I have an angry child
“Here we go again”
“It always ends up with him exploding, crying, shouting, screaming, kicking, slamming the door…”
“It is so hard to calm her down!”
“He has terrible tantrums”
“She just goes “Aaaarrrggghhhhhhhhhh….. I hate you!”
“Even the school is complaining about his aggressive behaviours”
“She is angry all the time!”
“Why is he so angry?!”
Does any of the above sound familiar?
Anger is a basic, normal emotion and everyone experiences anger. In fact, some anger can be helpful. For example, when expressed appropriately, anger can help us to stand up for ourselves or motivate us to overcome problems. However, anger is often perceived as a highly negative emotion, and we are often made to feel guilty for expressing anger.
Hence, it is important to distinguish anger (the emotions and thoughts) from angry responses (aggressive behaviours or defiant actions). Children often regret their angry responses. They know the logic of why they should not hit another person, but they cannot seem to control their impulses- this is because the relevant brain regions are still developing. Some children are able to tolerate these impulses and self-regulate better than others, while some simply requires more help from adults to teach them emotional skills and ways to control aggressive impulses or behaviours.
Allowing children to feel all feelings–including anger is vital. The goal is to develop the notion that it is okay to feel angry and to have angry thoughts, but it is not okay to react in a maladaptive way such as kicking, screaming, being rude, fighting etc.
Here are some tips to help direct your child’s anger into constructive means:
1. Identify personal triggers and warning signs: Everyone has different triggers. Some people get very angry about triggers that others consider as mild-same goes for children. Once both you and your child are able to identify the triggers and warning signs, work on taking preventative actions and developing skills to calm down. For example, you can stop your child’s anger from escalating by saying, “Looks like you are getting frustrated. Let’s calm down so that you can tell me what’s bothering you and we can figure this out together”.
2. Develop emotions vocabulary: Often children simply do not know how to express their frustrations. By teaching them how to label various states of anger (e.g. annoyed, mad, rage), they can tell you exactly what they are feeling. For example, “I am so annoyed because he teased me”, or “I am furious at you because you did not let me finish the cartoon!” .This is good because now they have other means of letting you know their anger rather than using aggressive behaviours.
3. Calming activities: Teach children to channel their anger into other activities. For example, getting them to draw, write, breathe deeply, visualise a relaxing scene, sing or dance when they are feeling angry. Help children to come up with different activities (preferably fun) and do it together.
4. Model and role plays: Teaching by example can be the most effective way to help children manage their anger as children can see and learn the benefits of handling anger and frustrations appropriately. You can also have role plays of different scenarios where your child is likely to feel angry and teach him/her how to react appropriately.
5. Get professional support: Having to constantly handle your child’s anger can be very distressing, frustrating and puzzling! A professional could work with both the child and parents on anger issues. It is important for parents to be actively involved in the entire process. Remember that it is okay to seek help – you are only trying to help your child to be as happy as he/she can be.
If you feel that your child’s anger is beyond typical behavior, there could be other underlying causes such as anxiety, trauma, learning difficulties, sensory processing issues, ADHD and ASD.
If you have concerns for you child, seek support. For further information, please contact Kids At Max on 03 9702 4447.
Written by Kids At Max – Psychologist