Hug It Out – Calming an Angry Child

I have a technique that has been really helping with dealing with anger in my family.  It sounded almost too simple when I read it, but often it’s the really simple shifts, the ones that we think could hardly work, that help us most.

This idea for dealing with anger comes from a recent comment on the Parenting an Angry Child post I wrote some times ago.
Bringing peace to an angry mom and an angry child - this works

I read it and at first I thought, oh he’s too old for that now, but it resonated with me so much – it makes such sense given my son’s sensitive nature. He may be frequently angry, but he seems to feel everything very intensely, so he’s terribly sensitive to my aggravation and frustration over his anger.

Hug it Out With Your Angry Child

Here’s what Mary wrote about her angry child:

“Same here, angry 4 1/2 year-old boy. Solution: HUGS to calm him down.

We haven’t figured out how to always prevent the crisis, but only how to stop it: by not getting into a discussion/lecture/time-out or whatever. We see each tantrum as a cry for love and affection, get down on our knees and open our arms. Sometimes he rushes straight into our hug and sobs in remorse for a few secs, then completely relaxes. Sometimes he claims he doesn’t want to come anywhere near me, but I remain in my open arms position and say “I’ll be waiting for you to come, come when you’re ready” – a minute later he’s here. Some other times he will scream that he will never come close to me, I leave and go about my business after I state that “as soon as you feel ready, come give me a good hug”. Sooner or later, he always comes.

When relaxed, we can talk about the problem.

so HUG away! :)

My arms are open.

Adopting this “My arms are open.” position has been opening my heart, and allowing me to shift into listening mode rather than defensive “This Yelling Is Too Loud” mode.  Giving space for hugs and calming before jumping into the work of talking through what is happening has allowed me to hear my son better and offer tools rather than just recrimination.

No, it’s not always as simple as that, but many times it is.  I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to get to the point of using this as a default, but somehow Mary’s words spoke to me, and I wanted to share them with you in case you too need another way to deal with anger that helps you and your child calm down and reconnect.

What do you think?  Have you tried hugs for dealing with anger, or do you think you’ll give it a try?

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126 Comments

  1. Kelli says

    I do this several times a day. A good combo is hugging and then “shhhhh” – ing in his ear. The “shhhh” – ing helps to let him calm him by reminding him of being in the womb. It is a way for him to stop screaming and listen instead of just hugging me and screaming. He responds very well to this way of handling tantrums :-)

  2. Ashley says

    As simple as it sounds I haven’t tried this with my 4 1/2 year old. I am going to give this a try see how he reponds. Reading the posts made me cry a little because it describes my son very much & ive been trying to figure somethings out as timeouts dont work it only hightens the tantrums. I dont want to spank, I have grown up in a culture that that is how you discipline but my family doesnt seem to understand why I dont want to spank. My son is soo sensitive I dont want to hurt him I want him to understand. I feel spanking only instills emotional pain & fear of me in my son both of which I do not want. thank you very much for sharing.

  3. Reuben says

    As nice as this sounds this is not a cure all solution for all children. Like adults children are varied in experience, preference, and personality. This method was helpful for my oldest and middle child but for my youngest only increases the problem. My youngest turned 4 not to long ago and is fiercely independent. Her fits are less of temper tantrums and are more akin to a roid rage, any attention by this point only throws gas on the fire and makes the situation worse. Through observation my wife and i realized that attention was the problem and learned she needed cool of time. when the fits happen she is set aside and it is explained to her that she has alone time, that she is not allowed to leave that spot until she is done being mad. Once she cools off we can then engage her with positive attention and find out why she was upset to resolve the situation. I will be very proud the day she learns how this works and applies it herself as stress management. From what I’ve learned, this method, the hugging method, and many more stem from one thing we should be as parents, selfless. When the tension increases because our children are upset is to first set our own emotion and wants aside and not react. By doing this we can be objective to the situation, not make it worse, and find the best solutions. It truly is a task but having the mindset of solving their problem to calm them down as opposed to solving our problem by calming them down provides an opportunity for them to learn and for us to bond. Trust me no situation is perfect and I’ve found myself snapping back at m screaming child, but this is something that I’ve kept in the back of my mind so that when i do, it puts me in check.

  4. Coleen says

    I use this with my 6-1/2 year old. Not for every situation but I’m going to try it more often now. Still looking for a way to reach him when he’s angry and lashing out physically at me or his twin brother. He’s super impulsive and I am struggling as a parent to help him find a way to overcome that.

    • Sandra says

      My son is 7 and gets angry and lashes out. He is so much better than he used to be. The hugs work sometimes but often he just needs me to say. Take some down time. You are angry. Collect your thought then we can talk. If he yells louder kicks screams. I calmly say I love you too much to argue. When you are calm I want to hear what you have to say. It validates him then he knows I’m there when he is ready to really talk and not yell. I’m learning not to be reactive but calm.

  5. Karen Crombie says

    My daughter is 6 and this is something I have to do to help her calm down sometimes.

  6. Jenny Seymour says

    Thank you – I’m going to try this with my over sensitive little boy x

  7. Lucy MacDonnell says

    Works every time- even if at first they’re so worked up they fight it- hugs and big deep breaths.

  8. Angela MacMillan says

    I did something similar yesterday. My 32 month old had a tantrum because he wasn’t allowed a sweet before tea. I said: “I
    Love you” a few times and it was like a magic wand.
    It won’t work every time but I’m going to adopt the arms open one too!

