You ask your son to unload the dishwasher and he responds with a angry bark. You ask your daughter if she’d like to go to the mall with you and she throws a book. Whether simple request or deeper discussion, the response is deeply emotional and negative -- and it’s just another day. It’s the usual state of your child‘s relationship with the rest of the family, unfortunately. Somehow, your child has evolved into an angry, emotional being. As much as you try to help your child manage his or her feelings, you’re at a loss.
It probably developed over time. Your child didn't all of a sudden turn angry! You likely have been dealing with this building anger for quite some time -- though it does seem to all click in your mind at once. The words, the outbursts, the everything -- it's overwhelming and scary. Once you realize your child is deeply angry, it can be hard to figure out what to do about it. Because you do need to do something.
Don't put it off to age
If your child is an adolescent, it can be easy to put it off to "that age." Don't. The rollercoaster of hormones may not be helping the situation, but deep-seated anger likely has only a tangential relationship to adolescent changes.
Even if your child is not an adolescent, you may be tempted to dismiss the anger. It's the easy thing to do! But no matter what age your child, you must get to the core of the issue.
When your child is lashing out, responding with anger and frustration (natural though it may be) could just escalate the situation. It may take every ounce of parenting skill you have not to engage in a negative manner, but keeping even and calm is essential to not escalating the situation. You don't want to validate the angry behavior, or make it worse -- you want to try to figure out why your child is so angry. You need to separate the emotion from the actions.
Look for patterns and triggers
As hard as it is to deal with the anger as a whole, look for patterns. Is your son angrier after school or sports practice? Is your daughter the most emotional after a youth group meeting or after music practice or when you need to work later?
If no day-to-day pattern seems to emerge, look for longer term patterns. Did the anger get worse after a household change or school change?
Also look for times the anger seems to be more in check. After a good meal or a good night's sleep? After playing with the puppy?
These patterns can help you discern where the source of the anger might be -- and ways to help manage it. From there you can try to start a conversation with your child about specific issues and tools to deal with it, rather than the more generic, "Why are you angry?"
If looking for patterns has given you clues, it's time to delve deeper. Talk to teachers and guidance counselors, youth group leaders, parents of your child's friends and so on. Get as much information as you can about the situation as a whole.
Talk to your child and ask specific questions about specific situations -- with lots of reassurance that you want to help, not punish.
Ask for help
You may need to get help outside the family to fully address the anger issue. If, after addressing patterns and specific situations, the anger is still a problem, seeing a licensed family counselor could be just what your child (and you) need. It doesn't mean you have failed in any way -- it just means you need some help. We all do sometimes! Your child's pediatrician or the school guidance counselor may be able to offer a referral.
Reassure, reassure, reassure
No matter how angry your child may get -- and how frustrated you may become in the process -- reassure your child of your love for them. Reassure that you want to help, and that you'll love them no matter what. Reassure them that it's their emotions and actions you are both struggling with, but that it doesn't change your love for them. Then reassure again and again and again.
Anger is a tough emotion to manage for adults -- and it can be even tougher for kids. Just as adults get angry over specific situations, so can kids. It may take a little extra detective work to figure out what is going on with your child, but you can help your angry child.
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