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Should I be alarmed by my child's short temper?
Kids and adults alike get angry, but those who can't control their impulse to act out aggressively may have anger management issues. "By the time kids are in kindergarten, your child should be able to control aggressive impulses without acting out on them and hurting others... although it is well within the range of normal for siblings to still lash out at each other at that age," explains Dr. Laura Markham of A Ha Parenting. While anger management issues may surface before they hit the school yard, anger management challenges in school-aged kids can completely change your family dynamic.
Living with children with anger management issues
Regardless of whether you are a parent or other household member of a child with anger management issues, outbursts and hot tempers can affect the entire family. "I have a family member who had anger management challenges as a child," says Dr. Kathryn Seifert of Eastern Shore Psychology Services. "I experienced the complete disruption of the whole household firsthand. As the child struggled with anger issues, the rest of the family, myself included, would get sucked in and become angry too."
And, for Bobbi Pack, military spouse and mother of two children, the most recent deployment abroad of her husband affected the entire family, but Pack noticed a huge change in her then 9-year-old son most of all. "He's always been defiant but I though he was just being a boy. But, he was completely out of control, throwing things at me, hitting me and telling me things like 'I hate you' and 'I don't want to be with you anymore' over the tiniest things like being told he couldn't have a brownie. I had never seen him like this before."
And while a child's challenges can be tough on Mom, raising a kid with anger management issues affects the entire family dynamic. "It made it really hard on all three of us. As it was our entire life that was thrown upside down with my husband deployed in another country, and now I felt like we couldn't go anywhere because everything revolved around my son's behavior. And, I was spending so much time arguing and fighting with my son it was like my daughter didn't exist — I was always putting her off for 'just one minute.' I was a nervous wreck and wasn't eating or sleeping because I was having anxiety and trying to figure out where I went wrong."
After different combinations of therapy that weren't working long term, Pack is continuing to find success through The Total Transformation a year into the program helping to give the entire family the tools to keep the peace and manage emotions.
Tips to help kids with anger management challenges
Along with the help of a professional, parents can take steps to help kids conquer anger management challenges:
- Lead by example. Keeping your cool while your kiddo is boiling over will diffuse angry feelings faster. Also talk about how you feel when something gets your goat to model how to handle angry feelings.
- Recognize warning signs. Help your youngster pinpoint feelings that signal he or she is about to blow their lid. This is a key anger management technique.
- Only talk when everyone's calm. Lay out the rule that you will only discuss what's upsetting your child when everyone has cooled off. But, that doesn't mean you should send an angry kid to a time out or off to his room alone to sort out his feelings. "When your child is acting out in anger, staying present and compassionate with your child will help him or her move through the anger to the tears and fears that are driving the anger," advises Dr. Markham. "That's what resolves anger, and it's what teaches children how to regulate their emotions. By contrast, sending angry children off to calm down by themselves teaches them to 'stuff' their feelings, and makes them feel helpless and alone."
- Reinforce feeling words. Once you get to the root of what's making your kiddo boil over, you can identify the feelings and address the source. This will also help youngsters understand that anger isn't always the answer every time something makes your child upset.
- Help kids develop a calm down technique. "The most important message you can give children with anger management issues is that all feelings are allowed; only actions need to be limited," explains Dr. Markham. Whether it's opting to think of a happy place, sing a song, draw pictures or hit a pillow, setting limits will help your child learn to manage what they do with the anger while giving them a feeling of control.
If you suspect your youngster truly has anger management challenges, seek professional guidance with a pediatrician or therapist. While living with a child with anger management issues is not easy, teaching him or her proper ways to cope can help kids master anger management and restore peace and calmness back into your family dynamic.