Why is my child so angry?
Anger often relates to a child feeling misunderstood, falsely accused, unfairly treated or insecure. It’s common for anger to conceal other more vulnerable feelings, and angry outbursts often reflect more than just what has happened in the immediate situation. The analogy of a volcano captures the way in which difficult feelings (frustration, hurt and injustice) can build up inside over time, with pressure accumulating to the point that a minor annoyance can easily trigger your child to ‘erupt’ and ‘blow their top’.
Tip 1: Increase Emotional Awareness
- The more you can encourage your child to express difficult feelings, the less emotions will build up and overflow into angry explosions.
What to Do
- To be able to express emotion, children first need to be aware of their feelings. You can improve your child’s ‘emotional literacy’ by beginning to increase the amount you talk about anger and other feelings.
- As frequently as possible try to refer to your own and other people’s feelings and guess at, reflect back & question your child’s feelings:
- “That man on TV looks annoyed”
- “Your sister is ‘stupid’? I wonder if you’re feeling cross that she interrupted our special time together”
Tip 2: Stay Calm
- Children are like barometers for the emotional climate around them: if you’re stressed, they will be too, if you’re relaxed, so will they be.
What to Do
- Schedule in relaxing time for yourself on a regular basis. If it’s difficult to get time alone, club together with other parents and set up a babysitting rota. If you get to recuperate once in a while, it will be much easier for you to respond calmly to your child’s meltdowns. Calm responses will help contain your child’s anger whilst angry ones will make your child more enraged.
Remember that the way you manage your own angry feelings will impact on how your little one deals with his.
If your child hears you hurling abuse at the driver that just cut you up, don’t be surprised if you hear a stream of insults when his sister has grabbed his favourite toy!
- If you’re feeling really wound up, don’t forget that time out is useful for adults as well. Make sure your child is safe and remove yourself for the situation. Breathe deeply and slowly and tell yourself: “keep calm!”
Tip 3: Accept Feelings and Redirect Angry Actions
- Dismissing difficult feelings (e.g. “hey it’s not a big deal, calm down”) can be counterproductive; your child will be left simmering about both the original source of frustration as well as not being understood.
- The secret is to: i) accept and acknowledge your child’s angry feelings and ii) direct her towards an appropriate outlet for expressing her intense emotion. When feelings are accepted, your child will feel more understood, less in need of trying to convince you of their standpoint and therefore calmer. When feelings are expressed, the build of emotion inside is avoided and so explosions become less likely.
What to Do
- Identify and name the feeling that is behind your child’s rage
- “Wow Jamie, that made you upset”
- “You’re disappointed we have to leave now?”
- Show understanding by guessing at your child’s wishes
- “You’d like it if your brother asked you before borrowing your stuff?
- “Wouldn’t it be great if we could stay longer?”
- Encourage appropriate expression of feelings or problem solving
- “Show me how you’re feeling by... using words / drawing a picture / hitting this cushion / ripping up this scrap paper”
- “What would be a better way to solve this problem?”
Tip 4: Use Clear and Consistent Consequences To Limit Aggressive Behaviour
- Your child needs to learn that although anger is ok, aggressive behaviour is not.
What to Do
- Get down to your child’s level and, using a calm, low but firm tone which indicates displeasure, clearly tell him what he has done wrong. Try not to shout as this suggests you have lost control.
- “Katie, it is not ok to hit your brother”
- If your child stops behaving aggressively, give her lots of praise. If, however, she continues her inappropriate behaviour after you’ve given a warning, impose a clear consequence, such as the naughty step or withdrawing privileges.
If you are worried about the escalating nature of your child’s anger and nothing works over a period of weeks or months, there may be underlying issues which require professional help. Within the NHS, your GP would be your first port of call.