How to Calm an Angry Child

Anger is an emotion we can all relate to, but it can be incredibly hard for us to allow our children to express it. They need to. If kids can’t share their anger, it doesn’t cease to exist. It festers, usually causing more frequent and intense flare-ups, discharged in bursts of impulsive limit-pushing behavior. It is also likely that unexpressed emotions like anger may be stockpiled and distilled into chronic anxiety or depression.

We can know all those things intellectually, yet calmly accepting our children’s anger isn’t intuitive. In a flash, their angry outbursts might trigger our own (How dare you behave that way after all I do for you!); or make us afraid or guilty and compelled to say or do whatever it takes to douse their flames (“Please stop. Calm down, Sweetie. Here, let me hug you and make this all better!”).

The truth is that our young children don’t yet have the brain maturity to control their intense feelings, so attempting to enforce self-control or self-censorship (particularly when we’ve lost composure ourselves) only teaches kids that their feelings aren’t safe or acceptable and must be hidden away. Of course, this is the opposite of what we want them to learn. Our children are truly calmed when self-control is modeled by us and they receive the consistent message that their feelings are safe for them to experience and share with those who love them. We make that possible when we:

  1. Let go of our urge to calm.

Just let kids be angry. Comforting words and cajoling — even hugs that stem from our own discomfort or impatience — will have the unintended effect of telegraphing our lack of acceptance. And it is difficult at best for children to feel safe or comfortable when their parents are not.  If we consider the flip-side, most of us would really rather not be wrapped in an unsolicited embrace when we are truly angry.  It’s an interpersonal non-sequitur, and it can feel dismissive rather than empathetic, perhaps even patronizing.  Instead…

         2. Focus on staying calm.

Breathe. Re-center or reset using calming imagery (like a hero suit). Practice visualizing angry feelings and behaviors as the symptoms of an out-of-herself child needing our support as she lets off steam (rather than an unruly brat).

         3. Keep children safe by containing anger-fueled behavior while accepting and acknowledging the feelings.

We acknowledge what we see in an open, encouraging manner: “You didn’t like it when I said you couldn’t ___. I hear that! You feel like hitting and throwing things. I’m here to stop you” (blocking hits or holding the flailing child’s wrists as needed, calmly moving unsafe objects the child might be heading toward, etc.). Whenever possible, refrain from over-restraining (which, like hugging, can make children even angrier). We do the least amount possible to keep the situation under control so as not to add any of our own energy to the situation.

          4. Hold steady and let the storm pass.

This isn’t the time to analyze, re-state our case, or otherwise attempt to “reason” children out of their emotions. Emotions are beyond reason. When in doubt, it’s best if we say nothing and just accept with a nod of the head.

Besides hero suit imagery for helping us to hold steady, I’ve suggested picturing ourselves as an anchor in a stormy sea. Recently, another, more relatable analogy occurred to me… a windstorm.

The windstorm image came to life for me recently during a morning jog on a nearby beach. There’d been a violent storm the night before and it was still blustery. This was a breeze when I was jogging with the wind at my back, but going the other way was, naturally, far more challenging. Some gusts were so powerful that even with my best efforts to push on, I could only make incremental progress. I was practically jogging in place.

Wind-whipped sand stung my face, and there were several times a blast forced me to the side, and I had to pause, reset, and get myself back on track. I imagined these moments as similar to a raging child connecting a hit or kick that isn’t blocked or caught in time. We’re forced off-balance and have to collect ourselves and re-center. Lashing back angrily at this irrational, emotionally fueled force of nature would be as pointless as hollering at a windstorm.

Then, as if on cue, I was presented with a real life example of a healthy response to anger.

I had finally completed my run and was walking the rest of the way to my car when I saw something that made my heart sink. A sea lion pup lay motionless where the parking lot met the sand, apparently having made it the entire way across the beach before it died. (Sightings of dead and near dead seal and sea lion pups have been a depressingly common occurrence on West Coast beaches these past few years, particularly after a storm.)

A rescue worker from the California Wildlife Center had just parked her vehicle and was approaching the pup from the rear, towel in hand (to cover and remove it, I assumed). Suddenly, it raised its head, and with a ferocious roar turned to bite her. I screeched and jumped. The young rescuer didn’t even flinch. Lifting the pup calmly and adeptly, she shot me a gentle smile as I sheepishly explained, “Sorry… I thought it was dead!” And then, “Thank you for all you do. You’re amazing!” Moved by her capable, unflappable handling of the wounded sea lion and thrilled that it might be saved, I choked back tears. She knew something I want to always remember… Beneath most displays of anger and aggression are pain and fear.

We can do this.

For more encouragement to let anger be, and an example of how this approach “looks” with a toddler, here’s a success story that Hsiao-Ling shared in a respectful parenting Facebook group about the toddler she cares for (who has been adjusting to the recent birth of her baby sister):

I don’t think I could be as calm as I was with E this morning (particularly with all the other parents and kids in the room) without Magda (Gerber), Lisa (Sunbury), and Janet’s teachings. All I heard in my head was, “You are so mad, and I will let your feeling be.”

