Julie Green: The Other Side of the Coin


Tips To Help Your Child Cope With Anger and Frustration

Taming the Red Beast

red beast controlling anger in children

How does your child deal with anger and frustration? For a long time my answer would have involved thrashing legs, clenched fists, and crashing objects. I'm happy to report that isn't so much the case lately. 

Some children (and, to be fair, adults!) are slow to evolve out of the tantrum phrase we typically associate with the "terrible twos." Often in children with autism, anxiety translates into angry outbursts. 

My guy will turn six in a few months. His meltdowns tend not to be quite so epic—and by epic, I mean aggressive—but his fuse is about as short as they get. He, and by extension we, are in a permanent state of eggshell walking. The slightest thing (e.g. not shaping an 'S' perfectly when he writes) can turn him into a seething, writhing mess.

His rage has limited and impacted our lives for a while now. We have turned down invitations and walked with trepidation in any public situation, knowing the atmosphere could turn on a dime. It's a hard way to live, as those in a similar situation will concede.

Emotional intelligence is equallyif not more importantthan straight-up academics, and if I had my way, E.I. would be part of the mandatory curriculum. As it stands, my guy has been receiving emotional regulation therapy weekly for well over a year now. It helps. He is learning the tools he needs to calm down, though the ability to pause and draw on those tools in the heat of the moment has thus far evaded him.

Not long ago, I came across an awesome book called The Red Beast, which teaches children how to tame the little creature that lives inside all of us. (Wonderfully illustrated by H. Al-Ghani, himself on the autism spectrum.) 

The story shows what happens when a boy named Rufus allows his Red Beast to wake up and wreak havoc on the school playground. But more importantly, the book empowers kids to take charge of their own Red Beast, keeping it in line.

The story was such a hit with my son that we created a "Red Beast" box, containing a bunch of calming itemsfrom sensory toys, to stress balls and relaxation music. 

Recently, when he was on the verge of truly losing it, I reminded him about the box, and to my surprise he pulled out a lavender-filled cushion I had previously kept in my sock drawer. He lay down with the cushion and eventually managed to calm himself.

I can't tell you what a breakthrough this was for him/us! (Though, obviously, I'm blogging about it now because no success, however small, should be hoarded to oneself.)

Other tips for managing anger in children, courtesy of Red Beast author and special needs teacher, K.I. Al-Ghani:

  • provide a healthy snack to "replenish blood sugar levels"
  • give a foot massage
  • later on "depersonalize" the incident using puppets
  • assign physical jobs, e.g. shredding paper, popping bubble wrap
  • set up a quiet spot for breaks/regrouping
  • stay cool and stop talking (save discussion for a calmer time)

It worked so well, I'm thinking of packing a Red Beast box of my own...  

Is your child quick to anger? Which strategies do you find useful to calm him/her? 

Find more great children's books about autism.