Angry children aren’t born that way. Something happens along the way to instill anger in them. While no person or family can be anger-proof there are ways you can help your child get a handle on anger.
1. Help your child have inner peace
Research has shown that connected children and their parents get angry with each other less. The connected child, growing up with a sense of well- being. He will get angry, but he learns to handle the anger in such a way that it does not take over his personality. Connected parents know their children well, so they are less likely to create situations that provoke them and their children to anger. Attached parents know they don’t have to be harsh to be in control.
Unconnected or angry children operate from inner turmoil. Down deep this child feels something important is missing in himself self and he is angry about it. (This feeling may continue into adulthood.) This void is likely to reveal itself as anger toward himself and parents, placing everyone at risk of becoming an angry family.
2. Don’t let your child suppress anger
Encourage your child to recognize when he is angry, starting with the toddler. Be an attentive listener, helping your child work through feelings. Given a willing audience that shows empathy rather than judgment, children will often talk themselves out of their angry moods.
The habitually misbehaving child is usually an angry child. If your child seems “bad” all the time or you “don’t know what else to do” or your child seems withdrawn, search beneath the surface for something that is angering your child. In counseling parents of these children, I have found two causes: Either there is a lot of family anger mother and/or father are on edge all the time and take their frustrations out on their children or the child feels angry because his sense of well- being is threatened. Helping children who misbehave repeatedly or seem “bad” more than “good” usually begins with a total family overhaul. Take inventory of the influences in your child’s life. What builds up his self-esteem? What tears it down? What needs are not being met? What inner anxiety is at the root of the anger? Anger is only the tip of the iceberg, and it warns of needs to be dealt with beneath the surface.
Inner anger often causes a child to withdraw. In a struggle to ward off attacks on a shaky self-image, this child puts on a protective shell. On the surface he may seem calm, but underneath a tight lid is a pressure cooker of emotions needing to be channeled or recognized. To keep the lid on, the child withdraws, avoiding interaction that might set him off. This is why we advise getting behind the eyes and into the mind of your child things may look different from that perspective.
It’s devastating for a child to feel that she is a “bad kid.” Unless that feeling is reversed, the child grows up acting the part. To get the “bad” feeling out of your child, intervene with a reassuring “You’re not bad, you’re just young, and young people sometimes do foolish things. But Daddy is going to help you stop doing them so you will grow up feeling like you are the nice person I know you are.” This sends a message to your child that you care enough to find the good child beneath the bad behavior.
4. Laughter’s the best medicine for anger
Humor diffuses anger and keeps trivial upsets from escalating. Try to see the lighter side of light and encourage your children to do the same. Never take life too seriously. You can often convey important messages through the medium of humour. This can often work more effectively than insisting on your children doing things your way.
5. Model appropriate expressions of anger
Anger that is expressed inappropriately blocks your ability to discipline wisely. For example, your four-year-old does something stupid. She covers the dog with mud, and the dog bounds off into the living room leaving muddy paw prints on the white carpeting. This is not the time to blow your top. The more aggravating the deed, the more you need a clear head to evaluate your options in handling the misbehavior. Each situation is different, and you must be able to think straight to choose the reaction that best fits the action. Being in a state of rage clouds your thinking. Your unthinking expressions of anger cause the situation to escalate. An approach less draining on everyone requires a level head and a dose of humor: quickly grab the dog and head for the bathtub, calling for your child to come along (in the most cheerful voice possible) to help clean the dog and then the rug. Your child learns from how you handle a crisis and how much work it is to clean up a mess. A temper tantrum from you can’t undo the childish mess, it can only add to it.
Anger puts a barrier between parents and child.
Also, it is important for children to feel comfortable approaching their parents, no matter what they had done or how they felt. Eliminate the fear factor. Displays of anger scare children and put them on the defensive. They will either retreat into a protective shell or grow to have an angry personality. Once we removed the barrier of fear, children are more likely to approach their parents. Children need to know what makes you angry. They don’t need to have your anger vented all over them.
Staying calm in the face of any feeling (anger, fear, even love) is a measure of emotional maturity. Your child will learn how to handle his/her anger by watching you. Our goal is to acknowledge and communicate our feelings (so our children know we are real people) and at the same time model to them the kind of real people we want them to become.
6. Lighten up the perfectionist
Children need to learn that it’s all right to goof. You can lighten up the uptight child by modeling ways to handle mistakes. You spill your coffee, you laugh it off, “I guess I win the Mr. Messy award today.” You don’t rant and rave when you leave the shopping list at home. Children learn that adults mess up, too. It’s all right to mess up and it’s normal not to be perfect. This is especially true of the perfectionist who may feel that approval” and therefore his value depends on error-free living at home and at school. Mistakes are a good way to learn, and we do a lot of learning through them. When one of us makes a mistake, someone is sure to comment: “Now, what can we learn from this situation?” If the anger button gets pushed this won’t work. Be careful not to react in an angry way when someone spills his milk or tears his pants. Just say, “Now what can we learn from this?” Then, maybe even have a laugh over it. The laugh part will take a lot of work, though, if you were punished angrily for every mistake you made as a child.