We were at an indoor park. E climbed up to the play kitchen counter. She has never done that before. I walked slowly to her and said, “E, I saw you climbing up here. This area is not available for climbing. You can come down by yourself, or I can help you to get down.” She said no and attempted to stand up. I acknowledged, “I see you really want to stay up here, but this area is not available to climb and stand. I will pick you up now.”

As I put her down, she screamed no, picked up a toy and threw it. I said, “You are mad, but I can’t let you throw.” She backed away from me and picked up a basket. I held down the basket and said, “I won’t let you throw.”

She let go of the basket and ran toward another basket. I blocked her way and contained her with my arms and legs without holding her (there were other children in the kitchen area). She pushed, cried, kicked, and said, “Go!”

I responded, “You want me to go,” so I slowly withdrew my arms and legs. But then she ran to a stop sign, picked it up, and threw it on the ground. I acknowledged, “It looks like you are still mad.” She ran back to the kitchen area. I didn’t want to take any chance of her throwing toys and hurt other children, so I decided to pick her up and said, “E, I can’t let you go to the kitchen area when you want to throw. I am going to pick you up, and we are going to go over there (walking). You are safe here, and you can be as mad as you want.”

We stayed in the corner. She screamed, pushed, kicked and cried while I contained her. I didn’t say much other than acknowledging she was mad. As she calmed down, I asked, “Are you ready to play?” All of a sudden, she burst into laughter, and said “Yea. Ready to play.”

She ran to a cart, pushed it up to the ramp, sat, and slid down as if nothing had happened!!

I know I am not perfect, but I was grateful for the opportunity to practice being a safe container for E’s feelings.

At last! I’ve created the No Bad Kids Master Course to give you all the tools and perspective you need to not only understand  and respond effectively to your children’s behavior but also build positive, respectful, relationships with them for life! Check out all the details at ♥


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. avatar Stephanie says:

    Do you have any suggestions for dealing with anger in a public place where screaming isn’t appropriate? My 3.5-year-old and I were at the library one day when he began throwing blocks near younger kids. I asked him to stop throwing the blocks and then told him we would have to leave if he didn’t stop. When he threw another one, I told him it was time to leave and a full-fledged kicking/screaming tantrum ensued. I carried him outside to the car and he refused to get in his car seat, so I suggested that we go for a walk until he was ready to get in the car. We walked around with him screaming at me and trying to get me to let go of his hand (we were at a busy intersection). He then bit me hard enough to break the skin and I didn’t react well to that. I ended up having to abandon the car and carry him home, flailing and yelling all the way. (This all went on for at least 30 minutes, so it wasn’t short-lived like in the example above.) What could I have done to handle the situation better?

    1. This is the kind of thing we are also experiencing (daughter is 4) so I’m keen to see any helpful advice too.

    2. First, I would move close as soon as the unsafe behavior began with the blocks. When children go to these places of impulsive, inappropriate behavior, they need more support than just telling them to stop. He was signaling that he was “out-of-himself”. I would say something like, “I can’t let you throw those…” while my hand was ready to stop him doing it again. Then if he tried to do it again, I would say something like, “You feel like throwing and that’s not safe. We are going to go.” I’d either be taking his hand or picking him up at that point.

      Then I would take him to the car as you did, and if it was physically impossible for you to help him into the car seat, I would still allow him to meltdown there in the car. I’m not sure I understand why you took him for a walk. I have the sense that you were too tentative… trying to make all of this okay for him, rather than fully accepting and allowing the feelings.

      Then, later, I would have considered why that happened and what you could do to prevent this… (though that’s often impossible). Was he tired? Low blood sugar? Stressed? In a life transition of some kind?

      1. avatar Stephanie says:

        Thank you, Janet. After struggling with him in the car for awhile, I felt like trying to restrain him the car seat was making the situation worse, so I was hoping a little walk would help him calm down. That didn’t work, obviously!

        1. I understand, Stephanie. As I tried to convey in this post, when our intention is to help our children calm down, we tend to make matters worse. We prolong the tantrum when children don’t feel our complete acceptance of their feelings.

      2. Please can you advise what to do if the out of control anger behaviour has not gone away with age – my son is now 8 and very solid. When he gets angry he can be physical – like barging, kicking – to me or to whomever he’s having the altercation with, and cannot be reasoned with. Each time this happens we tell him at the time and later that hitting/ out of control anger/ screaming/shouting is not acceptable – that we need to talk calmly and not be physical. I can’t pick him up to remove him as he has gotten too big.

        1. Hi Rose – That sounds challenging. Reasoning with children of any age (or even adults) seldom helps when they are in a dysregulated state, and can make matters worse. Have you had your son assessed by an OT or other professional? I would consider that he does need a way to express this anger. Screaming and shouting can be healthy ways for a child to do that. Can you keep him and others safe while allowing him to scream and shout.

