My son absolutely loves puzzles right now, so I brought out a new set of 12 piece puzzles the other day that he wasn’t familiar with. And when he went to do his go-to activity and start these new puzzles at bedtime, he and my husband sat analyzing the placement of the pieces. The look of concentration on my son’s face was serious and intense. It was all going well, just two pieces left and then it happened.
A cry of frustration, “I can’t do it!” And then came the tears and the tantrum. Tiredness and the challenge of a new puzzle had triggered his anger about the situation. Watching for and being proactive about what can send a child into a tantrum is a challenge, but it is so worth it if you can help your child learn to recognize their triggers.
3 Simple Steps to Help an Angry Child Recognize Triggers
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We all have triggers, things that set us off and act as a catalyst for an outburst of anger. In the puzzle scenario for my son it was too much of a mental challenge in an already tired state.
A trigger is an internal or external stimulus that causes an emotional reaction.
Triggers can be any number of things. Some are physical and some are emotional.
And there are several that are extremely common for young children.
- Over stimulation
The first step to teaching your child how to recognize triggers is observing and being familiar with the situations that make your child angry.
When you are able to recognize the triggers through observation you can help teach and practice this mindfulness technique with your child.
In the puzzle scenario, for example, after he calmed down I explained, “That puzzle was tricky. It got frustrating because it’s pretty close to bedtime and it’s been a long day. Let’s try the puzzle again in the morning after your body gets some rest.”
This helped my son to understand that it’s okay to feel frustrated and angry and some times of the day are better than others to try something challenging.
The next step to teach recognizing triggers is to discuss and label the physical feelings that occur with anger.
After a tantrum or meltdown talk with your child about how it felt in their body. Discuss things like racing heartbeat, hot red face and a lump in the throat that indicate your child’s anger is escalating.
Using this time to label the physical sensations that your child is feeling when they’re angry while they’re calm helps them to recognize those sensations more easily the next time they’re getting frustrated and angry.
The third step in teaching how to recognize triggers is to plan ahead.
If for example, over-stimulation is a trigger for your child and you know a situation might present that challenge, you can talk about it ahead of time. Explain to your child that if the situation starts to feel overwhelming and they start to notice the physical sensations of anger they can try deep breathing techniques or taking a break.
Even for adults, recognizing anger triggers and dealing with them effectively is not easy, so it makes sense that it will be especially difficult for children with sensory processing disorder or other special needs. But with practice and patience everyone will get better at it and hopefully some anger will be diffused.
What have you observed as anger triggers for your child? Is there anything that prevents a meltdown when those triggers are present?
Amy is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom and writer. She loves sharing what she knows about family, play and early learning. Away from the computer you can find her spending family time, organizing or decorating her home, reading a good self-help and occasionally pretending she knows how to cook but she usually leaves that to her awesome husband! You can find out more about her at Firefly Writing.