How to Treat Anger Overload in Children

By Erica Loop
Look for physical cues that indicate your child is about to lose her temper.
Look for physical cues that indicate your child is about to lose her temper.

Anger overload is a problem that goes beyond a once-in-a-while tantrum or outburst. Children with anger overload are quick to react with intensely angry responses, clinical psychologist David Gottlieb notes in his article "Anger Overload in Children." While treatment typically includes professional intervention, therapy isn't limited to only your child. You must also participate in it and learn behavioral strategies to use at home. By recognizing the signs of an impending episode, using verbal prompts and offering alternative behavior ideas, you can help your child control his anger.

Distracting the Child

Having first-hand knowledge of anger overload behaviors allows you to identify the signs leading up to an angry outburst. As the tension mounts, you can distract your child. Even though the build-up may take only minutes, immediately stepping in with an alternative activity can squash the anger before it gets out of hand. Choosing an active distraction, such as playing soccer outside or dancing to music, can shift the building anger to a more healthy, socially acceptable outlet.

Providing Positive Reinforcement

Treating a child with anger overload doesn't always mean waiting for her to break down. Using positive reinforcement when she shows self-control or stops her own outburst before it happens can break the cycle. You can verbally praise your child, using concrete statements such as, "I like how you stopped and took a breath instead of yelling. That gave you time to think about what you would do next."

Offering Examples of Anger

It's possible that your child doesn't realize the extent of his anger or how it affects other people. Giving your child an example of anger overload to see can help him identify his feelings and better understand the consequences. You can also offer examples of positive or socially accepted behaviors. For example, watching a movie or TV show that features an excessively angry character opens the door for a conversation about your child's issues.

Giving the Child Words

Some children with anger overload need an adult to provide the words that are necessary to express powerful emotions. Give your child a phrase or sentence to use under stressful situations. For example, if your child flies into a rage every time she gets a math problem wrong, misses a goal during a soccer game or forgets a vocabulary word, teach her a way to say what she's feeling. This verbal alternative might stop her from losing control and help her recognize that her anger is misplaced. You can develop these sayings with your child. The phrases may include sentences such as, "I tried my best" or "I can control myself."

Using Appropriate Consequences

When techniques such as distraction or providing praise don't work, consequences can come into play. If your child can't control himself and ignores your words, you can provide a clear consequence. Make the consequence appropriate for your child's age and the offense. For example, let your 10-year-old know that if he ignores your suggested alterntatives and continues his outburst he will lose TV time.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.