  2. avatar Shane Komal says:

    Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Good stuff as always. One trick that is pretty reliable if the adult can get in a frame of mind that is independent of, not reactive to the anger, and the technical term might be “entrainment” make an observation that shows you really know the kid like. Other successful parents have said things like: “You really like water, don’t you.” or “You love trucks, don’t you?” “You are quite the ball player, aren’t you. I’ve been impressed with your kicking ability.” or whatever is deeply true about the child. Be disarming. See if you can find some humor in the situation that you can both relate to. SO you can both get back on the same page about something–something you both love.

    1. Thank you so much, Rick. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Hmm… that’s an interesting idea… but I personally wouldn’t recommend changing the subject in order to calm a child.

      1. Janet,

        I have found much of the information you post helpful, but I am wondering about your response here? Why would changing the subject not be a good thing? I am not trying to be argumentative, but having used this successfully, would like to know why you think this method shouldn’t be used.
        I often use humor to “disarm” a situation with my children and it works like a charm. It’s like while angry, your children look at you like an adversary and the humor brings you back into connection.
        I think children, just like adults can often get upset about things when they are too focused on getting/doing what they want and then discover or are told by someone else that they can’t have/do that “thing”, even when it may be completely silly. That is where the tantrum/anger comes in and we are to let them fully feel/express that anger safely until they have expressed it and can then move forward. I guess to me it seems like using humor to shorten that expression of anger, allowing them to focus on something else more quickly would be a good thing. Laughing is supposed to be good for us, right? And connection?
        Anyway, just my thoughts. I am certainly no parenting expert, or I wouldn’t be on your website, would I be:-)? Thanks for all you do.

    2. avatar Ale Munoz says:

      I try to do this with my daughter. It’s getting harder as we have a newborn and I can’t always put him down ‘safely’ away from her hitting or throwing things at us.

      I’m not sure what to do when baby’s in my arms ..


  4. Wow. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. Thank God for you, Janet! So much important wisdom. And beautiful example from Hsiao-Ling that we can all learn from. The little anecdotes — like hers and the one with the seal — are so important in your pieces because they enable us to picture what is going on and so better internalize it. Question: What to do when you just can’t take the loudness of a toddler’s screams? Some of the can be ear-splitting, as you know. Or if you’re in public and don’t want other people to be bothered by screams and cries. Thanks for all you do! (BTW, there should be a way to click ‘share comment on Facebook’ – no?

    1. Aww, thank you, Ruth! Yes, I thought Hsiao-Ling’s story was a perfect illustration.

      Regarding a screaming toddler, if you were home, you could certainly unobtrusively and calmly hold your ears. In public, I would take my child to the car, if possible, so that she wouldn’t be unraveling in front of others. I see that as more respectful to the child and everyone else.

  5. What if as parents we stay calm, and allow the expression of anger, but the expression of anger is infringing on the rights of other people in the family? Like, throwing a screaming tantrum for an hour in a small house when other children and adults are trying to sleep and rest? Holding the family hostage and not letting others leave/get done what they need to get done because the tantrum is on going? This is about older children (4 – 7) So maybe not appropriate here?

    1. This becomes a kind of vicious cycle, because the child’s feelings are intensified and prolonged when they put the parent is on edge. So, if you could let go and let the child release his or her feelings all the way just a couple of times without it annoying you in the slightest, or making you impatient, etc., this would stop happening.

      I’m not sure I understand how this behavior could be “holding you hostage”. It’s annoying yes, but it sounds like you are giving it too much power and attention. If you carry on with your life while calmly accepting the feelings, the behavior will lose its power.

      1. Well I know exactly what he means! We live in a huge duplex, upstairs and down. Paper thin walls. We have 2 elderly parents upstairs that we care for, and neighbors on the other side with 2 children. My 2 year old daughter doesn’t go to sleep until around 11pm, sometimes later! So if she is expressing anger anytime after 8, it becomes an issue for everyone! I’ve tried getting her to sleep earlier, but she treats it as a nap and stays up into the wee hours of the morning. So yeah! I get holding everyone hostage! So many different schedules, and a screaming toddler late at night, puts us ALL in a situation!

        1. That’s sounds very difficult for you, Wendy.. and even more difficult for your child. I would consider how to help your child feel more comfortable and less powerful, beginning with a much earlier bedtime. Any idea why your child is so angry?

      2. avatar Narelle Kiraly says:

        One night I refused to let my 3 year old sleep in our bed anymore as we do not get a good nights sleep (with all the kicking in spleen I receive) I picked him up kicking and screaming put him in his bed and gently restrained him to keep him safe. He screamed at me all the reasons why he wanted to be in mummys bed all the time i was remaining very calm, difficult at 2am in the morning. He sleeps in his own bed now! I could have distracted him but ultimately this is not accepting the emotion he is going through. We have had a full blown tanty in the car before (as he refused to get in his seat) i sat calmly and he fell asleep on the floor (he was over tired, hence the tanty). Janet I find your posts very very helpful. Thank You.

