The world seems to be an angry place these days. A tremendous amount of our consultations in the last couple of weeks have been with parents who are trying to deal with their child's anger and/or physical aggression.
Being angry is a normal human emotion but it can become problematic when that anger isn't channelled into something positive and is allowed to fester. No matter how old we are, there are times when it is all just too much and we lash out. This may be verbal, it may be bursting into tears or shutting down completely but when our brains are at saturation point, negative emotions are generally what we end up presenting to the world.
In toddlers, children and teenagers a similar logic applies. They are surrounded constantly by stimuli for all the senses and eventually reach saturation point. Personality traits, age and other diagnoses may cause some children to resort to anger faster than others, but if the right buttons are pushed, almost every child can find their way there. For parents this can be exhausting, stressful and even frightening and in many cases, it feels like their child is angry ALL the time.
Here are five methods to assist you to avoid and manage your child's anger when it manifests itself.
There is no one that can function at 100% capacity 100% of the time. Yet, in today's world that is what we expect of ourselves and of our children. From early morning,which is generally a race out the door with a huge number of chores to be accomplished in a short period of time, children then must function socially and academically all day at school, come home to after school activities, homework and family time and then race through a bedtime routine. There is no time where they are not a slave to someone or something. Most children require sometime in their day with minimal human interaction where they can be allowed to be who they are and alone with their thoughts. For some children it is Lego building, for others reading and for some its screen time, but it should be 20-30 minutes and an opportunity for them to relax.
When you know your child struggles with certain chores and has had a full-on day, you should decide if it is worth forcing them to do that chore if it is likely to trigger a negative response. Decide what battles are worth it and for the rest, take a deep breath and ignore. This will help your child to not constantly feel you are picking on them and they are likely to be calmer with you for a while longer.
It can be tremendously helpful if you are able to pick up on the signs when you child starts to get agitated and try to help them communicate what they are feeling. This may be verbal, through visual cues or through play. In some situations, if the anger is becoming a regular pattern, it may be worth thinking about counselling for your child. If you see they are becoming aggressive regularly, enrolling them in a physical activity where they can use that aggression, such as sports or martial arts, may be something to consider.
When a child is angry or in a negative headspace, they may try to push any boundaries that you set. This can often be the case if a child feels that too much in their life is out of their control or is regulated by rules which they don't agree with or understand. Boundaries need to be set clearly but it is also important not to have too many of them. Once you decide your non-negotiable rules of behaviour, they need to be enforced consistently with clear consequences that your child understands. By doing this, it is then their choice to accept the consequence or to comply with the rule and choice will give them an element of control.
All behaviours serve a purpose, and if your child's anger escalates to the point where they are screaming or becoming aggressive they are trying to express their frustration and let off steam. It is no different to feeling a lump in your throat when you need to cry and having to hold it in. It is only by going through this process of melting down that they will be able to calm down enough to be rational and not to fly of the handle at every word you say. Therefore, there are instances where as long as everyone is safe, a meltdown should be allowed to take its course and then begin the process of calming down properly.
Hopefully, these strategies can help you feel that while your child still may be angry from time to time, it is not a permanent state of being!
Ariella Lew is a highly qualified paediatric nurse who established Kids on Track Paediatric Consultancy in 2012. She has worked extensively in both hospital and community settings in Australia, UK and South Africa and is now bringing this experience to offer a bespoke home based support service for families and care givers. www.kidsontrackconsultancy.com