As a mum you know? Dealing with a child who feels angry.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I am a counsellor and I consult with parents about child behaviour but that doesn’t mean my children are angels. In fact quite the opposite and probably the main reason I got into this business at all was because I realised children cannot be controlled and it’s never all the parent’s fault or all the child’s fault - most of the time it’s a cycle or a pattern of behaving . I’ve had to put into practice alot of what I recommend or teach because how else would I know if it works.

Here is something I have learnt firsthand about my son who gets angry.

My son’s being acting out the last few days, he gets really angry. Yesterday afternoon he was protesting because his favourite shorts were in the washing machine so he couldn’t wear them. I got him a spare pair of shorts which he then flung over the counter and shouted, “I hate those shorts, they’re ugly.” I’ve learnt not to react and this led to him pushing the dining chairs (yes one and then another) around the house to get a reaction, well first he threw some pencils around with a naughty smile on his face then it just grew uglier from there.

I’ve got used to it, it happened alot when he was around 2-5 years old. He would throw things around the playroom and sometimes he’d wake up from his daysleep really angry and just cry/scream for an hour. We tried distraction, we tried holding him, we tried telling him to calm down, we tried getting him to sit on his hands and then we tried sending him to his bedroom until he could calm himself down. It got better with age and mostly getting him to sit on his hands when he felt angry worked and then at 5 yrs he could go to his room and learned to calm himself down after which we’d chat about it if he wanted to. He does display remorse and apologises profusely when the ‘event’ is over and he is back to his ‘normal’ self. Some days I thought this was a social experiment how could a child flick from happy to angry in such a small space of time but it’s his normal and I have got wiser and it’s happened less and less. He’s a month off turning 10 and he’s just starting up again. Sometimes I try to divert his attention offer him a distraction until his emotions die down, sometimes some food helps. I’m a bit like that too, I get angry when I’m hungry.

This time though I get this gut feeling that perhaps it’s not going to be as simple as food to solve this problem. I get the sense that he is feeling neglected and doesn’t get hugged as much as he may like. I got an opportunity yesterday afternoon to test out my theory. When my 9yo was jokingly/cheekily trying to pretend to push the chair into me, I said to him, “I know you want attention, I know you’re looking for attention, even this negative attention is good sometimes.” (Although, I used the word attention, I also thought of it as him perhaps feeling neglected, so not getting enough support or physical attention which I know his personality needs). His eyes welled up and he pushed past the chair and ran to his bedroom where he sat against the door for the next 20 minutes.

His reaction was interesting too and I think confirmation that my sense and gut instinct was right. You see he would have responded with argument or more protest if this wasn’t the truth. We know our children. We are aware of their non-verbal and verbal cues. We sometimes know what to expect from them, we know when behaviour is out of character, we know what their ‘normal’ is.

I’ve learnt to let him go and not force him, I got into his room later when he was calmer and as he tried to wrestle from my grasp, I told him “you used to do this when you were 3yo and I used to hold you, wow, you're much stronger now.” He started to smile and laugh, back to ‘normal’ he came downstairs.  After a little while a friend of his came over so he quickly pulled his shorts on (those ugly ones he hated so much, of course). All this over a pair of shorts? I do think I’ve only just got to the tip of the iceberg but feel as though some progress was made even just knowing and naming what the emotional need is and it’s out in the open now, no more anger to hide behind.
By the way he’s been lovely today! The best I’ve seen him or experienced of him for little over a week now. It’s like wow, mum has noticed!

I guess sometimes he just needs to get something off his chest. Sometimes it doesn’t come out with words, sometimes it comes out in behaviour. Sometimes he may not even know what it is that’s causing his emotional state.

He needs me in those moments of anger more than any other time!
He doesn’t need me to laugh at him or to distract him or try to make a joke out of how funny he looks when he is angry - that won’t solve the problem.
He doesn't need me to tell his brothers to ignore him or us to exclude him from the family for the next two days.
He needs me to be calm, to give him space and not ask too many questions.
He needs time to be angry and time to calm down.
He needs me to understand, to not give up trying to get to the root cause.
He needs me and I love him so I put up with it and deal with it as it comes.

If you have a child who gets angry what do you ‘KNOW’ in those moments?


Krys - Baby Massage said...

I 'KNOW' that shouting at him won't make him calm down.
I 'KNOW' that sometimes even talking to him won't make him calm down (especially when he says "Mummy. STOP! TALKING!")
I 'KNOW' he wants to have cuddles until the anger goes away.
I pray he only gets angry when I don't have to attend to his brother/guests/an appointment we're already late for, so that I can give him the cuddles he needs.

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