  9. Kelly W says

    Thank you for this. I have been feeling so hopeless about my 6 year old and her anger issues. This post led me to your Parenting an Angry Child post and before I knew I had tears streaming down my face. I realized I needed to do the same thing you did, accept my girl for who she is and stop looking for a way to solve her!

  10. MaryGoodson says

    I did something similar with my daughter when she was little.  I’d take her into a room, pull the shades or curtains to darken the room, lay her on my chest with my arms around her and rock side to side, gently sing-songing, “Rockyyyyy-rock…. rockyyyyyy-rock, rooooockyyyy-rock” until she calmed down.  She often fell asleep, as tantrums were generally a signal that she was tired and/or over stimulated.  The solution worked for both problems. =)

    She’s now almost 22, and still remembers “rocky-rock” time with Mommy.  ?

  11. Beverley Rademeyer Moreland says

    My kids were given a choice Love it out or fight it out! But sometimes they are so worked up then don’t even want to be touched but it is a much more loving way of dealing with things

  12. Gill99 says

    hugs really do work! an angry child is a terrified child – we need to reassure them when their feelings overwhelm them and they are unable to cope! We need to make them feel safe, not out of control and bad!

  13. Paula Berman says

    Yah I guess it would work if your kid didn’t develop a case of temporary rigamortus every time you try to put your arms around them.

  14. Brooke Raymond says

    Tina Brown Musselman- funny we were just talking about this! It worked this am!

  15. Tina Brown Musselman says

    Thankfully I haven’t needed to try this yet with Bug. There are times when I can see this as the way to go.

  16. Liban Hallam says

    A 3 year old boy in my classroom recently faced a parents serious problem at his home and his behavior totally changed to crying for no reason or aggressive with his classmates, the only solution I found to get him back to a normal kid is giving him a big HUG every morning. Btw I’m with my 16 kids at the kindergarten for almost 9 hours everyday for five days a week.

  17. Susanne Pelchman Kriegshauser says

    I did it yesterday with my son and it really worked….for both of us!

  18. Sarah Harradine says

    I wish it would work for my 7 year old :-( I’d end up with a black eye or broken nose he gets so physical when angry.

  19. scheatham777 says

    I do this with my seven year old Aspian. The closeness and comfort for him is very calming… He eventually gets up and walks away…couldn’t have done it several years ago he would push you away if you got that close.

  20. Conscious Parenting Approach (CPA) says

    Great parenting tip…perfect for our #Putting#FamilyFirst December parenting special – thank you!

  21. Finn Dudaniec says

    Hugs should be the answer for almost every conflict situation with child, it’s just a matter of getting to the point at which the child is ready to hug.

  22. Tricia Dol says

    I have used this with my 7 year old since he was 2. Sometimes kids reach a point where they no longer know why they’re upset. A simple hug provides security.

  23. Joseph David Carter says

    I used this with my two year old this morning and problem solved.

  24. KimberlyW says

    Same with my 7 year old.  And sometimes I am the reason he is angry (making him take a bath, wash his face, pick up his toys) so, i am not thinking this would work :(

  25. pam says

    I have done this to,even when the child is in a fit of rage I have gone over and just hugged him and out I have found out is sometimes he doesn’t even know why he is doing this,sometimes he is just over tired or even feeling sick,know your child,maybe he just needs some quite time.So many times I have seen kids always on the go,they to just like us need some down time,they don’t need to be doing something every minute

  26. JacquelineMaryX says

    I wrote an entire essay about the struggles I have been dealing with. I have a 9 year old who is very emotional but she expresses her emotions mainly through anger, more than once a day. She always second guesses me and tries to negotiate every guideline I lay out and at times i get very overwhelmed. I don’t believe fighting fire with fire works but sometimes I have to raise my tone and she blatently does the opposite of whatever I ask of her. Her younger sister whom is 3 years old has been affected as well but my parental relationship with my 3 year old is great. Their father is completely opposite when it comes to communicating with our oldest and this is not only stressful and hurtful for me it has an even bigger impact on her. I absolutely love this Hug it out support. i have never read this article before and as I started to read it I felt confidence because while I try to parent her my way her father will talk over me and scold her not thinking of the effect it has on her. She will stomp away into the bathroom, because right now we live with my mother and we have no space of our own, then I go to her get down to her level and I allow her to vent to me and then she grabs me and we hug. Sometimes for more than a few minutes and then she has a better attitude until the next situation arises and it starts all over again. I am taking this “Hug it Out” and using it every time without any words spoken until she is ready. I believe another reason for this behavior and emotional roller coaster is the family I allow her to be around. I don’t want to keep our family away but the toxic environment we have been subjected to since she was born has finally made me realize that I have a choice and I should protect my children by any means necessary. Its time for me to stand firm and shed the negative. I truly believe when I finally break these chains were held down by that I will have the best relationship with them then I even could imagine. Am I wrong for this? I could keep listing reasons and actions or lack thereof but what matters now is that I follow through and I can have these weights lifted and give my girls exactly what they deserve. I will not do child support or visitations, I will have an open parental partners agreement as long as he also does something to better himself. I want to make it clear we are not physically abused in anyway but mentally we are exhausted between my mother and their father. In order for me to allow them into my home is if they even try to help themselves and become a positive part of our lives. If not I don’t think its cruel to keep them at a distance. I fully support this website, I love it and I absolutely love that I am not alone with this. I feel very hopeful and positive. I am open for any comments questions or concerns. I welcome them actually. Thank you for your time!

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