The Angry Child
Updated: May 19, 2020
Anger has a place
Anger is an emotion that we all experience to some degree, probably on a daily basis. It is normal and natural to experience this emotion, however, how we act it out and respond to it can look very different from person to person. Some people may seem like they never get angry, while others seem constantly angry. Finding the right balance between acknowledging our emotions and expressing our emotions can be quite a tricky process that can sometimes leave us a little red in the face.
The biology of anger
It is well documented that anger and aggression have some roots in our genetic make up. Bearing this i
n mind, we may be able to look back at our families over the generations and notice certain trends that may relate to anger, aggression, short tempers and low self control. If you notice any of this in your past, it is likely that there may be genetic predispositions within your family towards higher levels of anger and aggression. Now, it is important to understand that just because one may have a genetic predisposition towards something, there is no guarantee that they will ‘become’ or display those tendencies. For example, just because there may be some familial indication of a predisposition towards anger or aggression, this does not mean that your child will be an angry or aggressive child. At the end of the day, our environments and life experiences will ultimately determine whether we ‘become’ that or not. If a child who may have a tendency towards being short tempered and aggressive learns good self awareness and self regulation techniques as well as appropriate ways to display their emotions, they may never be seen as angry or aggressive. Our environments ultimately shape us.
The family environment is probably the most important context in which a child exists. It is the context in which a child begins to develop relationships, coping skills and problem-solving abilities. It is the context that provides safety and security, love, care and affection. The extend to which a child receives all of this will vary drastically from individual to individual, however, this remains a fundamental factor in our development. As we consider the significance of this environment, we need to bear in mind the following element which contribute to the family context:
Boundaries & Discipline structures
Within the whole exists the various parts, one of which is your child. Irrespective of what challenges you may be facing with your child, you need to put them into context before anything else. For this, one needs to seriously consider the following are significant and dynamic factors that impact a child’s
development, relationships and communication:
Age - take into context where your child is developmentally as this impacts what they can or cant do, how they view the world and how they think or feel about things.
Gender - this has developmental consequences which may impact your child, as well as social-developmental considerations such as how we socialise boys vs girls for example.
Birth Order - there is much research which indicates the significance order of birth and various personality traits or characteristics. Consider this seriously within the context of your family.
Personal Experience - what has your child actually experienced on a day or over time which may have contributed to a specific mood or outburst.
Very similar to above, we need to consider our own context as a parent and where we have come from. We need to bear in mind:
Developmental phase - Our own developmental period will impact how we engage with the world significantly.
Age and Gender - these will significantly impact how we have engaged with the world and as such how we have learned to be.
Own family and siblings - what were our upbringings like within our own families and with our own siblings.
Personality - how do we handle life and all the good and bad that comes along with it.
Relationship status - the type and quality of our relationships will impact us as well as be a model relationship for our children.
Personal Experiences - what you have been through contributes to who you are today.
My Contribution - how have I contributed to my child’s situation. Have I been too pushy, or over involved for example.
My Reaction - how have I reacted to my child’s behaviour.
My Modelling - what do I model to my child every day.
Dealing with an angry child can be extremely challenging and exhausting, especially if you are trying something new or dealing with a new developmental period. Here are some critical considerations to bear in mind when faced with an unruly child:
Manage own emotions - first and foremost you need to be able to manage and control your own emotions. If you are not able to self-regulate or are not even aware of your own emotional levels, then you may as well be dealing with two children. Managing your own emotions takes patience, practice and self-awareness. You will need to be able to identify your own triggers, insecurities and strengths and weaknesses so that you can remain relativity in control as opposed to just ‘reacting’ to life.
Assess the situation - Take a moment to assess the situation at hand, the age and context of your child, family dynamics, school dynamics, what’s contributed and how you have or are adding to the situation. Once you have more awareness about a situation, it becomes that much easier to manage.
Lesson to be learned - asking yourself what you want your child to learn from a situation should be a standard question that every parent constantly asks themselves. If you consider that every interaction with your child is a learning opportunity, we start to view things slightly differently. Each engagement is an opportunity to informally teach your child how to proactively, positively and responsibly handle situations and problems.
Practice and Consistency - Teaching yourself and your child how to manage their emotions and how to handle the challenges life throws take practice and consistency. You have to keep on doing the same, positive lesson over and over. Without a consistent message, we may as well stop as children will find ways around the inconsistent structures and interactions, thus making the ‘lessons’ null and void.
Be in control - the relationship between a parent and a child is a constant power battle. Losing our temper, shouting and screaming and just plain ‘losing it’ are the easiest way to hand the power to your child. Remain cool, calm and collected (at least in front of your child) so that you maintain power in the relationship and so your child learns who is in charge and where the boundaries are.
Time - once again, be patient. This takes time, and unfortunately, as you feel you have got a good handle on things your child will move into another developmental phase and things start all over again. Know this is coming, expect this so it becomes a little easier to manage when the time comes.