Angry kids? Get them to calm down before helping them to solve their problems.

A dozen powerful things to say to kids who act out when angry 

Anger, it’s a feeling. It’s no different than feeling happy or feeling nervous. Those are just feelings too. But anger can make a child act out in inappropriate ways. And when kids are young and not able to easily control their feelings, anger usually results in slamming doors, screaming, and yelling things like, “I hate you.”  

So when the happy hours of a child’s life seem to have come to an end, with no peace anywhere in sight, there are a handful of powerful phrases that can calm and soothe an angry child. Calming an upset child is the first step in helping them solve their problems.

There’s no need to feel helpless when a child is having a meltdown. These proven phrases that have been shown to work. 

What do you say when trying to calm an angry child

  • It looks like you’re really upset.  Telling a child that you can see that they are experiencing uncomfortable feelings will help them learn to identify what is happening to their body when they are angry. By letting a child know their anger can be seen helps them identify uncomfortable feelings. It’s important to recognize that feelings are neither good nor bad, they are best described as “comfortable” or “uncomfortable.”  It’s best to describe feelings that way when talking to kids.  Recognizing a child’s feelings and validating them allows an adult to have a chance to start a dialogue about the situation. Don’t jump directly to finding a solution. Talk about the feeling first so the child understands that you’re both on the same side. 
  • It is okay to be angry. Expressing this to a child makes them feel accepted. By validating their emotions, an adult can show empathy. Regardless of how illogical or trivial a child’s issues may seem, it doesn’t matter that you may not completely understand at this point.  Kids just need to see a rational adult confirming and accepting their feelings.
  • I love you. Remind your angry child that you still love and care about them. Tell your child that regardless of what they say or what has been done to cause their anger, that you still love them. Use these words liberally. Say them often. 
  • You’re safe… Fear can cause a child to act out with anger.  They could fear what’s coming next or worried that you’ll be mad, or they will get punished. Or, in extreme cases they could actually fear for their safety. Using a quiet voice, remind the child that he/she is safe.
  • I wonder if…. offering a solution in this way shows that you’re not sure if what you’re about to say will work and it puts power into the hands of the child. They can choose to accept your idea or ignore it. “I wonder if you just need to take a nap” or “I wonder if you need something to eat.” 
  • I’m going to… When your child is screaming they’re usually looking for a reaction from you. Staying calm is crucial. Yelling back only escalates the situation and that’s not what you want. But by saying “I am going to wait over here until you’re ready to talk”. Or “I’m going to wait in the kitchen until you’re done yelling,” keeps the power in your hands. This also sets an action plan. The next move is theirs and they know to come to you when they’re ready. 
  • Maybe you would like to try… this can be your first attempt to offer help. Young kids don’t yet understand how to calm down or how to self-regulate. Suggest one strategy then wait to see what happens. Some ideas are “If you feel like screaming, why not scream into your pillow. Maybe that will make you feel better” or “Maybe you’d like to draw a picture of how you feel so I can understand better.”
  • Would you like to start all over? Maybe it’s just time to regroup and start from the beginning. And typically, this works if it’s not the first phrase you use.  By the time you get around to using this, the child has had a chance to calm down a little or is tiring out from being angry and is now ready to cooperate. Sometimes kids don’t even know they’ve gotten overly worked up and starting over from a less heightened point of frustration can lead to progress.
  • Let’s just find a solution later… Reasoning with an angry child will prove to be fruitless. They might want an immediate answer or solution now. They might want to fight and argue now. But it’s important to calm down before finding a possible solution. That’s when you can start to figure out what made them so frustrated and  upset in the first place. 
  • It is not okay to… Always make sure you’ve set limits and be consistent. Let the child know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Children need to remember to always treat others with respect. Remind them that it’s never okay to hit, call names, blame, or hurt others.
  • Do you remember last time we tried... Reminding your child of what works and what doesn’t based on previous experience can be a good learning tool. Pointing out past results may get a child to cooperate, knowing that what you may be suggesting will actually help.
  • I’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready… Remind your child that you’re nearby and not leaving them. If you need a break, take it. It’s important that we adults remain calm too. This is a good way to tell them to calm down without saying “calm down.”

Being a parent, teacher, or caregiver can be tough in times like these. It’s exhausting for everyone, but setting strategies during times of peace and quiet are a great way to teach kids coping skills. In our PBIS conflict resolution assembly show, The Adventures of Les Trouble, PI (Problem Investigator) we teach kids a four-step process for solving their own problems. 

Conflict resolution skills for elementary kids

The four steps in our assembly show include:

1 Getting the Facts by using listening skills

2 Using I messages to responsibly talk about feelings without blame or name calling

3 Brainstorming ideas that can work

4 Negotiating and picking solutions so that everyone is happy.

Want to learn more or bring this show or another of our character education programs to your elementary school? Please check out all the details on all 3 character shows on our website.