child crying with overlay saying anger management

How to Build Anger Management Skills for Children – Best Ways [2021]

Navigating temper tantrums and developing anger management skills for children can be one of the most challenging things when dealing with children with anger problems. Not being able to see eye to eye or understand what a child is going through is tricky! As an adult, we tend to forget that children are little humans who experience the same emotions that we do, the only difference is, we have learned healthy ways to deal with our own anger, but young children are just beginning to learn better ways.

Helping Children Understand Anger

Imagine having big angry feelings and not being able to express them. At most, anger is a foreign and uncomfortable feeling for children. Little minds process situations differently than we do, what may seem little to us might be very big for them. The first step towards helping behavior problems is to label the feeling. Here are ways we can help kiddos understand what anger is:

Anger in the body

Having children describe where feelings are felt in the body is such an effective way to teach them about emotions. This is my favorite activity to use with my children as an intensive in-home therapist. You begin with a simple outline of a body (download your free outline here) and have the child identify what part of his body is triggered when he feels angry.

I like to go over each portion of the body just to help guide awareness. You make ask questions like “what does your hands do when you are angry?” or “what happens to your face when you are angry?”. You may be able to guide children to realize that their heart rate might increase, or their heads might fill with angry thoughts. This exercise lets children understand that emotions are more than just how we feel but also has an effect on our body as well. Later on, we use this image to help identify warning signs of anger.


Worksheets are a great way to help children understand anger and build anger management skills! It is a way of hammering in what they might already know about anger by putting it on paper and practice.

A good example of an anger management worksheet that I like to do is the classic iceberg. This activity helps children acknowledge that there is more to anger than what you might see on the surface. The activity takes what they previously pointed out in the “Where anger feels in my body” activity and introduces the social concept. The child writes what others may see when he is upset at the top of the iceberg then adds internal feelings and factors on the submerged portion.

For example, a child might write “kicking and screaming” on the top portion then something like “I did not get enough sleep” below.

Feelings vs. Behavior

When helping children understand anger, it is important that we let them know it is okay to be angry. Nobody should ever be punished for having feelings. Here, you can normalize the emotion by helping them see that everyone feels anger on a regular basis. Share stories with them about times you might have been angry too.

This is the perfect opportunity to tie in feelings vs. behavior. The point here is that emotions are normal and it is okay to feel angry, however, how we choose to behave – the actions that we take when we are angry – is what matters the most. A “things I can control” activity really help build insight into a child’s behavior. The concept of this type of activity is helping the child think of situations that he can and cannot control surrounding his feelings of anger. An example would look something like this, “I can’t control what my classmate brings for snack” and “telling my mommy what I want for snack” under what he can control. Helping the child point out that he can also control his body, voice, words, etc is an excellent way to steer inappropriate behavior.

Books about anger management

Books are a great way for younger children to continue to learn about anger and develop coping skills. Here is a list of my favorite books along with YouTube links if your kiddo prefers video content. You can also borrow these books in public libraries.

  1. When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
  2. When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Spelman
  3.  Angry Octopus by Lori Lite and Max Stasuyk
  4.  Don’t Rant and Rave on Wednesdays by Adolph Moser
  5.  A Little Spot of Anger by Diane Alber

How to Help an Angry Child

It is much easier to manage a child’s anger once they have an understanding about what anger is. Imagine telling a child to get the tinchuro and they repeatedly come back with something else. After a few tries, you are both are going to get a little frustrated! It is way easier to tell a child to get something they are familiar with but in this case, teaching the child what a tinchuro is before having them get it would 100% set them up for success at the task. It is the same thing with anger, the best way to help an angry child is to first help them understand anger before doing anything else. Oh! By the way, there is no such thing as tinchuro. I made that up! But get my point? 😊

how to teach children anger management
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Modeling anger management

Modeling appropriate behaviors is such an important tool in anger management for children! You have to remember that the child is not able to understand words at the given moment because he is so sucked into having those huge emotions.

Try to say less and model more appropriate ways of handling frustrating situations. If you must say something, use positive language and reflect how the child is feeling. For example, a child crying at the top of her lungs, get down to her level and say “I see you are so upset, it is okay” and model deep breaths for her until she is able to see and copy what you are doing.