        1. Wow, I know how hard those interactions can be. Parenting is about making the best decisions we can for our family. And children need to be able to disagree. How wonderful that you were able to allow your boy to express those feelings!

      3. I think she means that you are say trying o get out the door to go to church…and your 5 yr old is stanading at the door screaming because he wants hot chocolate like daddy has and he doesn’t want to share daddy’s because it is to hot…and it Is freezing outside and you are standing in PJ’s because today you are not going to church. He won’t come in, won’t shut the door, won’t stop throwing a giant tantrum because he has decided he wants what he wants. The other children are in the car…daddy is in the car….and he is totally out of control. He is holding everyone hostage…the people who want to get to church on time….me who wants him to come in and shut the door because I am freezing. So letting him “experience ” his anger is a luxury of time that we didn’t have. I wish I could have instructed my husband to just drive away….I didn’t handle it well….and now my sadness and guilt for yelling are holding me hostage too. I literally have to psyche myself up every day….asking for prayer from God to give me the strength and patience to parent hm well. But I feel like I have no reserves left. He challenges everything. I will try to let him express his anger next time…but the real issue is the anger inside of me when he gets this way when we have a time issue. If we are good with time I have let him go through it….but when he is holding everyone else hostage (and being late is a trigger for me) I tend to not react with calm.

        1. Dee, I hear you loud and clear. It is so tough when you have to fight your way through every day.
          My son was a shocker for not wanting to do what needed to be done, even when it was something HE wanted to do. The tantrums were truly spectacular and, if “Throwing a wobbly” was considered a qualification he would have aced all the exams!!
          It was worse if I was tired or hungry or hadn’t left myself enough time to accommodate the “hostage situation” that ensued.
          I have spent many years beating myself up emotionally for losing it and it has taken a lot of time and energy to realise I did what I did with the skills I had at the time.
          As parents and teachers, we can see the sense in all of these wonderful ideas and heart-felt parenting tips and they are great. BUT we are not going to get it right every time. All we can humanly do is our best.
          We can also only be responsible for ourselves. I believe children learn to take responsiblity for their behaviours over time, but in the meantime, we must not blame ourselves for what they do.
          Do all you can to give yourself and your child enough time for what you know is likely to happen.
          Give yourself permission to ride it out and let things go their natural course. Face each day with the thought that it will be better than yesterday.
          Take note of what was good, what worked and what was positive, leaving the negative behind.
          Make routines – After church every Sunday sit down and have hot chocolate together as a family, etc.
          Talk about the great things you see in your child when he can hear you. “He helped us to get to church on time this week, it was great”
          Keep reminding yourself you are a good parent.

  6. Is hope lost with older (7-8) children using this method? Because I really like this method, just don’t know if it can be used at that age. I am nanny to two and the older brother acts violent towards his sister when he is angry. Mom and dad have told sister to just walk away until he cools down, but then they let him do whatever he wants (breaks things, hits them, etc) until he finally lets it go which is sometimes hours. I will be there most of the day and do not like this behavior, but what can I do as only a part-time presence?

    1. I would intervene by preventing and containing his behavior, as I’ve suggested in this post. Acknowledge, “You feel like hitting! I will stop you.” It sometimes helps to think to ourselves, “don’t worry… I will always stop you. I hear you.”

  7. I have a question about what to do in a particular situation. We took my 2.5 year old to Disneyland yesterday. He stood not getting on the bus from the parking lot to the park and a big line was behind us. I encouraged him to get on, but picked him up when he wouldn’t and sat down on the bus. He screamed almost literally the entire way about how he wanted to step on the bus himself. Then he screamed about how he didn’t want to be on the bus. I felt so badly for the people sitting next to us and while I did tell him I understood he was frustrated and heard what he was saying about getting on the bus, I also told him that his screaming was too loud and was hurting everybody’s ears. Finally the bus arrived and he screamed that he didn’t want to get off. (Luckily that was the last of any big issues beyond reminding to stay close, etc. and we had a wonderful day!) Anyway, I’m wondering how I could have handled the situation better. I believe I could have been more clear about how he needed to step or I’d pick him up, but allowed myself to be stressed by the line behind us. But I don’t know that we would have ended up with a different result. I want to be respectful of strangers around us having to deal with a screaming fit while also allowing him to express his frustration.

    1. I think you handled this as well as you could have.

  8. Do you have any advice for 2 parents in total conflict over this please? I really believe in your methods but my husband will always step in and punish for any kind of hitting or shouting or even too much ‘whinging’. My husband won’t listen to a word I say on the matter so my little boy is very conflicted. We both are trying to stand our ground on our beliefs.

    1. I wish I had the answer for that, KJ. I’m wondering if you have considered seeing a counselor together. Generally it is better if at least one parent is allowing the child to express the feelings safely. But your husband’s harsher responses will no doubt create more continuous emotional turbulance for the children.

