8 Ways to Calm an Angry Child That Are More Effective Than Time-Out

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When your child has an angry outburst, it's hard to know how to deal. Kids don't come with instruction books (we wish!), and it's nearly impossible to think when your own heart is racing in time with their screams. Time-out is a trusted standby for dealing with an angry child, but some professionals say the practice can do more harm than good and actually creates a power struggle between you and your kid. So what can you do? CafeMom sought guidance from some experts who gave us eight fantastic alternatives to time-out. Try one of these the next time your little angel turns into a shrieking demon.

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  • 1. Try a grounding technique.

    Your child is upset for a reason, and shutting him in his room doesn't allow him to express his feelings, explains Kimberly Hershenson, LCSW. Instead of isolating kids in time out, she suggests teaching them to count 10 objects in the room aloud. Outside? Look for rocks or trees to count. This grounding technique will both "help calm your child down and help them develop skills to deal with anger in the future." 

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  • 2. Create a Calm-Down Corner.

    Kaleigh Boysen, LMFT, says having your child take some time away is an effective way to handle anger in children -- as long as it's presented in a way that's helpful rather than harmful. "One technique I like to use is a calm-down corner, or a small area with blankets or comforting objects where the child can go to take a break or calm down," she suggests. "The parent can sit with or near the child, or the child can stay by themselves if they prefer." 

    Remember, the point is to help them regain control over their feelings, not to give them the impression that they're in time-out. "It's important that this area be used as a calming tool and not a punishment," she says.

  • 3. Try a new spin on deep breathing.

    As adults, we all know that taking a deep, slow breath can help us keep our cool when we see the tornado that tore through the living room. But this same technique can help kids keep it together, too. And forget about that boring "count to 10" technique. "There are many ways to teach children deep breaths and make them more fun," says Boysen. She suggests having your child blow bubbles or a pinwheel toy, or pretend to blow out the candles on a cake as alternative ways to practice deep breathing. "Or try holding a stuffed animal on your belly and watching the stuffed animal move up and down with their breaths," she adds.

  • 4. Put them in a time-in.

    Instead of a time-out where you force your children to be alone, Cheryll Putt, LMFT, urges parents to consider the exact opposite -- a time-in as a method to cope with their anger. "Some kids like time-in where their parents soothe them until they are calm and then talk about what to do next," she explains.

  • 5. Use a meditation bottle.

    If your kids love arts and crafts, Putt suggests having them help make a meditation bottle. "Things like meditation bottles are great because they are something the child can get involved in creating to help them be more in charge of big emotions," she explains. When your children are angry, they can swirl the glitter and watch it settle as a soothing way to help them calm down. 

  • 6. Talk them through it.

    As adults, many of us text our bestie for support when we're dealing with something rough. Our kids can benefit from hashing their problems out too. "Talk through your processing with your child," says Shanna Donhauser, LICSW and founder of Happy Nest. "This helps them understand the steps required to calm down or process big feelings."

    You can help them walk through their own feelings in the moment or talk about your own. “For example, ‘You're angry because you are not ready to share that toy. You want to keep playing with it, but now it's Susan's turn. That makes you mad and maybe a little sad. What should we do?’" Donhauser says the good news is that once kids feel like you get where they’re coming from with their outburst, they usually come up with a reasonable solution to the problem. If they don’t, you can offer them suggestions on how to handle the situation, like finding something else to play with, getting a hug, or reading book. 

  • 7. Put yourself in time-out.

    Kids feed off our energy, so if we're upset over something they've done, it's likely that they're not going to be able to calm down either. If you don't want to put your child in time-out, consider taking a break yourself. "If you are in a frenzied state, angry or frustrated, hurried or impatient, your child will not likely be able to calm down. Sometimes this means that you need to take a break first," says Donhauser. 

    The technique is simple. "Communicate this to your child and make some room for yourself," she explains. "You can say something as simple as 'I can see that you're upset, and I'm feeling upset too. I'm going to take a break over here for a few minutes, then I can check in with you.' This way you can keep your child in sight but give yourself a few minutes to get your feelings under control." Donhauser reminds us that this method is best used at home, so the child is safe when you're not by his or her side. 

  • 8. Let them be angry.

    While redirecting your angry children to another activity is great, sometimes it's okay to let them release their emotions. Donhauser says the trick is to offer them a safe option for doing so. "Throwing toys may not be safe, but throwing pom-poms may be okay," she says. "Hitting a friend is not safe, but hitting a pillow or a punching bag is okay. Breaking toys is not okay, but ripping newspaper is okay. Without distracting from the emotion, you can safely redirect their behaviors and physical needs to express emotion into safe options."

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