Help, My Child is Always Angry!!
All children get angry. It’s a part of life. In fact, anger can be good. For instance, our children’s anger can help us identify what they find important. After all, a person rarely gets angry about something they don’t care about. Anger also gives us the energy to address that priority. The trick is to not let the anger overwhelm us but to learn how to use the energy of our anger to address the priority in a positive and productive manner. With that in mind, we can address our children’s anger by exploring what priority lies underneath their anger. Here are a few to look for:
- Feeling unheard. Children get angry when they feel “no one listens to me.” We may inadvertently contribute to this feeling if we have not learned to be observant of our children. For instance, if we do not observe the subtle cues of boredom, tiredness, hunger, or nervousness our children may escalate to anger. We did not “hear” their subtle behaviors telling us they needed a break so they broke out in anger to be heard. Learn to listen well. Listen to their words but also to their body language and actions. Listen with your ears and your eyes.
- Being emotionally hurt. Hurt often lies underneath our children’s angry outbursts. Remember our children do not think like adults so what you may think of as a minor infraction might be perceived as a major betrayal in their eyes. For instance, I told my daughter we could get ice cream one night; but then I got called in to work for an emergency. She felt as though I had broken a promise, betrayed a trust. She was hurt. We needed to repair our relationship. Broken promises, teasing names, strained friendships, a teacher’s comment, and similar experiences can lead to hurt…which can be expressed in anger. Observe your children’s anger carefully to discover if there is a hurt underneath that anger.
- Fear. Children often respond to fear with anger. Fear might arise in response to the unknown or the unpredictable. Perhaps you have experienced your children’s anger on the first day of school, as they prepare for the new and “unknown” of a new school and new teachers. Or, you may have noticed the increase in your children’s anger when routines get changed and life becomes unpredictable. Our children thrive in structure. They excel when they have a predictable routine letting them know what comes next. If that routine gets changed, be sure to keep your children informed. Doing so can cut back on angry outbursts. (For more on the benefits of routines, read The Discipline Tool You Can’t Live Without.)
- Attention. Everyone likes to be noticed. Children especially need to know their parents notice them and delight in them. Sometimes, however, parents give their children all kinds of energetic attention when they misbehave and very little attention when they are behaving. We think, “Don’t upset the apple cart” when they behave and avoid interrupting as a result…which they interpret as receiving no attention. When they misbehave, we jump on the misbehavior to nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, we have given attention to the angry misbehavior and ignored the positive behavior. We have reinforced the angry misbehavior with attention and taught them the best way to get attention is with angry misbehavior. Once again, we must remain observant of our children. Verbally acknowledge their positive behaviors and address negative behavior in a calm, neutral voice. (Read Catch the Little Rascals Red-Handed for more on the impact of attention in discipline.)
I’m sure there are more reasons lying beneath our children’s anger; but these four give us a start. You can learn the specifics of what lies under your children’s anger through careful observation and loving interaction. As you observe your children, tell us what you find…it might help all of us deal better with our children’s anger!