ANGER IN CHILDREN – THREE SIMPLE OVERLOOKED REASONS
As a parent, when your child displays an instance of anger, you cope and carry on. As it becomes somewhat of a habit you might start to apply labels, e.g. two-year-old tantrums, or preschool boredom, or hormones starting to kick in, and still attempt to maintain the flow. More often parents are just too busy trying to juggle everything and cope with the needs of other siblings that often they fail to stop and sit down and say hey! Where is this anger coming from? Is there something I can do? It can be frustrating and a full-time occupation for parents to contend with their anger, and at the same time protect other siblings.
There are a few obvious reasons why anger may arise in a child such as frustration when they can’t get what they want, or tiredness from not upkeeping a regular pattern of sleep. Temperament and personality also play a large part, as does a lack of emotional regulation skills and having self-control issues. Children with ADHD and mental health issues are another matter in itself.
There are three issues though that I wish to discuss, that are very common but can be overlooked. These are the anger from not being listened to, the anger from emotional neglect and the anger from anxiety.
Anger from Anxiety:
All kids will endure anxiety at some point. It is a normal aspect of growing up, however quite often kids lack the skills to manage their emotions. Anxiety manifests differently for kids, especially in those who do not have a good command in expression of feelings, or those that feel they are not being listened to. When anxiety levels rise, this arouses feelings of helplessness. When that happens, they then become frustrated and out of frustration arises anger. Anger/aggression can also be commonly displayed in disruptive behaviour, which is often a front for unrecognised anxiety.
As parents we can address the anger, but the problem will not be resolved unless we address the anxiety, and it may take some digging to get to the root of what they are feeling.
Simple ways to address feelings
a) Parents need to role model more. Express your feelings more in front of your kids. “I’m really happy that you made that choice”, or “I feel sad that you would have the need to hit your brother”. Also, they need to be shown how you deal with feelings
b) Parents need to read more to their kids. You can then interact and ask your child to identify how the characters may be feeling. This statement is not addressed to those who do already read to their kids, but to those who find their busyness prevents them.
c) Acknowledge their feelings. How often would a child say, “I feel hungry”, and a parent might respond “No you don’t”. Acknowledging doesn’t mean you have to appease the hunger. Acknowledging is “It must seem like a long time since you had something to eat”, or,” is that your tummy I hear rumbling!”.
d) Get them to draw a picture of how they feel…. Or just get them to draw a picture. Usually with younger kids how they feel is generally depicted in what they draw.
e) And don’t forget the wonderful world of exercise, and the ability to let off steam, or more to the point anger.
f) Finally, a real biggee, (where parents often forget) is try not to supress what your child is feeling. If we belittle what they are feeling they then form the belief that they don’t matter or are not important enough.
Anger from Emotional Neglect
This is the one that pulls at my strings, because for the most part those parents that emotionally neglect their children tend to be parents who are too busy to pick up the cues their children are sending, and it’s not as if they are being wilfully neglectful, they are just too busy to notice.
Anger by your child may be self-directed, inwards, or explosive, because of an inability to express their emotions. And according to Jama Paediatrics (2013) the following, if not exhaustive, list manifests in children who have suffered emotional neglect:
Aggression, exhibits as angry, disruptive behaviour, conduct problems, oppositional behaviour, and low ego control; withdrawal or passivity, including negative self-esteem, anxious or avoidant behaviour, poor emotional knowledge, and difficulties in interpreting emotional expressions in others; developmental delay, particularly delayed language, cognitive function, and overall development quotient; poor peer interaction, showing poor social interactions, unlikely to act to relieve distress in others; and transition, from ambivalent to avoidant insecure attachment pattern and from passive to increasingly aggressive behaviour and negative self-representation. Emotional knowledge, cognitive function, and language deteriorate without intervention. Poor sensitivity, hostility, criticism, or disinterest characterize maternal-child interactions.
Anger from not being listened to
What causes a parent to not listen to a child when we are so enthralled with them at the beginning. One of the biggest reasons is we are so enthralled we want to fix everything and make everything right for our children. We want our children to be happy and feel uncomfortable when they struggle so it is an automatic response to want to step in and help. This can cause occasions where the child may be belittled, not taken seriously, may not be given the time to voice what they want to do or say and the parent takes over with their opinion on what the child may be feeling or saying. Children then learn not to express opinions or feelings. Another simple example might be when a parent reassures their child too quickly. This then minimises the problem, as well as their thinking and feelings.
All this can cause them to become bottled up and the anger buried until such time as it has burst forth, usually in a situation entirely unrelated or apparent.
In addition, as parents, when reacting to situations we have our own underlying issues which cause us to react the way we do. This may cause us to overreact and so it is important to recognise what triggers us to respond the way we do.
How to deal with the anger
First off, as the parent you need to be in control of yourself and calm, even if it is a case of having to say “I find your behaviour unacceptable, but I can’t deal with this now. I will talk to you about this later when I am calmer”. If you find it hard to be calm, or you know you tend to lose control, practice ahead of time what you might say in similar future scenarios.
The second thing needed to be done is to ensure there are consequences for the behaviour, not feelings of anger he may have. And they need to be reasonable consequences not over the top because you forgot to choose a calmed moment to deal with the situation.
A third important thing not to do is, as a parent don’t walk on eggshells around your child. Don’t change your behaviour so as to avoid their rage moments. Have a rage plan in place. Come prepared. Take control. The same with destructive behaviour. Remember consequences, consequences, consequences.
Remember your child has NO EARS when they are in a rage. Don’t waste your breath at this time. State “Your behaviour is not acceptable, go to your room until I am calmer. I will deal with this later”.
Lastly parents need to sit down with the child and collaborate how to deal with future situations that may be similar. Get them to offer options, as well as you provide options. Go through them together. Naturally if you are both calm obviously the best solution will be reached. You will also gain insight into how your child feels, as they will also of yours.
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