Susan Reed- Scarborough based psychotherapistDurham Region - Personal counselling & therapy to help with family & parenting issues, relationships, personal issues

Four-Year-old Anger Issues

Dear Susan,

My four-year-old daughter can be really mean to other children. When she plays with other kids and things don’t go her way, like if she loses a game, or they have to leave before she wants them to, she sometimes has a tantrum and has even hit and bitten other kids. Should I be worried?

Pam, London

Dear Pam,

Children become angry in a variety of situations. Although feeling angry is a part of life that no one can avoid, we can teach children positive ways to cope with anger.

Many adults have learned to ignore their own feelings of anger, or to express these feelings through inappropriate action, such as by throwing things or yelling at someone. Therefore, adults often deal with a child's anger by simply demanding that he or she stop being angry. They might send a child to their room until the child can behave better, or sometimes an adult may resort to a slapping a child as a means of controlling the child’s behaviour. However, these actions do not actually help a child to learn to handle strong emotions such as anger.

As adults, we can teach children the difference between feeling angry and acting on anger.

As a first step, you’ll need to explain to your daughter, that while getting ‘mad’ is not necessarily a bad thing, hitting someone out of anger is NOT OK. Follow that up with some time spent teaching her how to identify her angry feelings before they boil into a tantrum. She may benefit from knowing that tightness in her muscles, the burning feeling in her stomach, or the feeling that her head is about to explode, is what grown ups call "angry" or "mad."

Next, provide her with alternate means of expressing her angry feelings. You can offer her several choices, so she can choose the on that works best for her. For example:

Teach her that rather than having a tantrum, she can do something physical, like stomping her feet (the "Mad Dance"), running around the house, shaking her arms and legs (Shakin’ out the sillies) or punching a pillow.

Another suggestion could be scribbling on a piece of paper, or pounding, twisting or pulling apart play dough. Any of these physical activities can help your daughter focus her anger on something else and help her to calm down.

Finally, teach her to talk about her angry feelings. She may be able to talk to you or a another family member or friend, but if she seems unable to, reassure her that she can also talk to a family pet, a stuffed toy, or an imaginary friend. Talking helps people work through their anger so they can understand what is making them angry, and make decisions about how to approach a solution.


Susan is located in Scarborough just east of KIngston Road and Lawrence Ave E.
(416) 778 7316 © Susan Reed, M.Ed., OACCPP, Diplomate IABMCP - All Rights Reserved
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