How to Help Your Angry, Anxious Child Calm Down

You can feel helpless when your child is out of control.

You see them ramp up their anxiety, working themselves to the point of freaking out. Their faces get red, their bodies go rigid, and you're stuck wondering how you can help. You wonder if you should just let them ride out this anxiety or anger on their own... but this happens too regularly to feel comfortable for you. And you hate knowing that they can't cope with these feelings on their own.

The first step is to build a language.

Help your child name what's going on. Is it anxiety? Nerves? Anger management? For younger kids, you can talk about their "worry bully." For older kids, explore how their anxiety and anger feel in their body. 

Then, explore how their feelings impact their behavior.

When strong emotions take over, our bodies and brains start to feel less in control. Help your child link that the anger, anxiety, or worry is the cause of their red face, sweaty palms, tantrums, or outbursts. Usually kids feel like it's their fault that they're acting this way, and it makes them feel like a bad kid. Help them understand that their bodies and brains just need training and skills, and that any kid needs to learn these tools for anxiety management and anger management. 

Finally, build tools - one at a time.

Start with an easy practice - breathing. This is such a fundamental skill, and yet it's one that I review most frequently as a therapist. Demonstrate breathing slowly in through your nose for two beats, and out through your mouth three beats. Be sure to double check that the breath travels all the way down to your diaphragm, instead of getting stuck in the upper part of your chest and shoulders. 

You can also try progressive muscle relaxation, tensing one group of muscles at a time and then releasing that tension, from your toes up or from your head down. This is a great skill to practice at bedtime, when your child typically is already calm and receptive to trying a new school.

Build the skills before the freak out. Be proactive.

It's crucial that these relaxation skills are regularly practiced so that your child can actually use the tools when they're needed. When you practice at calm times, the skills will be recalled much more easily. And if you see your child starting to ramp up, try to catch them before they reach the tipping point. Let them know, "I can see you feel frustrated - I'm going to take some deep breaths, too. Let's practice together." Or if you see their anxiety level raising, try "I think I want to go for a walk because I feel like I want a quick break. Want to come with me?"

Working with your child collaboratively, instead of singling them out and telling them they HAVE to calm down, is going to be most helpful. And, sometimes you need a second opinion and dedicated counseling to help further. 

If you'd like to learn more of Kelsey's anxiety and anger management strategies in St. Louis, MO, email her at compassionatecounselingstl@gmail.com to request a free 15-minute consultation.