Helping Children Deal with Anger at Friends
Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D., Former Professor, Department of Human Development & Family Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia
All children get upset at their friends once in a while. They argue and they disagree. This is a normal way that children learn to get along with other people. It is important that children learn how to deal with angry feelings and conflicts so that others don’t get hurt.
How children deal with anger is important for good
relationships with other children. Children who learn to
express anger without hurting others or being aggressive
usually have better friendships. Also, kids who learn
not to respond to other children’s aggression are more
able to stay out of fights. Learning how to cooperate
and being kind will result in better friendships and
more happiness. Parents and other adults can play an
important role in helping children learn to handle
Children get angry at their friends for many reasons. Some of the most common reasons are teasing or calling each other names, hitting, slapping or just playing rough, and being left out of a game or activity.
As adults it may be easy for us to look at these
situations and say, “Don’t let those other kids make you
mad.” But in reality, these kinds of situations are
bound to cause hurt feelings and anger. Children should
understand that feeling angry is all right in itself.
Anger often makes us want to change something about a
situation that is unfair. But we all must be careful to
deal with our anger so that it does not hurt others.
We want children to learn how to act in situations
where they feel anger. In general we want to teach them
how to express their anger without getting into a fight
and hurting anyone. Children often act before they think
in angry situations. Help children avoid this by giving
them ideas about other things to do in these situations.
Children sometimes are too quick to think that the
other person was mean on purpose. Somebody gets shoved
or says something, and nobody stops to think that this
might have started as an accident. Help children stop
and ask themselves if the other child was being mean on
purpose. Go over the situation and all the reasons why
it might have been an accident.
Children can be cruel in many situations. Again, help
children think about what they can do if someone is
cruel or frustrates them. Help children tell the other
person when they feel angry and why something bothers
them. Remind children that others don’t always think
about what they do. By expressing their anger, children
have a chance to change the situation. For example, if a
child is not allowed to play with others, he or she can
say, “I feel angry when you won’t let me play.” This
lets the other children know that he or she is upset.
Sometimes this is enough to make the other children act
Still, many times this is not going to change the
situation. Children need to understand that some
children will be mean and thoughtless. And some will try
to cause fights on purpose. The best solution here may
be to ignore the troublemaker or stay away from him or
her. In these situations, children can try to keep
themselves calm and try not to take it personally. For
example, children might just say to themselves, “They
must be having a bad day,” or “Too bad for that person,
being so mean all the time.” By staying calm, children
can stay out of some trouble.
Finally, let children know that sometimes there is
nothing to do but talk about how they feel or work it
out on their own. Hopefully, the person they talk to can
help them understand their anger or suggest what they
can do. The important think is to help children
understand that there are many things they can do in
Sometimes all children will be aggressive. They may get into fights with other children or yell at each other. Children should learn that yelling and hitting may help them get what they want for the moment, but it will not help them get along with others. Help them understand that other children like people who are kind and cooperative.
Children need firm guidelines that aggressive
behavior will not be permitted. The best tool against
aggressive behavior is “time-out.” When children yell or
hit another person, remind them that this is not
permitted and do not allow them to play for a while.
They might be sent to their rooms or somewhere else
where they will be alone. During this time, ask them to
think about what else they could do to solve the problem
besides hitting or yelling. It may be difficult for you
at first, but it is important to handle all aggression
in the same way. This pattern will help children learn
that aggressive behavior is not allowed.
Children also need praise when they solve problems
without being aggressive. This is just as important as
stopping the hitting. When children are cooperating,
sharing, and taking turns, tell them how nice it is to
see them playing together. Remind them that it’s more
fun to get along.
Sometimes children don’t understand that mean words
and hitting make other people feel bad. Parents can help
children understand how their actions affect others.
When children have been aggressive, help them think
about how they would feel if that had been done to them.
Then ask how they think it makes the other person feel.
These types of questions help children learn to care
about the feelings of others. By understanding that,
children will be less likely to hurt others.
Another important step in helping children deal with
aggressive behavior is to be a good role model yourself.
As parents and as adults, we must show that we can
handle our angry feelings without hitting and yelling.
Children who see adults handle their feelings by being
aggressive all the time will assume that it’s okay for
them too. Television can also provide strong role
models. Children who tend to be aggressive should not
watch violent programs on TV.
Love and Acceptance
The most important force that will help children deal with anger is knowing that people love and care for them. They need our active attention, our loving concern, and lots of hugs. Affection and knowing how to solve problems in frustrating and conflict situations will help children get along well with their friends.
The following questions could be used to talk with children about anger.
- Kids sometimes get into fights. Do you ever have arguments or fights with other kids that seem to start over nothing? Why do you think this happens? What could you do in these situations?
- Sometimes you can feel disappointed when your parents don’t do what they promise. Sometimes you don’t get mad at your parent, but you get mad at someone else? Have you ever been mad at one person and then taken it out on someone else?
- Some people say that, “just staying mad” won’t help. They say that you have to tell others how to feel. When you are angry, how can you tell others how you feel?
- Have you ever been mad at a friend? What do you do to get over being mad?
Ask children to write down some of the things that other kids do that make them angry. They might name things such as hitting, teasing, not being included in a game, and so forth. Together with the children, talk about each situation and help them think of all the things they could do to handle it without being aggressive.
Last Updated 05/12/2009