This is part one of a three part series on anger management for children. There are numerous reasons why a child may be experiencing feelings of intense anger, and the solutions are just as varied so it’s not something I want to rush through in one article.
In this first segment, I want to talk about looking inwardly at our own emotions and to do this, I’m going to start with a little story. Tell me if this strikes a chord within you.
Lizzy has had a rough night, and as usual she didn’t get enough sleep. Yesterday was a busy day and she never managed to find time to have a break, so when the children eventually went to bed rather than go to sleep herself, she stayed up enjoying some “me time.” A disturbed night with the children followed and when one of them wakes her up for the day long before she is ready, she is already feeling snappy and irritable.
She feels drained at the very thought of making it through another day, and her patience is already hanging on by a thread.
Without noticing or intending to, Lizzy creates an atmosphere of tension. Then, when she asks her child to cooperate with something and he or she reacts in defiance or anger of their own, she feels validated: “Well of course I’m angry, look at the way my child is behaving and pushing me to my limits!”
She doesn’t see that the tension has already been simmering under the surface. And because her cup was already so drained, when her child does react with intense emotions, she is unable to find the patience she would otherwise have if she had started off on an even keel.
And this is where it all falls apart. In meeting her child’s anger with her own, the mood quickly spirals and the pattern for the day is set. Now both of them are feeling the strain, and are consequently far more likely to lose control much more quickly.
Does that story sound familiar to you?
There is no blame in this situation. This isn’t Lizzy’s fault. It is simply a consequence of modern day parenting. Sometimes it is a task which requires more than we have to give. But as parents, it is also our job to step up and take our place as the leader, and to endeavour to create an atmosphere of safety and warmth.
So when your child is regularly flying off the handle, what should our first step as parents be?
Before anything else, Lizzy and every other parent stuck in this cycle of anger and impatience, need to remove their focus from their child’s behaviour and instead look at how they can fix their own.
As parents, our needs often go unanswered, but this is not healthy and doesn’t serve our children. Many of us will be holding onto anger or upset from our own past. This may be triggered deeply when your child lashes out at you, putting you instantly in defense mode.
We need to look deeply at what it is that is creating our tension.
Is it a childhood trauma? Is it not having time for yourself? Is it a lack of creative outlet or not enough sleep?
Take some time to really give yourself the focus you deserve and devise a plan to meet your needs. This may mean booking some time with a therapist to hash it out with someone who is trained to support you. It may mean an honest and open conversation with your spouse. My book, The Tiny Book of Patience is jam packed with ideas for helping parents to meet their own needs and find their way back to a calm and stress free platform to parent from.
Whatever the answer to your individual needs, when you find your cup full again and rid yourself of those feelings of agitation and irritability, you will see an instant change in your child’s behaviour. When you have yourself on an even keel, their angry outbursts won’t have that same triggering effect on you, and you will find it so much easier to respond with love and patience. This alone will help them to feel safe and secure, and they will begin to reflect your calm mood.
Children soak up the atmosphere we create, so it’s important we strive for a calm one.
Of course, it’s not always that simple. As I said in the beginning, the reasons a child may be angry and lashing out are numerous, and working on yourself may not be enough.
In part two we will delve into the many other reasons your child may be experiencing such intense feelings of anger, and then we will look at the methods you can use to help them work through their feelings in a healthy way.
But the first step should always be to look inwards.
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