A few weeks ago, my toddler was hanging out at his grandma’s house when he started getting frustrated. He got so cranky that he started banging on the table. Immediately I told him, “You seem upset, but I won’t let you hit the table. Here—hit the pillow instead.” He obliged and started pounding on the pillow, but to no avail—he was still clearly upset and not calming down. My husband eventually picked him up and said, “We’re going home.”
My toddler doesn’t normally hurt himself or other belongings, but when he resorts to doing just that, I had been telling him to hit a pillow, the couch or even the carpet. I needed an alternative to redirect his frustration from causing himself or anyone else harm, and so far this seemed like a genius idea. However, my husband and I talked about pillow-hitting after this incident, and he brought up a point I hadn’t even considered: Is hitting anything even any good?
I responded, “But don’t you always hear that it’s good to punch a pillow to release frustration?” To which he said, “I don’t punch pillows or anything else when I’m upset.”
Neither do I. In fact, when I get upset, punching anything is the last thing on my mind. I wouldn’t want my toddler to react to frustration by punching pillows or throwing toys. So how is a toddler—or anyone, really—supposed to cope with anger?
- Remove him from the situation, especially if he was on the brink of further hurting himself. Sometimes being in a separate room can help calm him down and even save him from potential embarrassment by being disciplined in public.
- Encourage him to use words, not punches, to sort through his feelings. Maybe once he had calmed down a bit more, I could have said, “It seems like you felt mad. When you feel like that again, you can say ‘I’m mad!’ instead of hitting the table.” Rather than advising him to punch pillows, my toddler can use words to vent.
- Have him place his hands on his tummy. His pediatrician recommended having him place the palms of his hands on his tummy, and that apparently doing so makes it difficult for him to be mad at the same time. He’ll also have a chance to feel his stomach going in and out, and perhaps that extra focus is all that’s needed to calm down.
- Encourage him to take deep breaths. SSBE reader Off Duty Mom suggested:
We also try to teach our son to take a deep breath when he’s angry or frustrated. He’s started doing it on his own now without prompting and seems to cut back on (albeit not eliminate) some outbursts.
Sometimes we just need that extra pause to calm down before we’re able to talk about our emotions; a tiny moment to keep us from going bonkers. Taking deep breaths or maybe even counting to ten seems to provide this space in his emotions.
Moving forward, we’ll be more mindful about helping our toddler sort through his anger. Rather than resorting to physical reactions, we’ll encourage the use of words to express frustration, perhaps taking deep breaths and removing himself from the situation to calm himself down.
How do you help your kids cope with anger and prevent hitting?
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