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Train Your Temper

Everybody gets angry sometimes. Being angry doesn't really solve much — but what people do when they feel angry is important. The goal is to calm yourself down and try to solve whatever problem is bothering you. This is hard for some kids (and adults, too). Instead of calming down, some kids might keep getting more and more upset until they explode like a volcano!

Some kids get angry more often or more easily than some other kids. Their anger might be so strong that the feeling gets out of control and causes them to act in ways that are unacceptable and hurtful. People might say kids like this have a temper, which is a term for acting all angry and out of control. When people say that someone has trouble controlling their temper, they usually mean that a kid misbehaves when feeling angry or frustrated.

Some kids might get so angry that they scream at their mom or dad, punch the wall, slam doors, break something, or — worse yet — hit a brother or sister. Kids are allowed to express their feelings, even angry ones, but it's not OK for a kid to do any of those things.

Kids don't want to (or mean to) act this way — but sometimes angry feelings can be hard to manage. So what do you do if you're a volcano kind of a kid and your temper is getting you into trouble?

Arf! Try This!

Well, the good news is that kids don't just have to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. You can train your temper the same way you might train a puppy. Huh? That's right, we said a puppy.

If you've ever played with puppies, you know they are sweet but a little out of control. Their tails wag furiously and they might tear apart your sneakers or nip at the mailman's behind. Oh dear, what can you do with your puppy? Training is the answer.

In the same way, you can train your temper. Imagine your temper as a puppy inside you that needs some training. The puppy is not bad — it will probably turn out to be a great dog. It just needs to learn some rules because, right now, that puppy is causing some problems for you.

You don't want to keep getting in trouble for the way you act when you're angry. You probably even feel bad afterward if you've hurt someone's feelings or broken a toy you liked. So let's get that puppy trained.

Here are some things to try anytime, even when you're not angry:

  • Get lots of physical activity. Play outside. Do sports you like. Karate or wrestling can be good for kids who are trying to get their tempers under control. But any activity that gets your heart pumping can be good because it's a way of burning off energy and stress. It feels good to boot that soccer ball or smack that baseball!
  • Talk to your mom or dad. If you're having trouble with your temper, the time to talk about it is before you have another angry outburst. Tell your parents that you're trying to do a better job of controlling yourself. Ask for their help and ideas for how you could do this better. Maybe if you go a whole week without a meltdown, they can take you out for a treat. Let them know that if you do get really angry, you're going to ask for their help.
  • Put feelings into words. Get in the habit of saying what you're feeling and why. Tell your parents, "I feel angry when you tell me it's time to stop playing and take out the trash. I don't like taking out the trash." And your parent will probably say (kindly), "I know — no one likes doing it. But it's your job and you need to do it anyway." So using words won't get you out of taking out the trash (sorry!), but it might stop you from slamming the garage door, having a fit about the trash, or doing something else that could get you in trouble. Using words helps people manage their strong feelings and behaviors.
  • Take control. Who's in charge here — you or that wild little puppy? Decide that you're going to be in charge. Don't let those angry feelings make you do stuff you don't want to do.

Four Important Steps

The real test comes the next time you get so mad you could just explode. But don't explode. Put a leash on that puppy with these four steps:

  1. Take a break from the situation. If you're in an argument with someone, go to another part of your house. Your room or the backyard are good choices. Just say, "I want to be alone for a while so I can calm down."
  2. Put yourself in a timeout. If you're feeling angry and think you need a timeout to calm down, don't wait for a parent to tell you — go ahead and take a timeout for yourself. Let your family know that when you're taking a timeout, they need to respect your space and leave you alone to calm yourself down. For kids old enough to do it for themselves, a timeout isn't a punishment: It's a cool-down. While you're sitting in your timeout chair, try this cool-down exercise: Put your hands under the seat of the chair and pull up while you count to 5. Then stretch your arms over your head. Take a nice deep breath and let it out. One kid who tried these steps said he used this time to think about the consequences — like getting in trouble if he let his temper go wild.
  3. Get the anger out. We don't want you punching walls (or even punching pillows), but why not do a bunch of jumping jacks or dance around your room to your favorite music? Turn it up a little. If you go outside, run around or do cartwheels across the lawn. You also could pick up your pen and write it all down. What made you so upset? Keep writing until you've covered everything. If you don't like writing, just draw a picture that helps you express your feelings. Use strong colors and strong lines to show your strong feelings. You also can try the "Be a Volcano" exercise.
  4. Learn to shift. You'll have to work hard to do this. This is where you get that puppy under control. The idea is to shift from a really angry mood to a more in-control mood. After you get some of the angry feelings out, you have to start thinking about other things. Sometimes, when people are angry, they're not really thinking clearly. They're just mad, mad, mad. Only angry thoughts are flying around their brains. A person might even say mean things to himself or herself, like "I'm such an idiot. I lost my temper again!" But you can replace those thoughts with better ones. For instance, you can say, "I lost my temper, but I'm going to get myself under control now." Instead of thinking of the person or situation you're angry with, think of something else. Think of something that will put you in a better mood.

A Tough Question

What if it's a problem that can't be solved? Like being angry about your parents' divorce, or having to go to summer school, or wanting a later bedtime? Or when you just can't get your way about something? Some stuff kids get angry about can't be changed. For instance, if your mom says it's time to stop playing your video game and go to bed, what can you do? She's not changing her mind and you have to get some sleep. Man, that really stinks! You were almost to level 4!

But even if you get really angry, she won't budge. And even if you knock over a chair, you'll still have to stop playing your game. But now you might have an extra penalty for knocking over the chair. Maybe she'll say you aren't allowed to play your game tomorrow! That would be very bad news — you'd have to wait even longer to get to level 4.

Though it's one of the toughest things to learn, it might be best just to tell yourself, "OK, stop the game and get to bed." Some arguments you'll be able to win, but this probably isn't one of them.

That doesn't mean you'll never get your way. You will be able to get your way sometimes. Bigger kids, like you, can learn to make their points calmly without losing it. This approach usually works better with everyone, especially parents. When you do this, you're controlling that wild little puppy inside you. You're in charge instead of that little rascal with the wagging tail.

Have you been wondering why we asked you to think of your temper as a puppy? A puppy is young and loveable — just like you — and wonderful to be around, especially when it keeps its temper under control!

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date Reviewed: Apr 14, 2015

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