Help: My child has (explosive) anger issues!

When children are agitated, parents should assist them work through and soothe their anger rather than exacerbating it.

Help: My child has (explosive) anger issues!
 Children that are prone to rage are subjected to additional stress. Help them – and yourself – by knowing and employing therapeutic approaches.

Is your child suffering from anger issues? Has your home become a war zone filled with screaming, shouting, and temper tantrums?

According to experts, the best way of dealing with your child’s anger outbursts is through understanding and therapeutic techniques. Anger management is frequently linked with adults attempting to control their rages or violent outbursts, but many youngsters also struggle to understand and cope with anger.

Clinical psychologist Joanna Kleovoulou, the founder of the Johannesburg-based PsychMatters Wellness Centre, gives guidance on how you and your child may learn to recognise and treat your “explosive anger” together.

What causes some kids to lash out?

Every child has tantrums or furious outbursts on occasion, but if your child frequently reacts by forcefully snapping or exhibiting angry behaviour that is out of proportion to the situation, they may be coping with explosive anger.

According to Joanna, 25 to 40 percent of boys and 10 to 28 percent of girls aged two to five years are assessed as having moderate to high levels of hostility by their preschool teachers. Given the high levels of violence and crime in South Africa, as well as socio-economic reasons, the prevalence is projected to be significantly greater.

Joanna emphasises the necessity of attempting to identify the source of the problem rather than merely reacting to their rage. She recommends perceiving your child’s behaviour as goal-directed: Are they pursuing a need, expressing something, or demonstrating a condition that needs to be addressed? Your child’s explosive behaviour could be multi-layered.

They may be dealing with one or more of the following issues:

  • Physiological diseases, such as hypoglycaemia, low cholesterol, hypothyroidism, viral infections, concussion, excess testosterone, or environmental poisons.
  • A mental disorder, such as epilepsy, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, untreated trauma, autism, sensory processing difficulties, or cognitive impairment.
  • A lack of communication skills that prevents them from expressing their frustrations in a healthy manner. Children with expressive language difficulties are four times more likely to be aggressive.
  • A biochemical imbalance, for example, serotonin aids in mood, sleep, and hunger regulation. Dopamine aids with impulse control, motivation, and cognitive performance. Other neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, influence hyperactivity, mood, aggressive behaviour, and irritability, while gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) regulates mood and calms behaviours, anxiety, and aggression.
  • Genetic variables have been found to be strongly linked to the development of physical violence in toddlers. One of our most essential tasks as parents is to help our children manage their feelings, and they do this through mirroring. When children become agitated, parents should assist them work through and ease their agitation rather than exacerbating it.

How should you deal with an outburst?

Determine the root reason

Take the time to listen and determine the source of your child’s rage. Was it caused by hunger, exhaustion, or pain? Although you may be irritated or frustrated by their behaviour, don’t lash out; instead, address the source of their rage and assure their safety. Tantrums between the ages of two and eight are common, according to Joanna, and you can attempt a hard embrace to quiet them down. She warns against isolating young children after or during an outburst since they lack the skills to comfort themselves and may feel abandoned.

Give them some room

A time-out strategy may be more helpful for older children and teenagers. Allow them time to think about the situation and deliberate their actions and choices. When you do address your child’s behaviour directly, Joanna advises that you keep cool and moderate your feelings, as this demonstrates emotional control. Engaging quietly and keeping a soothing presence will assist to alleviate a meltdown and model appropriate behaviour for your youngster. Remind yourself that your child is still developing and may not understand the rules before breaking them, so establish limits and boundaries.

Maintain your cool and pay attention

The first step is to acknowledge their feelings. It is critical to respond to wrath and aggressiveness with compassion rather than anger. Set the rules first, then give them options. You want your child to know they are loved unconditionally, without being shamed. Check to see if you are actually listening to your child’s responses. Perhaps they’re worried, or maybe they don’t understand boundaries. They may not have previously been given suitable choices with consequences. Never label your child because it will undermine their self-esteem.

Suggestions for relaxation

It’s also important to note that when your child is expressing explosive rage, the brain’s higher cortical-thinking centres aren’t operating correctly. You can assist your child by providing them words to anchor their experience, such as “I see you’re furious right now; I’m going to help you calm down.”

Joanna also advises the following soothing strategies:

  • Teaching breathing techniques and other calming methods
  • Listening to music
  • Humming
  • Showering
  • Hitting a punching bag
  • Taking a walk

Family counseling and social skills programs, as well as a visit to a physician to rule out any physiological factors, could be beneficial.

An aggressive cycle

Psychopathology is caused by adults’ inability to control or manage their feelings. Research suggests that youngsters who are smacked frequently become more prone to be physically aggressive and are more vulnerable to mental health disorders. This cyclical behaviour may continue throughout adulthood, as 40 percent of adult aggressive behaviour begins before the age of eight.

Managing Your Emotions and Reactions

When your children lash out, they will surely irritate you or say nasty things. It’s critical to keep your cool and not react in anger, since this could be destructive to your child during their formative years and establish a cycle of rage that lasts into adulthood.

“Each of us comes into adulthood wounded in some manner from our childhood, and our relationships and children will reopen those wounds. It’s critical to start your own healing because unprocessed trauma is frequently re-enacted in your current life, perhaps passing on an inter-generational flawed pattern to your children,” Joanna explains.

“Losing control in front of or in response to your child can be terrible. You are your child’s major source of love, comfort, care, nourishment, and a sense of safety. Your acts and words influence their sense of self. When you speak to or treat your partner or child disrespectfully, it has a tremendous detrimental influence on the psyche, eroding their sense of self. Children who are subjected to parental hostility are more likely to develop depression, poor relationships, and substance abuse later in life.”

Remind yourself that your child is still developing and may not understand the rules before breaking them, so establish limits and boundaries. Joanna suggests that you make a vow to never act when you are furious. If necessary, remove yourself from the situation and find a quiet place to calm down before responding.

“Becoming self-aware is the first step toward change; it will assist you in channelling your self-control and shifting your internal state. Remember to take deep breaths — in those moments, you make room for another option,” Joanna advises.

“Importantly, you do not have to pretend that you are unaffected by their actions. Tell them you’re too upset to talk about the problem right now and that you’re going to take a break to calm down. Know you’re not alone, and remember to take care of your own well-being. This is not a selfish act because being a good parent necessitates being a healthy, present adult.”

If your child’s furious behaviour persists or you are experiencing stress, please call the PsychMatters Centre at 011 450 3576 or info@psychmatters.co.za.