The perfect time to model behavior is also when YOU feel angry as well. In these daily life moments, announce that you feel angry (hint, normalizing the feeling!) and model proper ways of dealing with your anger. It may look something like this “man! It was so traffic today, staying in the car that long made me so angry! But I can’t control someone’s car breaking down, I am going to take a nice long bath to calm down” or “I am feeling really upset right now, do you mind passing me my water to help me cool down”.

Use Social Stories

Social stories are a great tool to use when teaching children difficult skills like anger management. These short stories can be tailored specifically to the child’s situation and be used to prevent a rough time from happening or after as a part of calming down. Read more about social stories and how to make them here.

Identifying triggers

The best way to deal with anger is to be proactive. Here, identifying triggers such as loud noises or crowded places is extremely helpful in creating an action plan (more about this later). Walkthrough this list with your child to help identify early signs of anger and talk about it ahead of time. Triggers can be anything from places to smell or even certain people, so keep an open mind!

Based on the child’s understanding of what anger feels like in the body, you can come up with a list of signs of anger. If you haven’t already, go back to the beginning of the post and do the body activity with your child to come up with a list. You can use this list to reflect feelings of anger such as “I noticed your fists are clenched, how angry are you feeling?” and use an anger thermometer to help the child identify the intensity of their anger. This also helps put things into perspective until it gets too much.

An anger thermometer is a great way to show that anger comes in many different types and forms. For children, this is best understood in intensity which is why anger thermometers are such a popular tool in anger management. When using a thermometer, the child can simply mark where they are and later reevaluate the situation to see if they are calming down or getting angrier. Pro-tip, if a child engages with you and places where they are on a thermometer, they are calm enough to be “reeled in” and redirected to work on coping skills. Sometimes kiddos can be too upset to want to use a thermometer, this is okay! Simply wait for them to be ready using a supportive stance.

             Get a free Anger thermometer PDF here.

Anger Rules/Contract

When things are just too much to handle and the child is inconsolable this is a sign to step back to deescalate the situation and allow the child to express anger on his own in a safe place. Enter Anger Rules! Just like house rules, anger rules are a set of norms that are followed by everyone in the home. This list must be acknowledged by everyone (remember, modeling is the most powerful tool you have!). A set of anger rules might look like “I will be gentle to myself, others, and things”, “I will stay safe in my room” or “I will clean up once I have calmed down”. Ideally, rules should be put in a positive tone and not restrictive. It also helps to have a clear set of consistent consequences laid out to accompany these rules.

Help the child through this hard time

Loss of control is a big factor that heavily plays into feelings of anger. You can help an angry child by supporting them in gaining some control back by walking them through their rough times rather than fixing the problem for them. This approach also helps strengthen self-help and problem-solving skills for kids allowing them to become more resilient.

Praise appropriate behavior

Lastly, praising appropriate behavior is a great way to help an angry child break their habits surrounding anger. There is a strategy called “catching the good” wherein you try to give attention to the child every time you catch them doing good and ignore defiant behavior. Attention seeking is usually the top function of behavior, what most people forget is there are two types of attention: positive and negative.

Try providing attention to positive behaviors more than the child’s undesirable behaviors. For example, when a child is on the floor kicking and screaming and they sit down, immediately praise them by saying “nice sitting, I like how you got up from the ground”. This positive feedback will trigger a response. Now! They might just flop right back to the ground after you praise them (attention-seeking right?), as the adult, simply wait for them to display an appropriate behavior again and praise that. After a while the child will realize you are only providing attention for certain (positive) behaviors and will eventually begin doing more of those.

Anger management activities

Coping skills for calming anger

Pro-tip, effective strategies from this list to make a calm down kit!

  1. Deep breathing
  2. Play with your favorite toy
  3. Drink cold water
  4. Take a bath
  5. Listen to music
  6. Exercise/play outside
  7. Rip paper
  8. Blow some bubbles
  9.  Ask for hugs
  10.  Paint or draw
  11. Play video games
  12. Eat or sensory play with ice cream

Positive affirmations for children

when stuck with vulnerable feelings, children might dig themselves into a hole of negative thoughts. Remind the child what they are good at doing, their strengths, what you like about them, what others like about them. There are a lot of things you can say to help lift a child’s spirit. The goal here is to help them feel good about themselves and gain some control back.

