Lia, my little one, started daycare last week. It takes all children a while to adjust to change, and she seems to be doing very well during the day, but the mornings are super hard. Probably, mainly for me.
Together with Lia, another girl started the same daycare; she’s Lia’s age (1.5), and her mom and I are friends. When we dropped them off that morning, we were both emotional. I was sad that a period ended, I was worried whether that specific facility is the best place for my little love, and I was already missing and longing. Undoubtedly, a bunch of unpleasant feelings.
I was relatively quiet while we were having coffee. The other mom was, too, for a few minutes. But then it began. “They need to be doing this differently. It doesn’t look like they have someone experienced enough to manage children back to peace. Why was there no music? Why didn’t they this, and why didn’t they that” and the longer she continued, the more evident her anger became.
Where does Anger Come From?
Like me, the other mom was sad, worried, and uneasy, needing clarity, reassurance, ease, and harmony, which were lacking that morning. Yet she did what most of us do when we face unpleasant emotions; we turn them to anger.
Anger is easy, known; it has a face, someone to blame. It offers us an outlet for our emotions, yet we don’t deal with them when we turn to anger; we just let it out on someone else.
Anger is a secondary feeling; that’s why its real purpose is so elusive. Beneath our anger, another emotion quietly dwells, an emotion that has to do with the state of our needs. An emotion that we need to deal with, to process, if we don’t want anger to become our leading feeling; our boss, if you will.
The Misconception of Anger Management
Many of the parents I work with tell me stories of their angry children, looking for anger management tools to apply with them to help them deal with and process their anger. And I always say the same; even though it looks like anger is the problem here, it’s only a symptom, and dealing with the anger alone won’t lead to the desired result.
Imagine yourself trying to seal the summit of a volcano to stop it from erupting. The only thing that you’ll achieve is a much larger explosion… Dealing with anger is similar because, like a volcano, the reasons for its eruption are deep within.
Why do Children Become Explosively Angry?
Like adults, children too turn to anger when facing unpleasant emotions. Yelling and screaming, whining and crying, is much easier and more accessible than any other reaction. It’s not only that children lack the impulse control needed to want to figure things out, but – this is what they see us do; all the time.
Each time we get angry with our children, we model anger and a variety of angry behaviors. We don’t want to, but we teach them that anger is the way to go when things don’t go your way.
10 Reasons Explaining Your Child’s Explosive Anger
To understand the natural source of children’s anger, we must understand the underlying needs that shape children and young adults.
- Autonomy: children who don’t feel in control of their life, who don’t get to choose and design their life – are children who show explosive anger. If your child is often forced away from his natural choices, consider making a list and allowing what’s possible. Encourage your child to speak his mind and make space to listen to him genuinely, understand what he wants and why; let him do the things he feels define him.
- Freedom: while autonomy is about doing, freedom is about being. Children who don’t have the freedom to be who they want to be, are very likely to show fierce anger. The choice of clothes, activities, and sequences is crucial for children who are trying to define who they are and how they show up in the world.
- Acceptance: children who are constantly corrected are children who show immense anger. With our best intentions, we often tend to over-parent our children instead of letting them find their way. When we constantly show them “the right” way of doing things, we tell them that they are always wrong. Accepting children’s behavior is hard, but try to remind yourself that all human beings learn through mistakes and that there is more than one way to do things. And don’t forget – there’s always a way to correct a child’s behavior with love.
- Connection: children who don’t feel well connected to their parents, who are not secure in their place and role in the house, are children who will show anger. Not only that it offers them an outlet for their pain, but also, this is a sure way to get our full attention, even if it’s unpleasant. If you know your connection to your child can be stronger, put down your arms, put the corrections away, and make a place and space to rebuild your relationship with your child.
- Clarity and Consistency: children who are not sure of the results f their actions are children who express anger. If you often change your mind, “give in” to your child’s tantrums, often say “no” to later replace it with a “yes” to avoid big feelings, you might be confusing your child. My best advice here is to avoid any answer that is a yes or a no before taking the time to think about it and ask yourself, do you mind? Does it matter? We often feel that our response is needed urgently, but it never is. There’s always time to think and make mindful decisions.
- Being Heard: children who don’t feel heard by their parents are likely to turn to anger. Not only that it gives them a reason to raise their voices to increase your likelihood to listen to them, but it also gives them a sense of self-expression, even if false. Make listening to your child a personal goal; listen to him with curiosity rather than judgment. Ask him questions and clarifications, make him know that you’re interested in his stands and opinions, preferences, likes, and dislikes.
- Being Seen: being seen, just like being heard, is a leading existential need. Children celebrate themselves, their achievements, their thoughts, deeds, accomplishments. We’re so busy with life that it is hard to pause and see. “Look at me!” is the most common request, and it’s requested because we’re not making an effort to look. Make that effort. Make your child feel seen by you without having him ask for that.
- Challenge and Growth: this past year was crazy; the pandemic closed us all in, and many of our children’s needs have gone unmet. One such need is the need for challenge and growth; children who don’t feel they have enough stimulation, who constantly engage in the same activities (and not by choice), can get very angry. Learning, exploring, expanding, developing, and being celebrated for new achievements is every child’s goal. Make it your goal as well, and help your child grow n areas of his choice.
- Play: this is a crucial one, often overlooked by parents. Play is not an activity; play is an existential need for children and adults alike. We express this need differently, but we all need to play, humor, and enjoy ourselves. Kids who don’t get enough playtime with their parents and peers are kids who will get angry. Make it a priority to play with your child (here’s how you can make it fun!), to let him choose which games he wants to play, and even allow him to change the rules to his liking. Winning is as important as playing, and losing is a skill learned later on.
- Peace: peace is an existential need for all human beings of all ages. If your child is in an angry environment that lacks harmony, equality, order, and ease, you can be sure that that is the source of his anger. There are many reasons for the lack of peace in our homes; some are easier to change than others. It sounds funny to ask you to make peace a priority because I’m sure that you are doing your very best to bring peace forth, but if your efforts don’t seem to be working, perhaps it’s time to make some significant changes.
The 10 reasons explaining your child’s explosive anger outlined here, are 10 existential needs that all human beings share, no matter how old they are. If your child is explosively angry, start with this list; ask yourself which needs are not met in your child’s life, and make a plan that will allow you to meet these needs.
If you need further help, I’m here for you. Feel free to email me at vikidelieme at gmail dot com, and to join my life and parenting support group on Facebook. I’d love to meet you 🙂