Some mysteries are not that deep. If you and your partner are both placid, peaceful people who never get grumpy or raise their voice then, odds on, your children will handle their own anger well. But then there are the rest of us. My kids have seen me angry too often for me to be mystified where they get their tempers from.  That might explain things but it doesn’t excuse me from my responsibility to try to help my children process their anger well.

Most little kids do not control their anger well – they can be aggressive and unpleasant. Learning to handle anger well is a long term goal. There is nothing you can do that will suddenly switch them over to being serene saints who express their displeasure pleasantly with words rather than explosively with their fists.

It would be wonderfully easy to do anger training if it were only a matter of punishment and rewards but it doesn’t work like that. And nor does encouraging your child to pound a pillow or punch a punching bag work very well. Ask yourself: whose face are they imagining they are smashing? It’s a bit scary when you think they might be rehearsing punching their sister or even you! They may experience a cathartic release from the exercise but doing something in your head makes it far easier to do it in reality.

It can be useful to turn strong feelings into activity – shooting hoops or bouncing on the trampoline or going for a run works well with older kids; with younger ones I found sending them off to wash their hands can be amazingly effective – maybe the cool water actually cools their emotions.

A good parenting motto is, “The time to deal with a problem is when it is not a problem”. The middle of an angry outburst is a rotten time for your child to hear your great wisdom. Wait until the heat goes – maybe when they are in bed that night – “Hey you were pretty mad this afternoon. Can you tell why you were feeling like that? What would be a better way of expressing that instead of yelling?” Steady coaching is the way to change angry kids. And good examples of mature anger control – our example! I wish this stuff was easier!

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About Author

John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter


  1. Avatar

    My 8 year old struggles with serious anger issues and gives up very easily (basically he’d rather not try anything anymore) – so bad we were called into school. I figured low self-esteem as his 11 year old brother is just great at everything – and lets him know that every opportunity he gets. I am now working on this issue as well as I believe it is linked. So trying to get older boy on track first but need to get this anger and frustration under control. The sad thing is, he gets it from me… I used to get angry and frustrated well into my adulthood.

    Do you have any books, workshops or any other suggestions on how I can get him to deal with his frustration and anger? Thanks very much, appreciate your suppport.

  2. Avatar

    When anger and stress are put together what can you offer for advice?
    We are talking, strains between toddler & 8 year old
    Strain for attention
    Parent & 8 year old battles.
    This is now a daily thing for us.
    As parents we are ready to throw in the towel!

    Look forward to you advice.

    • Avatar

      Hi Natasha, thank you for your comment. Here are a few thoughts – if you would like to talk more please get in touch and we can arrange a Family Coaching session with you.

      Stress in parents often finds itself spreading to the children and if this is so, getting some much needed respite, counselling or just a good break can help. We often say that
      calm breeds calm and stress breeds stress. Perhaps it is taking something stressful out of life like too many trips in the car to events etc.

      If the toddler and the 8 year old are at logger heads I would look at doing some of these things;

      Take each child on regular one on one dates with just one parent to be able to focus just on one child. It can be as simple as taking one child in the car with you while the other is looked after by someone else.

      The 8 year old will need some time and space for their own toys to be played and kept safe from the toddler.

      Toddlers are going through some very big changes and so let Mr or Miss 8 year old know that toddlers are learning lots of things like; taking turns, waiting, coping with disappointment etc. It is going to take time for the toddler to learn all this and so the 8 year old can be inspired to also be patient and understanding. Let him/her know that you care about and understand his/her big feelings too. Sometimes we defer to the youngest and forget that the older child needs a listening ear as well.

      Being fun and playful is a good tonic that can circuit break some of the stress. It may mean putting on music and dancing around the lounge, or having a water fight outside but fun needs to be factored in any family.

      Be sensitive in what you communicate to the children as it can make children anxious if they feel we, as parents, are losing control. Just a few thoughts, hopefully this helps.

  3. Avatar

    Hi John,
    Just read your comment on angry children.I’m wondering if this works with teens with ADHD. We have a 19 year old with ADHD who has become verbally abusive. Neither my husband or I use abusive language and we have tried telling him not to use it at home but he just gets more abusive. He says we can’t tell him what to do now he is nineteen. Just wondering what you would suggest.