Occasionally we notice themes and trends developing in the demands for the services that we offer. An area that is steadily increasing in demand is that of working with children and young adults. Before we have really got down to an in depth discussion with the parents and the child the question the parents are presenting with is why?
Since this is an emerging trend for us I thought I would outline some of the background reasons why a child may become angry and offer a few basic suggestions as to what you as parents can do. The health warning with this is that this is not the totality of the issue and that I cannot hope to cover every aspect in depth in one article. Another health warning is beware the act of denial. Some of the reasons given in this point the finger at parents. Be open to the challenge and ask yourself what you can do?
In essence there a four main headline reasons as to why a child/young adult may develop anger issues. Those are exposure to trauma, lack of firm and healthy boundaries, having angry role models and low self esteem. I’ll deal with each of these in more detail.
If you have anger issues or your relationship is full of conflict then you are role modelling for your children how to deal with conflict. Any of you heading for the land of denial need to understand that most of us don’t deal with conflict in a healthy way. Broadly 10% of us are acting out in an aggressive way. A further 10% are really assertive and healthy in the way they deal with conflict. The vast majority of us use our powers of passive aggression to pretend we are not angry while leaking aggression into our relationships and our lives. That being the case then even when we are trying not to appear angry we are giving some very unhealthy messages surrounding anger. Also, never underestimate the powers of intuition and perception of your children. They know when you are angry and how angry you are and they know when to be scared. Many parents have found a level of anger between themselves that is acceptable and comfortable for their relationship. This means they have become desensitised to it and have normalised the behaviour so that comment such as “well everyone does that don’t they?” will be typical. Children don’t have that normalisation built in and thus can be traumatised easily. Which leads me on to the next area….
How traumatic an incident is to an individual is down to how deeply it affected them, coupled with what facilities were open to them to express how they felt at that time. As an example a two year old who gets lost in the supermarket aisles experiences the longest sixty seconds of their life. They will be deeply upset. Given a two year olds speech level their ability to articulate how they really felt will be limited. Add to this, perhaps, a parent who is so relieved that they have found their child, that they express that as anger towards the child e.g. “don’t ever run away from me like that again!!” In doing so they close down the communication channels. These circumstances will make the incident pretty traumatic. That’s just one example.
Moving trauma up a notch, a five year old child witnessing a violent argument between parents is likely to be deeply traumatised. The two closest relationships in the child’s life are at war and he or she has nowhere to go to express the deep hurt and fear that they feel. Add to that a divorce handled badly, which in the early stages it often is, and the trauma level builds.
Bring in factors such as bullying, both physical and emotional (online) physical and sexual abuse and you get an idea of how trauma can enter their lives.
Trauma that is not processed adequately or healthily is likely to become locked in and can appear as expressed anger in the future. Worse still, especially with abuse, it can become part of the identity of that child.
Lack of boundaries
Parents are subject to so much advice and crisirticisim these days that it is a tough job to take on. Despite this thousands of us volunteer, or don’t, for the role every day without any real training, awareness or a toolkit.
We work with and observe children who have very few, if any boundaries and they are either very needy, nervous and constantly seeking reassurance or they will be highly skilled at getting their parents attention and manipulating situations to get what they want. Or they will be very angry. This anger is an expression of how fearful they are. They do not feel safe.
Any parent that thinks that giving their child whatever they want is an act of love may be sowing seeds for trouble in the future. Most children can have what they want. Getting it on their terms is the dangerous part. Parents are parents first and friends a long, long way down the line.
Low self esteem
This is another one for parents to be aware of. Low self esteem begets low self esteem. A parent with unhealthy self esteem is unable to boost their child’s self esteem. They don’t have the emotional energy. They are too busy trying to cope with their own issues and get their own emotional needs met to meet those of another.
You only have to watch a programme like Jeremy Kyle to see how low self esteem and angry environments breed children with low self esteem and anger issues. Before the middle class reading this start thinking this does not apply to them. You do not have to live on a sink estate to have low self esteem and to role model the issues that go with it to your children.
When we don’t think we are respected, listened to and loved we will develop unhealthy behaviours designed to elicit these responses, and many others, from our loved ones. If I get angry then you may well start to respect me. If you give me the attention I need I may, for a shout while think you love me.
Signs your child may be developing anger issues
Goes without saying really. But the start of it is often harder to spot. It’s noted as an anomaly in the child’s behaviour and may be forgotten about until the next time, and the next and then before you know it…..it’s a pattern.
The opposite of over assertion is complete withdrawal. This can be harder to spot especially with the technology that children often have in their own rooms now. With games, TVs, phones and tablets they can disappear for days on end. This means you don’t know who they are talking to and about what, if indeed they are talking. Withdrawn behaviour is often labelled as “Its just Jack, that’s the way he is.” He may not have always been like that. He does not have to always be like that.
The music they listen to
The youth of our world often wear their heart on their stereos. Has their musical taste changed to an angrier more violent mood?
The groups they hang out with
What is their circle of friends? What are their interests? Are you comfortable with these and do they meet where you can interact with them or is t always away from adults.
Feedback from others
Friends, teachers, relatives and other more impartial observers are important providers of information. Of course listening to critical and concerned feedback about your child without taking it personally is difficult especially if you can’t take your associated ego out of it. If you have unhealthy self esteem this is likely to be challenge. Rather than being interfering busy bodies these observers can be vital sources of information for you.
What to do if your child has anger issues?
Seek professional help.
There are counsellors, child behaviour specialists and psychotherapists that can help you. Look for one that takes a whole family view. If you have read this far you are now aware that your child’s anger could well be part of a systemic issue in your family.
How much praise compared to criticism do you give your child. The balance of communication with your child should be way over in the favour of praise. Please focus on their behaviour and achievements and not their looks. Make it realistic. Children see through pretend or manufactured praise and it has the opposite effect. Sincerity is the name of this game.
Challenge the behaviour not the child.
When you do criticise, address the behaviour of your child. They may have done something truly bad but are they really a bad person?
Create moments of space to talk
Taking a drive together or a walk together puts you in a position and place where there is not much else to do other than talk. You are also side by side which helps create affiliation. Do not do this as a one off. They will see through it. This is a strategy to open up regular communication channels and build trust.
Do you not relate to any of these? Or can you see some areas and patterns that may make sense. Given the complexity of the issue and potential it has for life changing consequences you may understand why we take it so seriously.
If you want to talk to CalmPeople about this subject we are happy to help. We take a whole family view which means that parents need to be open to change as well as their children.