  9. avatar Monika Keeley says:


    Do you recommendations remain the same for a 6 year old? Any additional insights for older kids would be appreciated. My daughter started exhibiting intense anger, and even rage when she entered kindergarten.


    1. Yes, I do recommend accepting your child’s feelings… at any age.

  10. I think it’s also important to note that anger is always a secondary emotion. Teaching emotional intelligence at a very young age means teaching what the primary emotions are that have led to the anger (frustration, disappointment, fear, etc), so children can learn to identify those feelings and verbalize them before the anger erupts. This is truly a life skill it’s imperative we teach, otherwise children continue to believe their anger is their most powerful tool to getting what they need.

    1. This is an excellent point! I struggled with anger management myself in my late-teens, early-twenties, until I read a very helpful book (Prescription for Anger, I believe) that explained this concept to me. It was life-changing.

  11. Hi Janet!

    I always love your articles, and, after reading your book, have become a true convert to the RIE lifestyle. Unfortunately, I am quite late on the game. My oldest is five, my middle is three, and I have a four-month old baby. I am having quite a bit of difficulties with my two oldest ones, who can’t seem to stop squabbling! I hope you will be able to respond, although I completely understand how busy you are.

    A common example is as follows. Last night, while reading books before bed (they each choose one for me to read), my daughter (the younger of the two) began to rip one of my son’s drawings. I told her that Alex had worked hard on that, and that it would hurt his feelings for her to continue – which, continue she did. My son had a proper meltdown and began seizing for one of her drawings to tear. I held him back and very calmly explained that I understood it upset him greatly, he worked very hard, etc, but that I would not allow him to tear her art. He could not release his need to do to her what had been done to him, and while I continued to acknowledge his feelings, I wasn’t sure if there wasn’t something else that should be done.

    This seems to happen daily, although my daughter is not always the antagonizer. It is both while I am playing with them both, and while they are playing together. My son’s anger in particular seems to dwell – he will seem to calm down, and then half an hour, two hours, or maybe even a full day later remember the issue and erupt again. I was wondering if you have any advice? I have moments when I respond with anger as well, but in general I am a pretty calm parent.

    Thanks Janet! I hope you are having a beautiful day, and I hope to hear from you soon!

    Warm wishes,

    1. Hi Tori! I would have stopped your daughter from tearing the artwork, rather than asking her to and expecting her to follow your directions. It sounds like they both have feelings to express (probably due to the adjustment to the new sibling), and testing limits is the way they will do that.

  12. Hi Janet,

    Thank you for this article. I’m reading it for the first time, even though my wife asked me to read it weeks ago. And as I write this at 3 a.m., I feel like breaking down and crying. I am at a loss as to what to do with my child. And to make matters worse, I am finding it very hard to remain calm anymore.

    Our daughter has been struggling for a long time with violent behaviors, and it while we have both worked very hard to learn constructive responses in order to contain her anger and violence, the behavior has continued. Right now we are on vacation, which should have been fun, but it feels like it has been marred by her consistent hitting of me and my wife, as well as her shouting at us words like “shut up.”

    Forgetting where she learned to speak that way to us, since we do not speak that way to each other or to her, this is simply becoming untenable for me. I am on edge all the time, and therefore, I am unable to remain calm when she lashes out.

    I am so ashamed to say that tonight after she woke up at 2 a.m. with wet sheets– and I helped her get dry and ready for sleep again– when she started yelling and hit me, I grabbed her little body and yelled at her to stop hitting. I feel horrible.

    Moreover, it is driving a rift between me and my wife, since she feels like she is the only one who remains calm in this situations. And, frankly, after tonight’s performance by yours truly, I agree.

    Besides working on meditation for myself, what can I do? I am at my wits end…and I am worried that I can no longer effectively parent.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Daniel – I’m honored you reached out to me. Please forgive yourself, because your responses are perfectly understandable… Problem is, they aren’t helpful, because they create more discomfort for your daughter… which then leads to more of this aggressive behavior. Here’s something else I wrote about that:

      The key to being able to respond differently is to perceive your daughter and her outbursts differently. Have you listened to any of my podcasts? Those might be helpful because I am able to demonstrate tone… and I share a lot about perception. I’d also recommend a telephone consultation, if that was do-able for you: Without knowing more about the particulars, your daughter’s age, etc., it is difficult for me to advise you here in the comments.

      I’m also getting the impression from your comment that your daughter’s boundaries might not be clear enough for her. That is often why children lash out this way… but that’s just a guess based on a couple of things you’ve shared. Sorry I can’t be of more help. Please let me know if you’d like to arrange for a consultation.

