Children and, let’s face it, many adults find talking about feelings difficult. The feeling of anger is especially difficult and many children find it easier to just display the angry behavior. We typically refer to this as acting out or having a meltdown. Yes, meltdowns occur with adults, too.
We've all been there. I've certainly been a fan of door slamming, angry stomping off, shouting, kicking or throwing things, being verbally aggressive, etc. from time to time and so have my children. These behaviors can be a way of ‘venting’ or an active way of communicating their feelings when they are angry.
A certain amount of this behavior is normal, but there are many families who struggle with this sort of behavior on a daily basis. So, let's back up.
Understanding a Child's Meltdowns
Why do children get angry?
It’s never easy to work out why a child gets angry on a regular basis. It is worth considering the following reasons, all of which I have come across during my work with families.
- Enduring problems at school, peer pressure/social skills/bullying
- Suffering from high anxiety levels
- Experiencing sensory issues
- Having frustration from not being listened to
- Suffering from stress
- Using anger as a negative reinforce (the behavior gets the child what they want, so they keep acting in a similar manner)
- Having too much screen time
- Lacking in boundaries in the home
- Mimicking others
- Dealing with difficult parent / child relationship
Many parents of children who seem to become angry a lot, often notice that their child is inflexible, and cannot bear any changes to routine or plans. It may appear as if they just have to have their own way all the time and the slightest little thing can cause a major upset. The explosive child is a reality for many parents.
Tiny things can cause epic meltdowns.
One family I worked with reported to me that they went for a family day out. Before leaving their home, they explained to their seven-year-old son roughly what they would be doing.
However, when their afternoon plans changed due to the weather, the child had one of his epic meltdowns. He could not shift gears. This rigid child would fly into a rage over what seemed to be the smallest of things. The whole family ended up walking on eggshells around him.
Is this sounding familiar? If so, you are not alone.
There are many children out there who have genuine difficulty regulating their emotions.
Fortunately, many of these children are surrounded by adults, including their parents, who do not blame and punish them. Instead, these adults seek to understand and to find solutions to the behavior.
Some children behave in this way because they do not have certain problem-solving skills.
Skills needed to cope with life’s day to day irritations include:
- Being flexible and adaptable.
- Being able to solve problems.
- Being able to delay gratification.
- Being able to express difficult feelings in appropriate ways.
- Being able to understand the effect your behavior has on others.
- Developing good self-care skills.
A child doesn't enjoy being out of control. You have to tell yourself the child would behave well if he was able to behave well. So, the way you deal with this behavior is very important.
7 Steps to Handling Your Child's Meltdowns
If you have a child who is prone to angry outbursts, whatever the reason may be, try to follow these steps during meltdowns.
Step #1 – Stay calm
I know this can be extremely difficult, but try not to feed your child’s anger by getting angry yourself.
Step #2 – Sit or kneel down
If you are standing up, sit down, keep your body language ‘soft.’ Don’t cross your arms. Try to look relaxed even if you are not feeling it.
Step #3 – Listen more than you speak
Someone who is angry needs to vent (yes they also need to learn more appropriate ways to express their feelings, but now is not the time to mention it)
Be quiet and listen to your child, don’t try to reason with them, it won’t work, someone who is in a full blown rage is incapable of rational thinking.
You might say ‘ummm, yes, I hear you,’ but no more than that.
If your child storms off, don’t follow them unless there is a safety concern. Removing yourself from the situation when you are angry, can be a sensible thing to do.
Step #4 – Empathize
Keep on listening for as long as it takes, and when it seems as if your child is beginning to come down from the height of their rage, say something to show you acknowledge how they feel.
‘It looks like you’re really upset about having to go to bed / come off the computer / do your homework’
‘It must be pretty disappointing when I say you have to stop playing and get dressed.’
‘It can feel pretty annoying being told what to do sometimes.’
Continue to listen.
Don’t use the word ‘angry’ at this point, many children feel like they are being told off if you point out that they are angry.
Step #5 – Reconnect
This is very important. Children don’t enjoy having meltdowns and being out of control, it can be very distressing for them.
When the worst is over don’t say ‘Have you calmed down now?’.
Say ‘Are you ok?’ ‘Do you want a cuddle / hug?'.
Step #6 – Identify Triggers & Early Warning Signs
I know children often appear to fly into a rage very quickly, but try to be observant and watch for the signs of anger building.
If you can use these five steps before the ‘red mist’ has descended you may well find that there are some situations that can be diffused before it is too late.
Step #7 – Take care of your child and yourself
It is not uncommon for children to display angry behavior, and there is nothing wrong with feeling angry, it is a normal human emotion.
It is how that anger is expressed that can be problematic, and if angry incidents are happening on a daily basis that of course can be very stressful for everyone.
All children need time, understanding, and patience, and children with emotional difficulties need these things in spades. If you have a child like this, take extra care to look after yourself and your own needs as much as you can so that you are in the best place you can be to help your child.
If you have an angry child try to explore what the reasons for that anger might be, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need to.
More about the author:
Jane Rogers lives in the UK and is founder of The Cambridge Parent Coach. She is experienced in running a number of highly regarded parenting courses, and writes and runs her own workshops for parents, designed to help solve all those day-to-day parenting problems quickly and easily. She writes and runs workshops for parents and has many years of experience working with families. Jane is passionate about Positive Parenting and her aim is to share the ethos and ideas of this style of parenting in a way that is simple to understand, and easy to put into practice. To find out more about her work visit The Cambridge Parent Coach. Jane is currently adapting her workshops into workbooks for parents. The first workbook is available on Amazon and is titled: ‘How to Encourage Good behaviour, so you can Enjoy Your Children’.