Kids Feel “Out of Control” When Angry and How We Can Help

Emotions can be very strong and feel overwhelming at times, and this is especially true for children. Depending on their developmental level, they may not fully understand what the feeling is, what it is called, why they feel that way or what caused it, and especially how to handle the feelings. It’s up to us as adults to recognize this emotional immaturity and help them to grow.

About a month ago, I was introduced to The Home Teacher’s series of anger management activities called “Don’t Be An Angry Bird.” These are brilliant exercises that incorporate the popular Angry Bird characters into teaching kids about types of anger and various coping skills. They are so fun. All I had to do was hang a picture of the various angry birds up in my room and the curious kids actually initiated the discussion!

Here is a picture of the different types of angry birds.

Side note: For the “Angry Eyes” Bird, I have the kids show me their angry eyes and I show them mine. We have a good laugh at one another! 🙂

So, of all these different types of “birds,” which one would you choose to represent your anger? Which one do you think kids choose most to describe their anger? I have done this activity with at least 10 kids and 9 have chosen the BODY OUT OF CONTROL bird to describe how they perceive themselves when they are angry. I find this fascinating and insightful!

This activity has reinforced the idea that kids are still very new to the big world of feelings. Emotions can be strong and often overwhelming, and for little ones, it’s magnified. Depending on their developmental level, they may not fully understand what the feeling is, what it is called, why they feel that way or what caused it, and especially how to handle the feelings.

The “terrible two’s” is a prime example of what it looks like when feelings are new and the body feels out of control. A toddler will scream, stomp their feel, stiffen their body, roll around on the ground, and run around the room. It’s obvious they are feeling out of control. Consider this the starting point in a child’s emotional development. Over time, they begin to recognize the feelings and learn some self-control. However, it’s not until adulthood (hopefully) that they are fully mature in this emotional development.

So how can we help our kids in their path to emotional maturity?

  1. Validate the child’s feelings. Let them know their feelings are normal and acceptable (even if their current expression of those emotions is not).
  2. Give their feelings a name. Anytime you have an opportunity, label the feelings you observe in the child and help them to label their feelings as well.
  3. Encourage them to verbalize their feelings out loud with I-statements (I’m mad, sad, etc…).
  4. Teach them appropriate coping skills. Keep in mind that modeling these skills is the best teaching tool!!

I will end with a favorite quote from Yoda for all the Littles out there struggling with these Great Big Feelings!

“Control, Control, You must learn control!”

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Published by

Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

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