They bite. They scratch. They kick. Kids and cats are similar, but we expect our children to outgrow angry outbursts and manage their anger. We expect nothing of cats, and even at that low bar, we are often disappointed. Still, if we cannot manage our felines, what can we do as parents to help our children?
Set Your Expectations Correctly
No child is perfect and asking them to behave flawlessly under every circumstance is often a precedent for angry outbursts. Self-control develops over time and with practice, say child psychology experts at Scholastic.
Asking a three-year-old to sit patiently through a holiday dinner, for example, is asking too much in most cases. Punishing the child for not maintaining your adult level of attention and stillness only creates an environment ripe for angry tantrums.
Very young children think exclusively of themselves; their needs, their focus, their wants are all they can comprehend. They rebel against boundaries that limit their freedom or force them to share a loving parent with others. Scholastic advises offering them choices, appropriately sized personal space, and plenty of outlets for energy.
Older kids can understand directions and consequences a bit better. Provide clear guidelines to prevent frustration from turning to anger. Do not be afraid to set either/or choices:
“If you sit quietly through dinner at the kids’ table, you may leave to play in your room. Later, you may have dessert. If you do not sit quietly, or leave the kids’ table without asking, you will give up Legos and not have dessert.”
Be a Role Model
If you do not want your child raising her voice at you, do not raise your voice at her when you are upset. Keeping calm in conflict, because it shows how to manage anger and reassures your child that she is safe with you.
Your child will mimic you in hopes of gaining your attention: “Me too, Daddy! Look at me! I’m being good!”
De-escalate the child’s anger. Do not yell. The child will stop yelling, too. Many times, the commotion and arguments are the child’s goals, so you may have to show superhuman parenting skills to avoid being pulled into the trap.
Some experts advise not riding the roller coaster with your child. Stand back and let him or her go through the ups and downs, angry outbursts and outright tantrums. Keep your child physically safe but allow your child to tantrum herself into exhaustion (if you haven’t seen “The Walmart Tantrum”, you’ll want to follow that link).
Be Wise and Master These Concepts
Two concepts interconnect in dealing with a child’s anger. One is the “anger thermometer,” as outlined by Very Well Family. Make your child quantify her anger over a situation:
- 0° means no anger at all, everything’s cool
- 50° means a medium amount of anger, because something is bothering your child a bit
- 100° means the child has never felt this much anger before, ever!
This increases self awareness and restores power to your child. What happens when your temperature rises? You feel hot, your face flushes, your muscles may ache. Anger mimics temperature so much, we have clichés to explain it:
- Hot under the collar
- Boiling mad
- Like a volcano
The second concept is to uncover the source of the anger, which in some cases could be as simple as a high fever. Anger, most psychologists will tell you, is a response to fear and frustration. Psychologists writing at Psychology Today suggest directly asking the child what he is so angry about, in an effort to relieve the frustration and fear.
A sick child (high fever, allergies, sleepless, digestive complaint) will lash out because he feels bad. A neglected or abused child will lash out with displaced aggression (at school or daycare, among friends, or in social settings). A child seeking attention will explode as a way to get it.
Remember the Repercussions
A child who has an actual anger issue (persistent behavior of angry outbursts or physical violence) needs professional help. Do not ignore it. The legal consequences for your child could strip you of parental control. Under Virginia Code § 16.1-278.8, a ruling of juvenile delinquency can force you into parenting classes or your child into boot camp.
You can also be fined for any damage done by your angry child and compelled to pay restitution. Of course, you can also lose custody of your child. No parent wants that; the steps to preventing it may begin with steady, quality parenting while your child is still a toddler.
Before you blow a fuse over your child’s anger, contact The Firm For Men, or call us at 757-383-9184 to speak with an experienced attorney. Our lawyers know Virginia family law, child custody, and juvenile justice. We can help you to help your child before law enforcement takes away your rights, or those of your child.