By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Being a parent is no easy job, especially when it comes to your child’s emotional development and anger management. If you’re a parent, you know all too well the angry cry that your baby lets out when she’s hungry, lonely, or in pain. Anger is her way of telling you, without using words, “I need something!” The louder the cry, obviously, the stronger and more urgent the need.

Your job — at least as your baby sees it — is to satisfy that need, whatever it is. You are — like it or not — the key to managing your baby’s anger. Here are ten ways to do just that:

  • Be an emotional coach. You love your child; you care about his well-being, and you want him to be successful in life. You can be a great coach for your kid. Just keep the following tips in mind:

    • Make raising a non-angry (or at least reasonably angry) child, who will eventually develop into an emotionally mature adult, a primary goal.

    • Be active and hands-on when you’re interacting with your child.

    • Be proactive.

    • Accentuate the positive.

  • Start early and talk back. It’s never too early to begin raising a non-angry child. The emotional dialogue between parents and children begins when children are around 3 months of age, when infants start “speaking out” through emotions about what they want. That’s when you need to start talking back. Children are smarter than you think — they respond to comforting words, “You’re upset I know, but it’s okay,” and a comforting tone before they even learn to talk.

  • Create teachable moments. Don’t wait for situations to come up that anger your child. Take the initiative and create opportunities so that he can learn to cope with negative feelings. These are teachable moments. Here are some possibilities — choose one and give it a try:

    • Play a game with your child and purposely don’t let him win. Afterward, ask him, “How do you feel when you lose? Are you angry? How do you think other people feel when they lose? Are they angry?” The point is just to get a conversation going between you and your child so that you can both start thinking about anger and how to manage it when it happens.

    • Present a situation to your child that involves the violation of some moral principle — fair play or honesty. Ask him how he thinks the person who is being treated unfairly or lied to feels. Does he think that person would get mad? Does he think the anger the other person is feeling is justified? Ask the child what he thinks should be done about these feelings.

  • Be a positive role model. You can’t teach what you can’t do! If you can’t control your own temper, how can you expect your child to? Like it or not, you’re your kid’s primary role model, good or bad, during his formative years. So when it comes to coaching, you have to start with yourself.

  • Put the i in emotion. Always correct your child when she says something like, “He made me angry.” Instead, teach her to say, “I got angry when he. . . .” This is what self-control is all about — taking responsibility for feelings. Until your daughter learns that no one else can make her angry, she won’t achieve emotional maturity. Children need to understand as early as possible that no one has the power to make them feel anything — not fear, not anger, not sadness, not pride, not even joy — that power resides solely in themselves.

  • Label feelings appropriately. Young children are often unable to differentiate emotions except to say, “I feel bad” or “I feel good.” Your job is to help your kid fine-tune those feelings so he can better appreciate his unique reaction to the world around him. Use words such as sad, happy, frustrated, worried, irritated, angry, enraged, scared, glad, and proud.

  • Identify causes. Don’t be satisfied by having your child identify what she’s feeling; ask her why she’s feeling that way. At first, identifying the cause of their anger can be difficult for children — it’s difficult even for adults — because they aren’t used to tying their emotional reactions to what’s going on around them at the time.

  • Teach problem solving. Children have trouble coping with emotion. Coping is a skill that your child has to learn — and you can be a huge help to your child when it comes to teaching coping skills. Your child needs help dealing with the feelings themselves (anger) as well as the causes (frustration).

  • Choose the third alternative. Human nature is such that everyone starts out life — as children — reacting to their own anger by either fleeing or fighting. The fight-or-flight response is part of human nature. Flight means simply that a child runs away from the source of his anger (and the anger itself) and chooses not to deal with it — to let it pass. Fight means exactly that — the child attacks the source of her anger directly, either physically or verbally. The third alternative is to walk away initially to calm down but return later to discuss the problem.

  • Teach the difference between wanting and getting. Children need to be taught as early as possible the difference between wanting something and getting it. This important distinction is especially hard for young children to grasp and that’s where you — the parent — come in. Spoiling a child basically means that you teach the child “what he wants, he gets, always.” Spoiled children have a fierce sense of entitlement (“I’m special, I’m all powerful, and no one can tell me no”), which quickly leads to anger when their wants aren’t immediately satisfied.