How do you help an angry child? When the child has learning challenges, it can be extra difficult. To help our children exercise self-control, we have to control ourselves, keep everyone safe, and then consider what will settle them.
One mother I interviewed for Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner told a story illustrating this. At a playground, a child took something from her son. He shoved the other child, and both started crying. Though her son had done wrong, the mother knew that with his disabilities, she first had to hold him firmly to help him calm down. To the other playground moms, it looked like she was hugging her son for being aggressive or responding in anger. She was not!
Aside from learning how to calm our kids enough to listen to correction, what else can we do? We can:
Children with learning challenges face many frustrations. Before I homeschooled, some days when I asked my son to put away his backpack after school, he would explode. His teacher understood: “He’s emotionally exhausted,” she explained.
That was one reason I began to homeschool: to reduce his stress. Homeschooling reduces stress (for parents, too, according to other parents I interviewed) but doesn’t eliminate it. Recognize that sitting down with their toughest subject may be like climbing Mt. Everest would be for you.
Help our children reduce their stress
- Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise. It will help them feel happier. It will help them sleep, which makes it easier for them to regulate their emotions. It will also help the child with AD/HD or other attention problems improve their ability to focus.
- Let your child get outdoors. Unstructured outdoor play lets a child imagine and manage instead of always being managed, even if all they control is their toy trucks in the sandpit.
- If your child is driven crazy by sounds, smells, or textures, pay attention. Those annoyances that seem minor to you may be like squeaky chalk on a blackboard to a child with sensory processing issues or focusing difficulties.
- Consider getting a pet. Petting or sitting with an animal can be very soothing.
- Look for ways to reduce stress in your homeschool. For example, eliminate timed math facts tests for the child with math learning disabilities. Incorporate math games in your drills instead.
Let our children find solutions
When they do get angry, let your child find imperfect solutions to what’s angering them.
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If you’re like me, you always want the best for your child. Sometimes, however, that costs you an opportunity to let them solve problems on their own. John Gottman’s book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, has an excellent section on encouraging kids to consider their proposed solutions.
I admit sometimes when my young son would come up with a second-rate solution to a problem, I’d be very quick to point out its drawbacks. But I’m learning we don’t always have to do it my way.
It’s helpful to look at solutions on a continuum. We should insist our kids not commit immoral acts or act violently against others. We don’t want our kids to break the law, either. But other things they choose to do in their anger may only be unwise or somewhat ineffective or, from our perspective, second-best.
Temple Grandin and Sean Barron’s book, Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, has an interesting chapter on managing anger, including short pieces from several adults with autism. Dr. Grandin, the world most famous autistic speaker, suggests walking away from deliberately provoking people, complaining to a friend about a difficult client, and best of all, “having lots of interesting things to do with interesting people.”
Other contributors to that chapter suggest diffusing their anger with creativity or humor. Some try to breathe slowly or keep a small beloved object in a pocket, so they can be soothed by touching it. One contributor recorded her strategy of journaling:
I will write down all of the things I think I should do about it and the particulars of who is wrong about things. I then put these notes away for consideration after a good night’s sleep. This way I know I will still remember all of the ‘brilliant’ thoughts associated with my anger and will be able to make use of them later. When it is later, I usually realize that all of my ideas were pretty unrealistic and overwrought.” (p. 360)
That’s a great insight for all of us: those ideas we came up with in a fury usually don’t sound so good in 24 hours.
Get other tips from Kathy Kuhl at a convention in 2016: