ANGER IN KIDS
6. GOOD PARENTING SOMETIMES DOESN'T WORK
Help your child understand and master those furious feelings
WHEN ANGER BECOMES AGGRESSION
Of course, there will be times when anger turns into a physical melee. Use this as an opportunity to help your child master these aggressive feelings. Here’s what you can do:
WHEN ANGER IS A CRY FOR HELP
A child may seem irritable most of the time, easily set off and ready to start a fight. If this type of behavior is brief, it may be a response to a major change in the family, such as a new baby or a move. Or it may be the first sign of a “touchpoint,” a time when a child slips back into old, outgrown behaviors just as she’s about to blossom in new ways. When this behavior persists and interferes with relationships with family or friends, it is time to consider more serious possible causes: ongoing threats to a child’s safety, deeper tensions in the family, a developmental delay in language that leads to frustration, or a delay in social skills that brings on fighting or depression. If you’re concerned about your child’s anger, ask your pediatrician for help.
ANGER CONFUSES CORRECTION
A good correction routine teaches children that they must change. Their current course of action will not work. It's unacceptable and needs adjusting. Unfortunately the clear message that the child has a problem and needs to work on it is sometimes missed because of parental anger. A parent's harshness can confuse the learning process. Instead of thinking, "I'm here taking a Break because I did something wrong," the child thinks, "I'm here taking a Break because I made Mom mad."
The child's focus changes from correcting what he or she did wrong to avoiding parental anger. It's important to remember that your anger is good for identifying problems but not good for solving them. When you're tempted to respond harshly, be careful to take a moment and think about what you need to teach in the situation. It's easy to react with anger when your kids do the wrong thing but it's more helpful to move into a constructive correction routine.
For example, Dad yells, "I've had it! I called you five times and you didn't come, so I'm not taking you to the party!" The child gets a mixed message. Is missing the party the consequence for not coming when called, or is it the consequence for making Dad angry?
Children who grow up with explosive parents learn to focus more on pleasing people than on living with convictions about right and wrong. They may learn to make changes in life, but not because they're determined to do what's right. Rather, they make changes to avoid upsetting people; they become people pleasers or just plain sneaky. Kids then believe that what they did was okay as long as Mom or Dad didn't find out. As long as no one gets angry, then there's no problem.
When you make a mistake and correct in anger, it's important to come back to your child and talk about it afterwards. Clarify what was wrong, why the consequence was given, and apologize for your harshness.
THE SOLUTION ISN'T BIG PUNISHMENTS
Some problems that children face are more difficult than others. The child who is annoying, who habitually teases, or who is explosively angry are just a few examples. Out of frustration, some parents think that the child needs bigger and bigger consequences. They believe that the bigger the consequence, the faster the change.
Remember that the goal is a changed heart, not just punishment for doing wrong. A larger consequence may be needed to get the child's attention but the real work takes place by helping children adjust the way they think and the patterns of behavior that have developed over time. Often many small corrections are more effective than one large consequence.
Mature people will feel an internal pain when they discover that they’ve made a mistake or done the wrong thing. This is normal and healthy. Your child may not experience that same inner sense yet. Consequences create a kind of pain for children. This pain can motivate right behavior and get them moving in the right direction.
One example of this is the parent who decided to take away the privilege of riding a bike from her nine-year-old son. She said, "Son, I'm not just taking the bike away for a day. I'm taking the bike away until I see some progress in the way you're treating me when I call you in for dinner. We'll see how you do for two days and if I see a good response then you can play with your bike again." Mom turned the discipline around so that the child had to earn back the privilege. She wanted to see several positive change points before she allowed her son to ride his bike again.
Kids often need a multi-faceted approach to help them change. Teaching about sensitivity, self-control, respect or another quality will also go a long way to help children change their minds and thus free them to change their hearts as well.
GOOD PARENTING SOMETIMES DOESN'T WORK
As a parent, you've probably discovered that even when you do right things with your kids, at times problems develop and you have to make adjustments. As you examine your current routine, you may discover that in an attempt to do something helpful such as talk things through, you've actually encouraged something unhelpful such as arguing. You may find that you're not actually doing something wrong but the pattern that's developed has become unhealthy.
After thinking about what happens when her son badgers, one mom told us, "All I do is respond to his questions. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I thought it was good to talk with your kids.… It's just that he won't quit." It's true that talking with kids is helpful most of the time, but when parents indulge a badgering child, they become part of the problem.
After you identify negative patterns in your relationship, you don't have to feel guilty that you've been doing it all wrong for years. The fact is that you've probably been doing a lot of things right. You just need a change because it's time to emphasize something different. We find that many parents feel like failures when problems come because they've been doing what they think is right but it isn't working. The fact is that one particular right thing may not be the best thing for your family at this time. The sooner you can see problems and make adjustments the better.
Parents must make changes regularly. It's part of the job. Flexibility is important. In fact one mom said if Jesus would have written beatitudes for parents he would have said, "Blessed are the flexible" and "Blessed are those who know when to take a stand for righteousness and when to just love 'em." Pray a lot and ask the Lord for wisdom. In the end you'll be surprised at the progress your children make.
WHAT TO DO WHEN KIDS ARE ANNOYING
Dealing with annoying behavior is not like disciplining for defiance or teaching a child to follow instructions. When it comes to impulsivity, the child can't always make changes just by choosing something different. In many cases, kids don't realize that they're being annoying and they don't know what to do to be more appropriate. Furthermore, these patterns often come from habits that have been practiced for a long time. These reasons are not excuses for inappropriate behavior but they're a further indication that the job will take concentrated effort from the child and the parents.
Part of the issue is immaturity; the child hasn't learned how to pick up on the social cues or restrain behavior as much as we'd like. But these children need more than just time to grow up. They need concentrated work to develop two character qualities: self-control and sensitivity. These qualities not only help children when they're young, but they become tools for success as children get older.
Here are some working definitions for sensitivity and self-control to get you started with your children in this area:
Self-control is the ability to control myself so that Mom and Dad don't have to.
Self-control means to think before I act.
Self-control is the ability to talk about problems instead of grabbing, pushing, or hitting.
Self-control means that I limit the noises I make when others are around.
Self-control means that I focus on one thing until it gets done, before I move to the next.
Sensitivity means that when I walk into a room I look and listen before I speak.
Sensitivity is thinking about how my actions are affecting other people.
Sensitivity means thinking about how I could help someone else.
It is never too soon to teach your child how to control her anger so that it doesn’t control her. Remember, however, that it is difficult for young children to master these strategies. Your child will need your help—and a lot of practice:
Are you concerned about the extent of your children's anger in response the the changes your family has been going through? It's important to recognize that the intensity of kids' anger is just as strong as adults'--if not more so--and they need to be given specific instruction regarding effective and acceptable methods of coping with these intense emotions. Parents should aim for introducing a mix of both physical and emotional opportunities for release, such as:
Even for kids, writing in a journal is a great way to express and process one's feelings. In fact, you may want to introduce the concept of journaling by getting one for yourself, and letting your kids see you taking some time each day to write out your thoughts and feelings.
If you're bothered by the thought of what your child might write, consider pairing up for a dual-author journal. Pick up a blank spiral notebook and take turns writing entries/notes back and forth to each other. Especially for kids who worry about hurting a parent's feelings, addressing their "big ticket" questions and concerns in this manner breaks the ice and makes it easier to eventually become comfortable sharing them face to face.
Journal writing is an excellent way to sort through difficult emotions and gain a sense of clarity about the tough decisions you have to make every day. Here you'll find explanations of several different types of journals. Pick one you like, and get started today. After just a few short weeks of recording your thoughts, you'll be amazed at your progress and the sense of freedom writing can bring!
1. A Gratitude Journal
This is a simple journal that is fairly easy to keep up with. The idea is to write down five things each day that you are thankful for. As best you can, try not to repeat the previous day's gratitude! This exercise will help you identify little things that you appreciate in your life. Before long, you'll realize that there are many things about yourself, your kids, and your life that you value.
2. A Parenting Journal
This is a journal where you can record your observations about parenthood and identify the personal strengths you see in yourself and each of your children. You'll find that as you pay attention to all the good that bring to your family, you'll realize more of your own personal strengths and gain a more clear sense of your immense value as a parent.
3. A Hopes and Dreams Journal
This is where you can record your most personal hopes and dreams. There's something sacred about what you really want for your life and your children. However, most of us don't go around sharing those most personal inner thoughts with others. This journal is an opportunity to write down those aspirations in a safe place and make note of what you observe as those dreams unfold in your life.
4. A Guided Journal4
This is when someone else gives you topics to write about each day. Questions are geared to help you identify personal strengths, name positive qualities, and find sources of hope and vitality in your life. Examples of just a few guided journal topics include healing after a divorce, recovering from trauma, and building self-esteem.
Drafting letters--with the intention of mailing them or not--is another effective tool for helping kids process their feelings. It's a strategy that can be especially helpful for kids who have little or no contact with the recipient. Putting their true thoughts down on paper in this manner gives them a tangible way of dealing with their emotions, so that they don't get bottled up and ignored, only to resurface later.
Keep in mind, too, that even young children can create photo journals and letters, or they can say their thoughts out loud and have an adult write them down.
If your children are angry over a divorce or loss, consider seeking out a kids' support group through a local community mental health organization. Many organizations offer a combination of programs for adults and kids, so that parents can help their children through the grief process and develop healthy strategies for moving forward.
Make sure that your children are also getting plenty of exercise. If this is a struggle, consider walking or jogging together several times a week. This will give you a chance to bond while also allowing each of you the opportunity to sort through your emotions while engaging in a physical activity--which can also help you sleep better at night, equip you for handling stress more effectively, and give you more energy for getting through the day.
Blowing Off Steam
Finally, teach your children some specific and acceptable strategies for blowing of steam, such as: yelling into a pillow, sprinting up the street or around your house, using a punching bag, or systematically tensing and releasing his or her muscles--starting with the toes and moving all the way up to the forehead. These strategies may seem simplistic, but it's important not to take for granted that your kids' anger will resolve on it's own. Youngsters have to be taught how to effectively relieve themselves of the overwhelming tension and anger they feel.