting him in school anyway, because I can't teach him when faced with this much anger.

asked 02 Nov '10, 02:11

Emily's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

edited 03 Nov '10, 05:49

+1 Good question!

(02 Nov '10, 10:02) Emi

looking forward to seeing the answers here... my almost 4 year old's response to pretty much any request (ie put on your boots) is "I'm NEVER going to put on my boots" followed by a stubborn sit-down on the floor and refusal to move...

(02 Nov '10, 12:51) Melanie

Emily, how about if you ask HIM how to do something? I wonder whether if by doing it that way you could trigger a different type of reaction to the anger??

(02 Nov '10, 16:01) Emi

Emi, that is an interesting idea. Could you give me a couple of examples so I can understand your meaning better?

(03 Nov '10, 05:50) Emily

Hm, looks like most of my suggestions are no help, sorry about that.

(03 Nov '10, 08:21) Benjol

Emily sorry for such a late reply. For example, How quickly can you put on or take off your shoes? instead of please put your shoes on, and "Can you clear your plate?" instead of "Please clear your plate" its actually very subtle maybe but you're actually giving him a small window of choice, and for an intense child, that could be useful. Our daughter also has a strong character, and we have found that it's easier to get some things done quicker if we open that window so to speak, then she has an opinion/say in the matter too. I wonder whether "angriness" levels differ in boys and girls?

(04 Nov '10, 06:02) Emi
showing 5 of 6 show 1 more comments

My nephew had a problem with controlling his temper when he was your sons age, too. One thing that helped at home was him learning to recognize when he was about to blow-up, when everything just started to feel like "too much" and that he was going to use rage as a pressure valve to release his emotions. His parents taught him to put his hand up at those times like a "policeman saying stop", and they would stop, get down to his level and help him deep breath and count to 20 while holding his hand. Most of the time it stopped the emotion loop he was getting caught in.

Like you my sister also found that timeouts for losing his temper just escalated the problem when it came to her son, worked fine for her daughter though. With different kids, you sometimes just have to use different strategies and remember that kids need the most love when they're the least lovable.

If you think your son might be able to recongnize his early warning feelings of an impeding tantrum, you might want to give it a try, it really helped my nephew learn to control his anger.

(Arrgh, I can't get ahold of her this morning, darn woman having a life! I think they taught him how to recognize he was about to lose it by watching him closely for a week or two and catching him about to lose it and reminding him to ask them to stop. If they did something different I'll update.)


answered 03 Nov '10, 15:02

Neen's gravatar image

accept rate: 30%

I LOVE this idea! We're going to try it tomorrow! Thank you so much. :)

(05 Nov '10, 05:47) Emily

I hope it helps, my sister said to let you know that it isn't a quick fix, it takes time and somedays are better than others. She said that throwing a temper tantrum does/doesn't feel good on the throwing end. The release is cathartic, but they're old enough to know that it's unacceptable behaviour, so they really want another way to deal with emotions that feel so very big. They just can't always manage it.

(05 Nov '10, 06:24) Neen

This is a difficult one. From the outside, not knowing your son, or you, or your situation, one can only speculate.

Is there any correlation between this kind of reaction and the time of day - when he's more tired? Is this new behaviour that has only started recently - are there other circumstances that could be making things more difficult for him (just started school?). For example, if he's having to spend all day concentrating or 'being good' at school or day-care, or if he has lots of after-school activities, this may just be an expression of the fact that he's had 'too much'.

It's strange that in your examples he's throwing tantrums when you ask him to do something. Generally (in my experience) kids get angry when you tell them they can't do something. Is he in the middle of something else when you ask him? Are you breaking his concentration?

Both my daughters have difficulty 'coming down' when they're very angry. I'm not sure that even in their case I know the answers. Sometimes trying to make them laugh helps (sometimes it doesn't!); sometimes just leaving them to 'stew' a bit; sometimes just holding them tight (even if they initially say they don't want to be held). I've discovered recently when they've been fighting that just sticking each one in their bed with a pile of books can really help to calm them down. They need 'quiet time' too.

