Your child's anger language

When children are angry, they often use their own ‘anger language’ and say and do things that are hurtful and unkind.

But have you ever stopped to think about what’s really going on for your child?

The fight or flight response

When children become angry, this triggers the fight or flight response. There is a small almond-shaped structure in the brain, called the Amygdala which is fired. It sends a message to the adrenal glands, on top of the kidneys, to release adrenaline. This helps the blood rush to the arms (for hitting out) and legs (for running), ready for fight or flight. This pauses the higher functions of the brain, which is why an angry child is sometimes aggressive and violent, both verbally and physically.

Unfortunately, during the fight or flight response, the energy in the body is so geared towards attack or escape, the brain can’t function efficiently. They shout aggressive or spiteful comments. Which in turn, trigger YOUR fight or flight response. And you get angry and shout back.

Have a translator to re-interpret what your child says

When I work with parents, during one-to-one sessions, part of my role is to help parents stay utterly calm when their child behaves badly or makes poor choices. The truth is, it’s impossible to use the most effective parenting strategies if you’re shouting or losing your temper.

One of the strategies to stay calm in the ‘Use your Brain’ category, is to have a ‘translator’ in your head to re-interpret what the child is saying. Your child is talking in ‘Childish’ and they need you to translate what they’re saying into English.

Translating Childish to English

What does your child say when they’re angry? What’s their ‘anger language’ and what do they mean?

Childish: When angry, what your child saysEnglish: What your child means
I hate you Go away Leave me alone. Get out of my room. You’re the worst mum/dad in the world Shut up No! You always …. You never …. Why me?I feel bossed around, angry, upset, controlled or disappointed. I don’t have the right words to explain my big emotions. I want to show you how much hurt I’m feeling inside and saying this to you is the only way I know how. I’ve tried to hold it together all day, and this is the last straw. I’m tired and/or hungry, and I can’t deal with this right now.

What can you say to your child?

When you can understand your child’s anger language and what they’re trying to say in their own immature way, it can help you to stay calmer, empathise with the difficult emotions your child is feeling. Saying something like:

“It looks like you’re feeling annoyed with me, because I said you couldn’t go to the party. I know this is important to you, and I do want to discuss it. Let’s talk later when we’re both calmer.”

How to teach your child to use better words

If your child does use their anger language, when things have calmed down, it is good to help them to find better phrases to say more accurately what they really mean. Then get them to practice saying it, so they get ‘muscle memory’ of saying the right thing.

  • “I feel sad when I can’t go to the park. It’s so annoying we can’t go.”
  • “I feel angry when you tease me. Please stop saying that.”
  • “I feel frustrated when you say I can’t have a biscuit. I’d really like something nice to eat right now.”

Or teach them phrases like:

  • I feel really fed up that I can’t go.
  • Please can we talk later and have a chat about it?
  • Please can you listen to me?
  • I feel angry / upset / disappointed.
  • I wish I could.

It won’t happen overnight, but every time your child says something hurtful in anger, empathise in the moment, then later, help them to practice saying phrases that help explain how they’re feeling in a more accurate, kinder way. Soon you’ll be pleasantly surprised when your child is angry yet manages to control themselves enough to say what they mean in a respectful way. (Cue the chorus of angels singing Hallelujah!)

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here