Five-year-old old Rahul was trying to put together a picture puzzle when his two-year-old brother walked into the room and picked up a piece of the puzzle. Disturbed and angered by what his brother had done, Rahul first screamed and then hit the little boy so hard that he fell to the floor and bumped his head against it.
It was exam time and 14-year-old Smriti was watching a TV show. Annoyed by Smriti’s careless attitude towards studies, her father walked up to the TV and switched it off. Then, turning towards her, in a stern voice, he told her to sit down to study. What happened next left the family shocked. Smriti hurled the remote on to the floor. Then, she lashed out at her father, telling him that both he and her mother should stop telling her what to do.
Does reading about how Rahul or Smriti behaved remind of you of your child’s behaviour? Does your child’s reaction in anger make you feel that such behaviour isn’t normal? Do you worry about how to deal with the issue and set things right?
Let’s delve into the problem to get a better idea of how to tackle it.
Why do children get angry: Angry outbursts by children are not without reason. Anger in children has its roots in what a child is exposed to or undergoes. Children develop anger when they:
- Experience stress levels beyond what they can handle
- Are subjected to physical or sexual abuse
- Are emotionally abused – for example, not allowed to express themselves
- Are around family members who have poor control over anger
- Feel jealous, lonely or lack self-confidence
- Experience inconsistent parenting – being around adults, each of whom has their own set of rules, consequences and expectations
- Are exposed to violent content on media
Signs of uncontrollable anger in children: Children who have issues with anger experience levels of anger that are more than they can handle. Some of the signs that children with anger issues exhibit are:
- Unable to control meltdowns or anger outbursts
- Easily angered and remain angry for more than 30 minutes
- Indulge in self-harm, occasionally or frequently
- Get angry when others can’t understand what they want to convey
- Are defiant and aggressive, not only with children but also adults
- Are stubborn and refuse to listen to what is being told
- Use foul language when in a bad mood
- Throw or break items when irritated
- Are preoccupied with revenge
- Express hatred towards others
- Try to change the rules of a game when losing
- Blame others for their problems
Signs of passive aggressiveness: Some children do not react overtly in anger, but use resistance to express their disapproval. Some of the ways through which children express anger passively are:
- Deliberately delaying – for example, turning up late at the breakfast table
- Provoking others through their actions
- Following orders in an inefficient manner
- Intentionally allowing a problem to escalate
- Not responding to when addressed
- Showing insensitivity to others
Ill-effects of unmanaged anger: While managing anger well can bring about positive changes, unmanaged anger can prove extremely damaging to a child. Some of the destructive effects of unmanaged anger include:
- Issues in school
- Problems with eating and sleeping
- Risky behaviour
- Issues with addiction
What should you do?
Model remaining calm: When parents react in anger, they inadvertently tell their child that angry outbursts are acceptable. So, while trying to discipline your child, try to remain calm. Tell your child how disappointed you are about her behaviour but also tell yourself that if you get angry it won’t help. So, stay calm.
Distract your child: When you observe that your child is reaching a point where he will soon have an anger outburst, diffuse the situation by redirecting your child towards something else. For example, ask him to go and drink a glass of water to calm himself down.
Teach anger-control techniques: Not teaching a child anger-control techniques, but just telling her to control her anger can sometimes make a child feel angrier. Most parents never tell their child how to control anger. Teach your child techniques like taking three deep breaths before reacting when angry or give her a squishy ball that she can squeeze when annoyed.
Teach empathy: Help your child develop empathy by making him think about how his angry actions hurt someone. In the case of Rahul, his parents can tell him how his anger hurt his little brother. Feeling remorseful for actions will help a child develop a sense of what is right and what isn’t.
Become involved: Observe and talk to your child to understand if there is something bothering her. Help her open up to you. Not only will this increase communication between the two of you, but also make her feel that she is not being neglected. It will also help you understand what triggers your child’s anger and eliminate the causal factors.
Be consistent: Parents and caregivers, or other adults involved in the care of the child, should be consistent in their approach towards the child. Make it a rule to not give in to tantrums or meltdowns. Also, follow through with the consequences. Do not allow the child to hurt someone in anger. And, don’t do something that may cause the child to become angry.
How the child has developed such anger matters a lot. Sometimes parents exhibit a lot of anger at home, and the child learns from them or others around.
The habit of getting angry can lead to a lot of problems at home, in school, and later in life where they may exhibit road rage or problems at the work place.
If a child has uncontrollable anger, it means there is something abnormal happening with the child. So, it is very important that professionals, like psychiatrists or counsellors, monitor the child to make sure that she is not going through any abnormal process. Also, parents should not exhibit anger in front of the child. They should curb any feature of anger or irritation that will affect the child. —*Dr Ravi Samuel
Children with extreme anger can react at the slightest provocation. They are consumed by the rage they feel and unable to stop themselves from the way they react. Parents and others around such children need to learn strategies to help the child cope with anger. However, if parents feel that they can’t handle their child’s anger issues, it is wise to seek professional help.
*Dr Ravi Samuel is one of Chennai's eminent psychotherapists who offers mental health therapy through his URClinic.
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