Deep down, all parents want to believe that their little ones are happy and healthy. Accordingly, if you’re a parent who feels that your kid seems a little angrier than he or she should, you’re probably responding to a legitimate problem. In other words, it’s good for you to worry about this issue, and there are a few possible factors to rule out before deciding that it will just “go away.” Notice that I switch pronouns (he, she) throughout the article because both boys and girls can display the same types of anger problems.
Is he getting bullied?
If you see an uptick in anger, the culprit may be bullying. If your son seems angrier than usual, he may be getting bullied at school by one or more other students. Those students could be boys or girls; they could be in the same grade, they could be older or younger; and they could be bullying your son in the school bathroom or cafeteria, on the playground or on the way to or from school. To find out whether he has been getting bullied, ask him yourself; have your co-parent (if you have one) ask him; and call the school to ask a teacher and guidance counselor to ask him. The point: One person asking once will rarely uncover the truth.
Is she feeling anxious or depressed?
Depression in kids often looks different than it does in adults. With kids, their depression often makes them appear irritated or agitated. If they are feeling anxious, they may get nervous by any number of triggers: socializing on the playground; eating in the cafeteria; walking to school; or taking the bus. With kids, they are more likely to tell you what’s really going on if you ask them a question and give them multiple choice answers.
Does she have a chemical imbalance that calls for a psychiatric evaluation?
Some children are more prone to anger based on their personality and other biological factors (the chemical makeup in their brain). If your child is angry often and has always been prone to angry outbursts, you can call a local mental health clinic and ask for a psychiatric evaluation. The evaluation would involve a licensed psychiatrist asking you and your child a lot of questions about mood, behavior at home, and behavior at school. In some cases, the psychiatrist will recommend that the child try a daily psychiatric medication; in other cases, the psychiatrist will say the child probably doesn’t need meds, and the child will be referred for psychotherapy instead.
Important reminders about anger
As frustrating as an angry kid can be for the parents, never punish your child for his feelings. In other words, you punish the acting out behavior when the kid is angry, but you don’t punish the kid for feeling angry. I always tell families I’m working with the same thing: “Anger by itself is fine and even healthy in doses, but it’s the way the child expresses the anger that may be a problem.” One final comment to parents: Parents often get disillusioned in managing an angry child, telling themselves that their poor child will always be angry and that his life will suffer because of it. The good news is that many children who have anger problems when they’re young work those problems out by the time they’re older, so don’t worry that the problem will last forever. In fact, providing the most empathetic and helpful feedback when they do get angry may make all the difference.
The transition from school to home is as tricky as your own transition from work to home can be. No matter if your child goes to preschool, or grade school or high school, making the adjustment from school or childcare to home can be tricky.
Here are some tips to make things go more smoothly.
- Be present. By that I mean, be really there, available, undistracted. Don’t listen to the radio or check your email and stay off of Facebook. Turn off the TV if you’re the one watching it. Be ready if your child has something to tell you, really ready.
- Be considerate. Your child has had a day – a good day or a bad day – and you can ruin it or make it even worse by being demanding and crabby. Let your child get in the door and get settled. If you have to remind her to leave her shoes on the mat or hang up her backpack, just say so. “Please do put your shoes on the mat… thanks.” Keep in mind that you can also make her day better, by looking her in the eye, giving her a little hug, and saying, “I’m glad you’re home.”
- Be respectful. You’ve missed your child and maybe you were worried for him about something – a spelling test or a tummy ache. Even so, the first few minutes your child is in the car or in the house isn’t the time to polish your detective skills. When you can politely ask how the test went, ask. But if he says, “Okay,” and doesn’t say anything more, that’s not an opening to quiz him on how many, exactly, he missed.
- Be creative. Ask interesting questions if you want to get a conversation going, not the same old tired ones. Instead of asking, “How was your day,” ask something else, like “How was recess?” or “Who did you play with today?” Ask questions that have a good chance to trigger recall the good parts of the day, not the anxious or unhappy parts.
It usually only takes a few minutes for your child adjust to home-mode from school-mode. Let him have 10 minutes to decompress. Then you can ask about homework. You’re more likely to get an answer.
You probably are making the very same transition that your child is making, from your role in the wider world to your role as a parent and spouse. You also have a transition to make. You also need some time to decompress and adjust to being around the people you love. Give yourself that time by being calm and undemanding of your kids.
How you manage your child’s transition from school to home has a lot of influence on how the evening will go. At the very least, get things off to a good start. There’s no point in being careless about your child’s homecoming and making her feel unwelcome and unhappy.
If your child is happy, you will be too.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at www.patricianananderson.com.
You know the old saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think this was intended to keep kids from blurting out impolite truths like, “This dinner is terrible, Grandma!” But many of us have taken things a bit too far. In many families, children are forbidden to be angry, unhappy, frustrated, or afraid. Negative emotions have become taboo.
Just listen to the moms and dads around you. They tell a child, “Oh, no, you don’t really hate your brother. Give him a kiss and a hug.” They say, “If you’re going to be in such a temper, go to your room!” They say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t be such a baby.” Children who express the emotions they honestly feel are corrected, if those emotions are negative. It’s as if happy talk is the only talk that’s allowed.
This is silly and it’s also unfair. We grownups feel completely justified in sharing our bad moods with everyone around. We yell, we fume, we stomp around and slam things. We feel justified in our expressions of anger and feel just as justified when we sulk, sigh, and express our unhappiness. Moms and dads are allowed the complete range of emotions and even though we might try to tone things down when we’re near the kids, we certainly don’t keep things bottled up when the children aren’t around.
But children are often restricted to expressing a narrow range of emotions. We don’t want to hear them when they’re angry. We expect kids to be civil and calm much more than we expect of ourselves to be, even though children are far less able to control themselves.
So what do we do? We hate it when children yell, throw tantrums, whine and pout. How can we allow kids to express all the emotional bandwidth they actually have without getting angry ourselves?
- Lower your expectations. Life isn’t always happy. For children, especially, when events frequently seem out of their control, a serene morning is hard to come by. So avoid being surprised when kids get upset. They don’t always have to be happy.
- Give up being 100% responsible. You know very well that you can’t make someone else happy. If your child is unhappy right now, that’s not necessarily your fault and it’s not necessarily your responsibility to fix. If there’s something you can do to cheer someone up, fine, but your child’s mood doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.
- Avoid emotional contagion. Bad moods can infect everyone around if you let them. You’re not being heartless if you don’t join your child in feeling sad, mad, or bad. By staying calm and unruffled yourself, you keep the entire day from spiraling out of control.
- Be supportive. Many times a child’s disruptive actions are meant to share feelings that are hard to express another way. So your recognition of your child’s feelings might be exactly what is wanted. Say, “I can see you are upset,” or “You feel really angry right now.” Ask your child to tell you about it. Help your child in alternative ways of expressing what’s going on.
There’s a fine line here. Give your children the freedom to feel and express the full range of emotions without having to join your child in expressing negative feelings too. But watch out that you’re not so uninvolved and cool that children feel ignored and rejected. Strong, capable people lead emotionally rich lives. Make that happen for your children and for yourself.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.