  13. Hi my 3.5 year old is going through a really tough time where her angry out burst which can last over an hour. She us extremely jealous of her 2 year old brother and is hitting me a lot. As far as I understand her anger stems from me going into hospital for 2 nights when I gave birth to her brother, she was only 20months old but remembers. This came out in tears after an angry tantrum. A couple of times I have lost my temper with her screamed at her and hit her back on her hand as a response to her hitting me. I do realise this was completely the wrong thing to do however since this incident things seem to have got much worse. Her tantrums are daily, last night she woke up at 4am tantruminf kicking, throwing hitting etc. Since I recognise my mistake I am trying really hard to remain calm and contain her. Not allowing her to hit me telling her that I will keep us safe but recognising that she is mad. After she exhausts her self she will eventually calm down on my knee all the while she tells me not to touch her so I respect her wish. When setting boundaries I always follow through and am consistent. I am wondering if you have any idea how long it will take to resettle her feeling or whether I need to seek some support from anyone?

  14. When my 27mo old daughter is angry she tries to bang her head, either on the floor, or a nearby hard object. I have tried holding her and saying “its okay to feel angry but I don’t want you to hurt yourself” but then that gets pretty close to hugging or forced calming, which you talk about as a “not to do”. Last time I held her, she hit me instead. Should I just let her hurt herself that way? What would you suggest?

    1. I wonder what would happen if you just casually slid a pillow between your daughter’s head and whatever she is trying to bang it against…

      1. Yes! That’s exactly what I would recommend. Thank you, Melissa

  15. Hi Janet,

    I’m wanting advise on which book to buy on your site

    I have a 5 year old daughter who has just started Kindy this year. She has started to have some really bad tantrums at night and I need some strategies, so I can deal with them when they happen.

    What book can you suggest?

    1. My book No Bad Kids or Parenting With Presence by Susan Stiffelman or No Drama Discipline. You might also find my free podcasts helpful:

      Generally, I would say that she is demonstrating that she has feelings she needs to express to you. So I would welcome that, remain calm and let her feelings be.

  16. Janet,
    I am at a complete loss regarding how to help my 3 year old son. I also have a 13 year old daughter, and a 5 year old daughter. My son, however, is the most perplexing to me. He has always preferred rough play, though he plays pretend wonderfully, loves climbing and running and such, and enjoys a few sensory bins I’ve found on pinterest. He’s super articulate, and an all around amazing kid. However, I am falling short as a mom when it comes to helping him deal with outbursts. Earlier today, my 5 year old was sitting on the couch, minding her business, and he ran over to her and jumped on her head, punching her. He does this often. It seems to be out of nowhere.
    Later this afternoon, we went to the playground. When we first arrived, we were the only people there. A few other families arrived shortly thereafter. When my son saw that other children were making there way toward the swings, he stomped over, me on his heels. He started to grab the swing and push it towards one of the other children. I told him I wouldn’t let him push the swing at the kids, and picked him up. He immediately started flailing and punching and kicking and screaming at me. I walked us over to our minivan and put him inside to tantrum safely. It went on for sooo long. I know I can’t put a limit on the time, but I was really becoming unruffled and panicking.
    I just seem to become triggered so quickly by his outbursts. I’m currently in therapy to help me deal with this, but I’m also trying to help him NOW. It was so embarrassing, him beating on me in front of the other parents. It really feels like he and I both have a hair-pin trigger. I KNOW I am the adult and need to be capable for him (and for me). I just don’t know WHY he hauls off on his sister and other kids like that.

    Sorry for the book. I just really need help.

  17. Hi Janet,
    Thank you for your work! I’m basically a RIE groupie. It seems to me that the more we learn about parenting with RIE, the better we become at everything.
    Speaking to this post, I think we’re in a rut with tantrums. The thing I’m curious about how you might elaborate is self harm. I’d love to allow my son to be angry without intervention, but he hits himself and bangs his head constantly. I’ll hold him letting him know I want him to be safe, and it’s still ok to be upset. I really want to refrain from restraining him (it lasts for about an hour a few times a week), but he’s started banging his head and looking at me in a challenging way- I’m assuming he’s trying to get a reaction or it’s a cry for help. Either way I end up restraining him every time. Sometimes he hits me and it hurts and I’ll say “ouch” loudly- I’m sure that’s not helping either; another reason to try to move on from the bear hug. While still crying and screaming he’ll ask to play or read. I tell him that we’ll need to wait until he can breathe deeply so that I can be sure he’s safe. I’m not sure if the play requests are an attempt to get back down and throw and hit, or trying to move on and calm himself. But, I get the feeling that it’s all a cyclical rut and he really needs to let it all out with being held. How can we keep him safe from repeated self harm and allow him to share his emotions freely? Is that possible?

  18. Excellent, thank you!

  19. Hi Janet,
    My 2-year-old girl does not want to go to sleep even i consistently implemented sleep training to her. At the bed time, she is very angry and always cries loudly while her eyes are going to close. I guess her body is tired but her brain doesn’t want to sleep. I followed your advices in this post to calm her down. However, i am not successful yet. May you help me? Thank you,

  20. Hi can you help me please. I have a very strong willed 2 year old who has some big outbursts, usually at home. She will not share with her 8 month baby brother, always snatches toys his and hers and hurts him. Sometimes she is just over loving him and holds on to him to tight for to long and other times she is just mean. She will stamp on his feet, hit him, push his head into the floor and pull his hand away when he’s pulling himself up.
    I used to use the time out spot but read somewhere that’s not a great idea so I used the nice voice and tried to encourage her away to play somewhere whilst explaining what she did was not nice but she just Carrys on. Need advice to help the two babies through this stage safe and fast.