Anger management crafts

Turning feelings into tactile experiences is a great way to displace anger and create a cathartic experience. Art is such a productive way to deal with difficult emotions. Some sensory activities that you can engage an angry child in to help calm them down are:

  1. Water play
  2. Sensory bins
  3. DIY stress ball
  4. Making slime
  5. Create a collage with ripped paper
  6. DIY jewelry with beads
  7. Make a puppet

What To Do When a Child is Too Angry

I understand, things are easier said than done! Most of these strategies will work flawlessly when applied strategically. But I know what you are thinking, “my child is always angry!”. Many of the children I work with go from 0 to 100 very quickly and abruptly. Aggressive impulses are real and your child might be that way too! In this case, these strategies will only work when the child is calm enough to process and becomes more proactive. Oftentimes, there is no in-between time and little opportunity to try to regulate and work through the problem with your child.

I know firsthand how difficult emotional outbursts are. Kudos to you mama! I see you! During these difficult meltdowns and instances where children just lash out, these are the top three things you need to consider doing:

1. Safety first

As little as they may be, with big emotions also comes big strength! Never underestimate the wrath of a child. I literally got picked up by an angry 5-year-old…more than once! Children can even knock down shelves in anger, the extent of their physical aggression can not be overthought. You must remember when a child is angry like this, they are not processing anything, all rationale goes out the window, even if you have anger rules set. The best thing for you to do is protect yourself, the child, and others from aggressive behavior during these angry outbursts.

When a child suddenly is in outrage that is your cue to quickly sanitize the environment. This means, clear the space of any hazards.

a. Secure shelves (if you can) and push furniture in one area. This creates a barrier of things making it more difficult to turn things over and creates an open space for the child to express his/her anger.

b. Clear shelves and table-tops from valuable things and things that can break.

c. Carry out any children in the room to isolate the angry child and avoid harm to others.

d. Provide the child with pillows to throw or protect themselves with if they are exhibiting self-harm behaviors like head butting.

e. Stay with the child to keep them safe and be supportive, however also create distance to avoid becoming the target. It’s a good idea to keep a pillow with you just in case you are targeted. Avoid sitting down and stay on your feet.

2. Anger Management Plan

An anger plan is something you should make as a proactive measure when the child is calm. The plan includes things the child may do when they are extremely angry and how they want you to handle the situation. This is a collaborative plan made with the child that respects everyone in the situation. It may look something like this:

Step 1: identify behavior

      “I noticed when you are really really mad you want to hit your little brother”

Step 2: ask the child what would help them in their point of view

      “what should we do when you start trying to hit him?”

Step 3: give your input (if any) based off of what the child says

Step 4: write it down

With the anger plan in mind, during times of intense anger, you can simply reflect on the plan – emphasizing step 2 (the child’s desire) and do the action. For example “you have an angry face and I think you are mad. I am going to get you a glass of water because you said that is what I should do when you are really mad so you do not hit anyone.”

A lot of the time, having an action plan works wonders only because it plays in the favor of the child and puts reasonable control back into his hands. Anger plans can be evaluated after each “episode” whereas you sit down with the child when they are calm and talk about what went well, what did not work, and tweak the plan a little more.

3. Seek Professional Help

Lastly, I strongly suggest seeking or advocating for professional help when things get too difficult. Clinical psychologists, school counselors, behavior consultants, or mental health professionals are all trained in navigating intense emotions and may benefit both the child and parents. For parents, professionals can serve as a safe haven where you can seek professional help during this tough time as your child learns effective anger management techniques. Parents can also avail of parent training to work on different techniques. Children can see professional help as well to work on behavioral problems, social skills, and anger issues through mental health services. See your local list of providers or ask your child’s school for extra resources.

Let me know in the comments what strategies best works for your kiddo and share some wins.

Until next time!