Sometimes a child’s angry outburst is just that: an angry outburst. But, if mismanaged, a child’s anger can become unhealthy or maladaptive. Being able to tell the difference between a temper tantrum and real anger is important not only for the wellbeing of your child, but also for your family.
When Is My Child’s Anger No Longer “Normal”?
These are definite indicators that your child is experiencing something they can no longer handle on their own:
· Your child is still having what you would consider temper tantrums past the age of 7 or 8.
· Your child expresses anger in ways that hurt themselves or others. This is a clear indicator that your child is having trouble controlling their emotions. Watch for emotional displays that involve hitting, biting, scratching, head-banging, or kicking.
· Your child’s anger disrupts their education. If the school has called and let you know that your child is disrupting class or typical play on the playground, this is a clear indicator that your child is having trouble.
· Your child, or your family, is excluded from social activities (i.e., parties, playdates, etc). Other parents shy away from you. If your child is excluded because he or she is a “bully” and is unable to get along with other children, you should be aware that anger may be an issue for your child.
· Your child’s behavior disrupts family life. Can your family get through a meal without an interruption? Are you afraid to go out in public as a family because you fear an outburst?
Why Is My Child So Angry?
There are several reasons why a child may not be able to control their anger.
Anxiety can be a cause for children to experience acute anger. When a child is in a stressful situation they can sometimes lash out in an attempt to avoid the activity or situation that is causing them stress. Notice how your child behaves in social situations. Dealing with multiple peers at a time might be more than they can handle.
Secondly, there may be sensory issues that cause your child to become distressed. Sensitivity to lights and sounds is a characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Sometimes a child can verbalize this sensitivity, sometimes they cannot.
A third possible reason of uncontrolled anger, especially while your child is in the classroom environment, might be due to a learning disorder, social disorder, or physical disability. Check with your child’s teacher(s) to see if your child has meltdowns during particular subjects. Get your child assessed for ADHD, learning disabilities, and vision or hearing issues.
How Do I Help My Child?
There are many things that you as a parent can do to help your child manage their anger.
Here are some tips for helping your child through an episode:
· Don’t be afraid to step in and take control of the situation. Remember that you are the person your child looks up to for help. Set firm limits and enforce them.
· Allow your child to feel their feeling. It may seem counterintuitive, but allow your child to express their frustration and be angry. Make sure you acknowledge their anger and communicate that while feeling angry is okay, maladaptive behavior (hitting, biting, kicking, etc) is not.
· Help your child express their feelings using words.
· Use rewards to elicit desired (i.e., “good”) behaviors, but use punishments sparingly. Rewards for good behavior can work wonders. By the time you have read this my guess is that your child has had their share of punishments. Save the punishments for the harmful behaviors.
· Build your child’s self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy by encourage them to see the good in themselves. Dealing with anger is not only hard for you. Your child needs to know they are good and that this is just something they need to work through; it doesn’t make them bad.
· Don’t be afraid to use physical restraint or a loving touch. Children will sometimes just “lose it”. Don’t be afraid to use physical restraint to keep them from hurting themselves or others. Removing a child from a situation that is frustrating and harmful is a good thing. And, just as physical restraint is needed, so is a loving touch. A loving touch can be your most powerful asset when trying to calm an upset child.
· Model the behavior you expect to see from your child. Be sure that when you need space you model it for your child with your words. Tell them how you are feeling and ask them to honor your feelings. Be an example of good behavior for your child.
It can be frustrating and hard dealing with a child that has anger fits. Just remember that your child is frustrated and struggling too.