  21. avatar MumInTrouble says:

    Any idea when these anger issues begin? I have a 20 months’ old son and he started getting angry (or rather hysterical I would call it) about 2 weeks ago. Isn’t this too early for a 2 year old rebellion? He doesn’t talk yet so I never know what is he getting upset about. Sometimes it’s over breakfast, sometimes over something he wants to have. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night (if there can be any reason).

  22. Whew…my nearly 1 year old just had her first big tantrum. Fortunately I’ve been following your blog and reading your books so I felt somewhat prepared, but it was still really hard, and kind of scary.

    It was about 30 minutes before nap time and all of the sudden she started screaming, writhing and thrashing around the floor, kicking her legs, and crying so hard I thought she might pass out. We had an ordinary day so I’m not sure what set this off, but I tried to just be a calm presence and sit quietly with her. Where I struggled was with realizing that it was just about naptime, and perhaps her tantrum was because she was tired and ready for her nap earlier than usual. So I felt like I needed to “interrupt” her tantrum and get her into bed, since rest was what she ultimately needed (and she did fall asleep rather quickly and painlessly). However, I didn’t want to stop the tantrum if she hadn’t gotten it out of her system yet (but honestly it felt endless…although maybe only about 15 minutes).

    So I’m wondering if you have any insight on tantrums due to tiredness? Should the parent still let the tantrum run its course, or should we intervene and help the child get some rest? Also how long do tantrums typically last for a one year old? I know I’m a newbie at this but gosh it seemed like it would never end. 🙁

  23. I can’t tell you how much your podcast and articles like this one have helped me as a parent. I had a difficult childhood and have only terrible parenting templates to fall back on. Your techniques are helping me become the parent I want to be, which is invaluable!
    Just today, my three year old boy was ‘helping’ mop the floor while it was being mopped. I asked him to please get off the wet floors, as his dirty feet and broom were making it dirty again. This prompted an enormous tantrum, screaming with rage and fury that I didn’t want him to help, I wouldn’t get him his own mop to help, etc. The thing is, I knew that he was venting a lot of pent up feelings. We had to go back to the hospital this morning for x rays of his lungs just weeks after he had his appendix out. He was scared of being readmitted, but held it together for the most part while we were out.
    I just sat with him, and acknowledges his anger and fury, and let him get it all out of his system. When he seemed to be running out of steam, I asked if he wanted some help calming down or if he still wanted to rage. He raged a bit longer, then curled up in my lap (he sometimes struggles to calm himself down even when he wants to). Then he told me that he was feeling a lot of feelings, but that he felt better now.
    That was when I felt like I’d done the right thing, that my attempts to put your advice into action was working. It felt really good. So thank you, I really appreciate all you do!

  24. This is all so good. I wish my son was just throwing tantrums with blocks or a play kitchen. Somehow, our family got in a bad cycle and we are all so miserable. I was such a gentle parent with my little ones. Now my son is 10, my daughter is 8–and my gentle parenting has just maybe become permissive. Whatever is going on, we are not doing a good job anymore.

    My 10 year old rages against his sister constantly. If she is in the room, he is watching her. Listening to her. Fuming over every little thing she says or does. If she coughs, he yells SHUT UP! If she smiles, he yells, GET OUT! He calls her hurtful names (she’s overweight. I impressed upon him how important it was to stop calling her fat. So now he has recently started calling her a “swollen butt-monster” instead.) He hits, pinches, kicks, and throws stuff at her. Always with restraint. Never quite enough to really really hurt. But it’s constant.

    It’s so bad at home right now.

    She is not blameless. She knows that she has the power to get her brother upset. So when she notices she is bothering him, she really leans into it. Obviously she wants his attention and will take whatever she can get. I wish she would just steer clear of him, but she constantly puts herself in a position to poke at him (physically or verbally).

    But he is so angry. So anxious. And so depressed. After he has calmed down, he will often start crying about feeling so guilty. He doesn’t want to do treat his sister this way. But he can’t stop.

    My husband and I are so upset that we are no longer gentle. We are not holding it together. When he starts hitting, pushing, kicking, or verbally attacking her, we will often lash out, yelling at him “knock it off! Stop it! Be quiet! Be DONE with this NOW! and even GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE or GO TO YOUR ROOM AND TAKE SOME DEEP BREATHS!” (which is ridiculous. obviously yelling at him to go take some calming breaths is laughable).

    We try to get them to say kind things about each other. We try to encourage them to do things together that they enjoy–to try to get them to connect and see each other as human. But it always ends with him attacking her. I feel an urgency to keep her safe. I worry that his constant hurtful words– (You are an EVIL Butt Monster! You are a swollen butt. You are squishing everything you sit on with your big stinky swollen body!)–I’m afraid it will permanently injure her psyche.

