Learning to identify and cope with emotions isn’t always easy for children, especially when dealing with anger.

“Anger is a normal human response, however, it’s very important to teach our kids, of all ages, what do when they’re feeling angry,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.

Frustration and anger can quickly turn into defiance, disrespect, aggression and temper tantrums when kids don’t know how to deal with what they are feeling. Dr. Bradshaw suggests these tips for dealing with angry outbursts:

  • Help your child identify their emotions: Teach your preschooler basic feeling words such as happy, mad, sad and scared. Older kids can benefit from learning more complex words for feelings, such as frustrated and disappointed. Kids are more likely to lash out when they are not able to verbalize their emotions.
  • Don’t give in to tantrums: Giving a child a toy or treat to calm them down will only teach them that temper tantrums are effective.
  • Follow through with consequences: Time-out or taking away privileges can be effective in dealing with an outburst. If your child breaks or damages something when they are angry, have them help repair it or do chores to raise money to replace the item.
  • Praise appropriate behavior: When your child has calmed down, commend them for pulling themselves together.

What happens when we are angry?
During moments of anger, the body is flooded by adrenaline, and its fight-or-flight response is triggered, which science has proven makes us more aggressive and unable to listen rationally.

Help your child learn strategies to diffuse their emotions, such as taking deep breaths or separating themselves from the source of their anger. Dr. Bradshaw says this is also good advice for parents.

“Don’t try to parent in a moment of anger. It takes 20 or 30 minutes for that adrenaline rush to pass and then you can come back together with your child and have a calmer discussion with them about what happened and how you can move forward,” she says. “Walking away is not weak. Walking away is a sign of wisdom.”

Lead by example
If your kids watch you lose your temper, they’ll likely do the same. But if they see you cope with your emotions in more positive ways, they’ll pick up on that, too. Extensive research shows that aggression or cruelty by parents—such as yelling, swearing, spanking or hitting a child—teaches them to be aggressive, not only as a child but also as an adult. Abusive words from a parent can cut deeply, leaving permanent emotional scars.

Teaching kids to cope with emotions is continuous work for parents throughout childhood, because children experience emotions differently through each stage of development, from toddlers to teens. If your child is struggling with anger and you need support, talk with your pediatrician.