Help with Anger.
In this blog post I talked about how we can help our children when they get angry, how we can respond, strategies we can use and where we can find help if we feel we need it. I've written up my video chat below.
Please have a read. I really hope it helps you and I would love to hear from you if anything I've spoken about resonates with you. I have also created two brand new sets of cards relating to anger, which I will tell you about at the end of this email.
What are our personal experiences of anger?
Bass, who we now know is autistic, gets angry, upset and frustrated very easily - usually in the mornings and usually before he's eaten. I now more than ever realise this is because he sees the world differently and he struggles to express how he feels in words so his go-to is to lash out either physically or verbally.
Harry, who doesn't have a learning difficulty, has a very short fuse. He will go from being totally fine to hitting someone/anything within a moment. He is an extremely emotional child and can just lose it. In the past he has had massive and monumental tantrums. I remember one incident when we were sailing with Beetle's Dad and he had to wear a life jacket (because he was on a boat in the middle of the ocean!!) and Harry screamed for the entire afternoon.
Alice's go-to angry behaviour has been biting, hitting and scratching and Freddie - well it is often like walking on eggshells with him!
Anger is a normal emotion. It is healthy and it is a useful emotion. It tells us when things aren’t fair or not right or when someone has upset us. It’s completely NORMAL that children can’t always manage their emotions and anger. Did you know that the part of our brain that controls how we cope with anger isn’t fully developed until we’re in our mid 20s?! We ALL get angry but it becomes a problem when it becomes out of control or aggressive.
A tiny bit of theoretical chat….
There are different types of anger. Often a child can’t tell you in words, when the red mist descends, how they are feeling so they will use their behaviour to communicate with us.
1 They might become outwardly aggressive - your child might hit, bite, shout and/or break things.
2 They might become inwardly aggressive, which means they might self-harm. Bass went through an awful period when he was little banging his head against a wall.
3 They might become passively aggressive. Your child might ignore you, withdraw, sulk or be sarcastic. I find this very difficult to deal with at times.
I want you to remember though that underneath all of this, that when they are angry and doing all of the above, fundamentally they will be feeling fearful, stressed, hurt, upset and frightened. So we need to remember that in this moment they need our support more than ever.
So how can we respond to our children when they get angry?
1 Try to separate feelings and behaviour
Try and separate your child's feelings and their behaviour. It’s ok to feel angry but it’s not ok to behave angrily. Your child is allowed to be angry – we don’t want to squash our children’s emotions but it's not ok how they behave towards us when they are angry.
2 Try and remain calm.
Don't get angry! Focus on staying as calm as possible. Calm voice and open body language. Do not meet fire with fire. It doesn’t work. Stop getting cross. Stop getting angry yourself. Remain calm.
3 Stop talking!
Don’t ask lots of questions - especially when they are in a rage. Don’t keep talking. Acknowledge their anger but limit communication. Too much chat and they will feel overwhelmed and won’t be able to process what you say. Use the 6 second rule here - give them at least six seconds before either of you talk or they talk.
4 Offer them space to calm down.
Remember young people when they are angry feel frightened at how out of control things seem. Give your child a safe space or time out like their bedroom. Walk away so they can do this.
5 Be consistent.
Explain why their behaviour is not ok so they understand and hold consistent boundaries around consequences.
How can I help my child manage their anger?
1 Talk to your child about what’s going on and make a plan.
Simply listening to your child will help them. Some children won’t want to talk so you might have to get creative. Talk about what happens when they’re angry. How would they like you to respond and how would you like them to respond. How might they be able to express their anger differently? What consequences will there be. Talking is GOOD. It helps!
2 Recognise triggers.
See if you or your child can recognise triggers and keep a diary. I sometimes have a misconception that Bass's anger is ALL the time but it isn't and keeping a diary helps with this. This is also a good thing to do if you feel your child's anger issues need professional help - you can tell your GP exactly what is going on.
3 Be consistent with consequences.
Keep to the rules. Remember boundaries are beautiful. Keep remembering that your child feels very out of control when they’re angry so they need to hear their boundaries.
Ways to channel their anger:
Relaxing techniques: meditating, listening to music, colouring or drawing and deep breaths. Any kind of mindfulness. Count to 10.
Active techniques: punching a pillow, throwing a ball, playing sport, running, walking etc. Clench fists and unclench fists.
When should we seek professional help?
Angry behaviour can be really hard to deal with as a parent and can have a huge impact on family life. So seek professional help when your child's anger is consistently affecting your child's day-to-day life, when you’ve tried all these strategies above for at least 4 weeks and nothing seems to work and the outbursts seem unmanageable and when your child's anger is destructive – they are either harming themselves or others.
But remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. Go to your GP, your child’s school and/or consider counselling or therapy - all these things will help you and your child. There is support out there.
I hope this anger chat has helped.