Another thought: kids are still learning their emotions. At that age, anger can be an expression of any number of other emotions which they don't really understand: frustration, fear, sadness, etc. One thing I think is really important is gradually helping your child to identify these different emotions and give them names. (Obviously right in the middle of the storm probably isn't the best time)


answered 02 Nov '10, 06:41

Benjol's gravatar image

accept rate: 5%


+1 for helping them identify and understand their emotions and great point about "could you be breaking his concentration"

(02 Nov '10, 10:03) Emi

(Pssst, Benjol, I think for 95% of kids, yours is the right answer!)

(18 Nov '10, 17:20) Neen

@Neen, thanks, coming from you, that means a lot!

(22 Nov '10, 06:02) Benjol

We use a "countdown" technique when it comes to having to interrupt our two-year-old from whatever she is doing. It sounds something like, "Okay, I'm going to change your diaper in two minutes...two minutes, please." Then we repeat for one minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds, and then it's time to do whatever needs to be done.

She really hates to be pulled out of something without warning so this method has been helped us avoid many meltdowns at home, the playground, grandma's house, etc.


answered 02 Nov '10, 17:15

blue's gravatar image

accept rate: 26%

Emily look up books by Jane Nelsen. She's co-writen books called POSITIVE DISCIPLINE. There is a book "Positive Discipline Birth to Five" and other ones for different age groups. She explains why generally speaking time out doesn't work. She asks a reader to reflect on how they feel when they get angry and had an equivalent of temper tantrum. Would it be helpful if the other side said: you are to go to your room and think about what you did. Most of us would stew in anger even more. Besides small children by the fact of where they are in their brain development are not able to reflect and come up with constructive strategy for next time. Time out is time wasted, feeling alone - at the time when child need connection most. The truth is when we get angry we need understanding and compassion. We need to know that even though we didn't behave our best we are still loved. We may need to go to a quiet spot but not for a punishment but for sanctuary - a space where we can decompress. J Nelsen suggests that we should create such space, a place of refuge in our house where child can go in time of distress to decompress. She sees this as a very constructive strategy - for life. She explains that if parents teach their children a strategy of seeking a quiet place when distressed in order to relax, a lot of conflict in their adulthood won't happen or will be minimized. There will be a lot less of walking out when in conflict, a lot less laudly shut doors - because they will know what to do in order to relax. Additionally, family members will understand why a person is leaving a scene, show support and compassion. As a result they will feel connected not isolated. The thing about anger is this - we can not and should not try to get rid of it. It is a part of life just like any other emotion and at times when strangers will cross boundaries it may come handy for your son to know that he can express his anger. What our children need to learn from us about anger is how not to be hurtful to themselves and others when angry. Remember that he is just rehearsing his lessons on anger with you. Years ago I have came upon a quote by Aristotle on anger, he said: IT IS EASY TO GET ANGRY BUT TO GET ANGRY AT A RIGHT PERSON, AT A RIGHT TIME AND TO A RIGHT DEGREE THAT IS NOT EASY" Ever since I am striving to get closer to that ideal. Good luck - I know it is not easy. When things get tough remind yourself that it is just a stage.

Also, look up books for children by Becky Bailey. The main character Shubert finds himself in difficult situations which trigger various feelings in him. Then he is taught very methodically some strategies of dealing with his emotions - similar strategies that Neen mentions. If you choose to buy books on Shubert - they are only available from Becky Bailey's website: http://www.consciousdiscipline.com/store/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=12&idcategory=4


answered 22 Nov '10, 04:04

Gosia's gravatar image

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edited 22 Nov '10, 04:34

Another book with a similar philosophy is The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. There a number of links to different books with suggestions in the following question http://moms4mom.com/questions/5072/what-are-some-good-parenting-books-for-strong-willed-spirited-children

(22 Nov '10, 18:15) Tammy ♦♦
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Asked: 02 Nov '10, 02:11

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Last updated: 22 Nov '10, 04:34