Why is my child so ANGRY??!?!
Stop being so mad! Don’t get so frustrated! We don’t hit when we’re angry! I am willing to bet that most of you have heard yourself say such things to your child at one time or another or maybe even all too often in their toddler and preschool years. As our kids start to grow up and to experience feelings they don’t quite know what to do with, we may start to see more anger and more tantrums than we’d like (did you think that was just a terrible two’s thing? Surprise!), and not quite know what to do with it ourselves. Some things to remember:
Your child is normal: The first thing to remember is that our children’s behavior, be it tantrums, hitting, or rebelling is usually developmentally appropriate. Phew! I absolutely do not condone hitting, not with my child or yours, but I do understand and accept that it comes from not yet knowing how to control strong emotions and/or not yet having the tools or the resources that come both from parents and with age. As parents we need to offer resources, modeling and patience as we teach our kids just how to be angry. Dealing with anger is a journey. This is one of those things that you won’t teach over a weekend or a summer. Anger can feel overwhelming, even to us as adults, and we too tantrum sometimes even though we know more appropriate techniques and are better able to regulate and control our emotions. So sigh, breathe and surrender! Your child is normal! It will be ok!
Self-Regulation is vital: Teach it as early as possible and model it whenever you can! We have the opportunity to teach self-regulation as early as infancy by utilizing a healthy dose of “cry it out,” not running to a crying baby immediately (even waiting one minute is helpful), or putting children to bed awake and allowing them the opportunity to soothe themselves to sleep. If we provide them the opportunity to learn self-soothing, most babies will quickly learn to do so. The same technique later works when they are hungry, angry, tired, fussy, and want their toy NOW! We need to build in downtime and quiet time for kids to learn how to be with their inner thoughts, whether those are of pretty butterflies and fairies and wizards or those of anger and frustration and desire RIGHT NOW. If each time they are angry or frustrated we redirect or solve the problem for them they will inevitably not learn how to do so for themselves. Self-soothing, which we can teach infants, is at the forefront of self-regulation. Start early and create those opportunities! You can also create those opportunities now for older kids by building in some downtime every day (without the television or video games), where kids are forced to be with and process their inner thoughts.
Anger is OK: Anger is simply one of many emotions and it needs to be OK to feel angry. It is up to us parents to teach kids safe, healthy and appropriate ways to experience this emotion. We can both teach and model alternative healthy behaviors (alternative to hitting or throwing a tantrum) such as deep breathing, taking a time out to calm down in our room, screaming into a pillow, crying, listening to music, reading, talking or writing about it. Anger is OK. Hitting is NOT ok. It’s up to us to teach kids healthy ways to behave angry and to validate their feelings of anger as healthy and appropriate. “Don’t be angry,” is not realistic or healthy, but teaching appropriate ways to be angry is. Have patience with your child and with yourself as you navigate this rocky terrain.
As always, find the balance!
Galit Birk, PhD