I often have children brought to me by parents with the question, why is my child angry.
In my experience there are roughly 3 reasons why children express anger in an inappropriate or unhealthy way.
Remember that 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 for the longest sixty seconds of their life will be deeply upset. Given the 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 “don’t ever run away from me like that again!!” and in doing so close down the communication channels. These circumstances will make the incident pretty traumatic.
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.
Trauma experienced and not dealt with in childhood returns as anger later on.
Lack of clear and firm boundaries
I am not a believer in rules for rules sake. On the other hand I believe it is my duty to be clear with my children about what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable. This way my children know when issues are open to discussion and, crucially, when I will pay attention and listen to, and respect their view. They also know that I am the executive decision maker so if we can’t compromise or agree then I make the decision. This is important for a number of reasons –
- Some things in life are always and will always be non-negotiable. Particularly those that apply to health and safety and hygiene.
- The ability to negotiate, compromise and lose an argument are vital skills in life where we have to take account of other and not just ourselves.
I 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.
Firm and clear boundaries give children a safe world to explore and learn in. Our role as they get older is to adjust the boundaries towards giving them greater autonomy and responsibility as their maturity demands.
They have an unhealthy anger role model.
As adults we all have to accept that we are role models to others. With children this is especially important. By what we say and what we do we teach our children how to live life. If when you are angry you punch a wall, do not be surprised that your son grows up doing the same. If you avoid conflict and confrontation and turn anger in on yourself you will be teaching your children to do this also. If you express your anger through sarcasm expect to get that back from your adolescent in double servings.
As I said above, these are, in my experience the most common three factors in children who act out their anger in unhealthy ways. It is often a combination of all three.
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