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HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

Help! My child has a bad temper

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My 9-year-old son is very smart and gets excellent grades, but he has a bad temper and very little patience. I don't know how to help him control his temper. What can I do to help him?

Answer:

If you have a better idea of the “where, what, why, when, and how” of his behavior, it may narrow down your approaches. An assessment of the problem is necessary in order to better find a solution.

Here are some general questions to start:

  • Is this new behavior? What is he angry or impatient about — changes at home or at school? If this is an old issue, what has or hasn't worked in the past?
  • Is he impatient with just you or with others as well?
  • How is he with his peers?
  • How is he with other authority figures or family members?
  • How do you model handling anger? How patient are you in stressful situations?
  • Is his lack of patience outside the range of age-appropriate behavior?
  • Under what circumstances does he display his anger or impatience?
  • Does he recognize his behavior as a problem? Does he have a "feelings" vocabulary? Does he have alternative behaviors to practice? Do you and the teacher have a way to help him recognize when he is escalating?

Here are some possible scenarios and solutions:

  • If his behavior only occurs at school but his grades (as you report) are “excellent,” then it is possible that he is bored and not challenged enough. Discuss with his teacher to make sure he has extra projects to do.
  • If he is having poor peer relations, is there a social skills group he can participate in, either at school or in the community? Such groups often teach impulse-control techniques. Participating in team sports or martial arts can also help him.
  • If there your home life is stressful, family counseling might be helpful.
  • Simple techniques such as teaching him to "stop, relax, and think" can be used at home and school. The child is asked to stop when he begins to escalate, then relax (such as slow and deep breathing, counting, etc.), then think — "What is the issue? What am I feeling? What are some solutions to try?"
  • Other anger and impulsivity tools can be found at Angries Out.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

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