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Q&A 6-year-old has trouble with anger and outbursts


I have a boy who just turned 6. He has been through several changes in the last few months, including starting to homeschool as a result of severe allergies. These changes have caused some control issues involving disrespect and anger. We were getting a handle on this until the new health measures started. Now he is having outbursts again, mainly anger and inconsolable crying. My husband and I have tried several things, including providing physical comfort, discussing his feelings in a calm place, focusing more on screen-free family time and some deep breathing using bubbles. Are there other things we should try and is this something we need to discuss with his doctor? How can we help him right now?



For children his age, we always suggest consulting a pediatrician when there is a change in behaviors.  Many times, the problem may not be all behavioral but may be related to something else. Let's look at what has changed in his world with the new health measures. It is likely he can still play outside, go on walks, ride his bike or swing. Is he used to having other kids to play with and now cannot do that? Are his allergies food-related or environmental? If they are environmental, this time of year is likely tough for him with all of the trees budding and flowers beginning to bloom. If that is the case, then his indoor activities will of course need to be expanded so he can get physical exercise.

Obstacle courses, scavenger hunts, and simple gymnastics are some ideas for activities. And if you do them with him, that will make it even more fun.

Deep breathing with bubbles is good, but he sometimes might not have the bubbles available. So generalize that concept by having him hold up six fingers, blow on one at a time and fold that finger down. In this activity, his six fingers represent the number of candles that would be on his birthday cake and he will always be able to use his fingers whether he's at home or in the car. If you are to identify what triggers his outbursts or determine whether is crying is a result of anger, then you can do some preventive teaching before those situations occur.  If he gets angry when you tell him “No," then just before you have to say “No," remind him how he should respond; 1. Look at you; 2. Say “Okay"; 3. Do a different activity.  If screen time is a problem, REMOVE it until he gets better at doing what he is told, accepting “No" for an answer or controlling his anger. We know that electronics alter children's brains. So when they struggle to control their emotions, it's better not to allow something that can weaken their emotional control.

We know that this quarantine is a challenge. That's why it's important for you to keep yourselves calm and balanced, and to focus on getting through each day. This sets a positive example for your child. Are you trying to work from home as well as homeschool your son? Many parents are and it adds yet another level of stress and frustration for everyone. You might want to develop a “staying calm" plan for your son and help him practice it at mealtimes. Help him make a list of things he can do to calm himself so if one doesn't work, he can try the next one on the list. His list can include the bubbles and birthday candles, putting a cold washcloth on his face, getting a drink of water, hugging a favorite stuffed animal or going to a special place in the house where he can sit to calm himself without anyone bothering him.  Be creative and help him come up with ideas for things he can do.

Be patient and try different calming activities until you find something that works for him. Be consistent with your expectations, practice these activities frequently and keep the practices brief and fun.​