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What to do When Your Angry Child Refuses Coping Strategies

Inside: Learn how to proceed when your angry child refuses coping strategies.

“What do I do when my child refuses the coping strategies I offer?”

It’s a question I get regularly when I talk to parents in my therapy practice about anger management for kids and how to best support their child in the midst of emotional upheaval:

Having been there myself when trying to help an angry child both in my own home, I know that this situation is an extremely frustrating one.

You’re trying your best to support your child. You’re showing up.

You’re prepared with calming tools for them amidst the crying, yelling or even aggressing (when you’d frankly rather be running in the exact opposite direction) and how do they repay you? Essentially by telling you to go take a hike.

“Nooo! I’m not doing ANY of that stuff!”

While the situation is not easy, it does make complete and total sense that an angry child would refuse coping strategies. Why?

Because when your child is upset or emotionally charged their brain is programmed to do just that, fight and resist.

During a meltdown, your child is operating out of their brain’s limbic system and is in the throes of the brain’s stress response: fight, flight or freeze mode.

For many children, just about anything you say during an emotional meltdown will be received with resistance or negativity.

Luckily, there are several things that can help an angry child refusing any calm down strategies or help from you.

4 Things to try if your child refuses to try coping strategies when they’re angry

1 | Be proactive with calming exercises.

Most of us know the best time to solve any problem is always proactively as opposed to reactively.

Despite this, discussions around helping a child learn how to deal with anger can feel uncomfortable and overwhelming, and oftentimes it seems like a better idea to just avoid it. 

“I finally got him to calm down… I’m not going to go and bring it up again!”

Then you end up waiting until your child is again in the throes of a meltdown or emotionally volatile state, and then begin discussing different coping strategies and calming techniques they should try.

This common approach is going to backfire every time because we know that learning doesn’t happen when the brain is under stress. The part of the brain responsible for processing and retaining information (the frontal lobes) are physically offline when the brain’s emotion center is ‘calling the shots’.

If you want more acceptance and less rejection when it comes to helping your child calm down, having meaningful discussions when they’re calm and emotionally regulated is your ticket.

This is the time to sit down together and discuss ways to expand your child’s emotional regulation skills and to practice different calm down strategies for kids.

2 | Let your child take the lead

As parents, we fall easily into the trap of ‘mommy knows best’, but in reality, when it comes to their own unique nervous system and sensory preferences, your child is undoubtedly the expert.

It’s amazing that you’re showing up and supporting your child’s self-regulation skills, but did you remember to ask them what their input was?

Did you ask your child do choose some anger management activities for kids or coping skills ideas that looked fun to them, or did you simply find some, print them off, and announce that they need to try these things?

Humans will always be more invested in something if they feel a sense of personal agency or control over it. Team up with your child to explore different resources, visuals and calming strategies that they’ll willing to try.

Ask them why they’re invested in taking control of their anger (if they are at all!), and how it would feel to not let their emotions spiral out of control any longer.

Check out my ‘Calm Kids Guide To Emotional Regulation’

3 | Don’t wait too long

The faster your child’s ’emotion train’ is going, the harder it’s going to be to stop it. Before your child becomes highly emotional or explosive they will show physical signs of agitation.

When you watch for these signs (tightened muscles, increased voice volume, changing facial expression for just a start) you open the door to intervening while your child is still able to practice some level of cognitive flexibility in order to receive support and go in another direction with their big emotions.

This is always going to work better than waiting until your child’s brain goes into full ‘atomic mode’ aka fight, flight or freeze before waiting to offer anger management tools for kids.

4 | Shift your energy

When your angry child refuses coping strategies, the best thing you can do at that moment is to respect their wishes and give them time. You can’t force your child to take steps to calm down.

The more you push and add outside stimuli (lecturing, teaching, scolding) the further they’ll sink into their emotional brain.

What you can do is to create a welcoming invitation to calm and wait. Getting them back to ‘baseline’ is all that matters at that point- no learning or listening is happening.

Your energy matters. When your agitated and highly emotional child feels your controlling or anxious presence, it will only serve to send them further down ‘stress brain lane’.

Make your physical presence known, but in as calm and small a way as possible. Standing over your upset child using a loud voice is not going to create a calm space for them to be drawn into.

When your angry child refuses your help to calm down they’re sending you a signal

Realizing that your emotionally overwhelmed child needs your support is a huge victory. Developing self-regulation skills for children is a journey and not a destination.

When you practice co-regulation strategies with your child, you’re making big strides towards raising an emotionally intelligent child. 

If your child refuses the coping strategies you offer, or your support altogether don’t take it personally. Consider watching for anger signs and cues, approaching things more proactively and collaboratively.

While often overwhelming, the journey of co-regulation is one that reaps lifelong benefits for your child.

Grab your free printable list of calming strategies!

This post comes with a free printable list of calming strategies for you and your child to choose from together!

Here’s a peek at it…

calm down strategies for kids

  1. Download the calming strategies list. You’ll get the printable, plus join 10,000+ parents who receive my weekly insights, tips, and strategies on how to raise emotionally healthy kids who will change the world, every week!
  2. Print.
  3. Place it on your refrigerator or in a centralized area (and experiment with what your child responds best to).

Click HERE to get your printable list and join!

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2 Comments

  1. You wrote “…open the door to intervening while your child is still able to practice some level of cognitive flexibility in order to receive support and go in another direction with their big emotions.” The problem IS, the moment I start to speak calmly to my child, she gets more agitated & starts to raise her voice, and become ruder. I can’t intervene at the “correct” timing, Angela. At times, I do get angry with her & my tone of voice becomes very firm. And this triggers her to misbehave even more. Help!

    However there are times, I will my best to continue to speak calmly to her, difficult as it may be, but she just continues to retaliate and I feel she is taking advantage of me/ pushing the envelope to see how far she can go.
    How can I improve the situation? She is my only child.

    1. Hi Julie:) If she gets more agitated when you approach, she’s telling you she’s already too far down the ’emotional rabbit hole’ and needs to de-escalate before any verbal exchange will be helpful. She has already lost most access to her prefrontal cortex, or thinking brain, at that point, so the only option is to safely take space until everyone is back to baseline. Practicing how to handle this when everyone is calm is very helpful to have a ‘go-to’ plan in the moment. Another great option is to have a code word or hand signal she gives you, when she needs space. Have you tried any of these things?

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