    We’ve started therapy with our son for his anxiety and depression. It’s going well for him–but slow. But my husband and I are not doing well. (our marriage is fine, but we are not parenting successfully right now and are both depressed).

    Any advice? One of your books that you might point us to? I am in tears almost every day, feeling like a failure. I’m so sad that my children are so amazingly rude to each other. I’m embarrassed that they are so out of control. I feel trapped. I can’t get a babysitter–I wouldn’t dare. We have to limit our time with extended family because we get such awful advice (last night my in-laws told us we need to be hitting our children. That just talking obviously doesn’t work and we are ruining them by not hitting them). And we have a sweet 2 1/2 year old daughter who is learning negative behaviors by watching her brother and sister fight constantly.

    I’m so lost and so sad and so discouraged. How do I get peace back into my parenting?

  25. Thank you Janet so much, I can’t tell you how much your podcasts and post help me deal with parenting.

    I have a 3 year old and 6 month old. And the past couple of weeks have been super tough. My son is hitting more and started throwing toys around the house. Just yesterday he threw his toys up in the air and started laughing and ran away from me so I can’t stop him from throwing toys. Eventually when I did get a hold of him I told him I won’t let him throw things and he started yelling “let me go.” I then got up and gathered his toys and moved it into the garage so he can’t access it.

    Should I be removing the toys that he’s throwing? And I notice that he’s laughing or smiling and when my husband and I stop him for hitting or throwing.

    Thank you

  26. This article was something I desperately needed to see.
    My son is almost 7 years old, and over the past year has had regular and intense meltdowns.
    To make a very long story short, we believe that he actually has anxiety – that all his anger (which goes unresolved even though we give him space and try to “debrief” when he is calm) is a fight response to a social anxiety – an intense fear of rejection…even from strangers. Once he burst into tears after a meltdown and told me that 3 weeks ago, while we were at Disneyland, he noticed someone pointed at him and said, “look at that idiot.” I want to cry thinking about the intense pain he is carrying around in his sweet soul, but we’re making contact with the right resources so hopefully this will get under control.
    My question isn’t actually about him, though. And while I would love for you to chime in on the “right” thing to say to HIM, I struggle with what to say to his older brother, who is 9.
    They fight. A LOT. We have gotten to the point where we have a weekly meeting (on our family calendar!) where we can talk about respect and how we treat each other. We talked about what went well, and what we struggled with so that we can have a space to listen to each other in a calm setting (not after a fight, for example, when emotions are high), and reflect a little on our interactions and our own reactions. I’m trying so hard to break some patterns of behavior they have gotten into! I don’t know if these patterns got worse with the birth of their sister, who is now 2, but the funny thing is…she is the only thing they they agree on. They both adore her, and they don’t compete for her attention…they both just love on her in their own ways. And she is actually a regulating force for my 7 year old. Go figure.
    Usually, it’s my 7 year old that picks a fight with the 9 year old. After careful observations over the last few months, I have noticed that he does it when he is a bit dysregulated – perhaps his anxiety is quite high, or something is not quite right. And I believe he does it because he NEEDS to cry. He needs the release, and he won’t stop until everyone’s emotions are high so he finally feels allowed to burst. This has led to asking my 9 year old to learn to walk away, and learn how to give space. But, oh, he struggles. It seems unfair to him — he tries so hard to practice staying calm and learning how to “take it” and not fight back. I struggle with what to say to him. He’s quite down to earth, and honesty is usually the best policy, but I also don’t feel that it’s fair to be his brother’s keeper, of sorts (although… the utter acceptance from the big brother would do wonders for the self esteem of the 7 year old).
    Is 9 too young to expect him to remain Unruffled? I have taught him how to redirect unwanted behaviors from the 2 year old…he’s really good at it. But what’s an age appropriate way to have him help manage his brother’s anxiety?
    I believe he needs to be part of the conversation. We are a family and we should support each other. I believe he could help regulate his brother, but….should I expect him to? It’s a lot! He has come to me so frustrated saying, “I keep trying and trying, but nothing is working!!!!” – and if I am honest…I know exactly how he feels. I hear him out, let him go play with his friends, spend quality time with him, but….. I kind of feel like I am failing no matter what I do right now. Like I’m deep in a hole, trying to build myself a ladder with the tools in my toolbox (my education in child development, my experience as a teacher, knowing my kids, my husband, our network, resources, etc.)… and I’m just stuck. I read some comments about a ” hostage situation” for the rest of the family when some kids get angry. That’s what it feels like! And that’s when my temper starts to flair as I try to regain control. We have to do a divide and conquer situation, but when I am on my own with the kids it is REALLY hard to diffuse things because tensions are so high, and then my 9 year old is also upset and frustrated because I’m not able to meet his needs. He has to wait until his little brother is sorted out before we can address his feelings. And then the 2 year old chimes in with screaming because she senses the tension. What a mess! Any words of wisdom?

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