“No! No! No! I am not going to do it!” shouted the nine year old boy as he proceeded to start punching the concrete wall with his fist.
His father replied, “You need to calm down! Why do you always blow up when I ask you for the simplest thing?”
The mother looked to see where her other children were and then started rounding them up to move to another room. She never knew when these situations would escalate further with her oldest son.
All children display anger as they grow up. Many will have occasional meltdowns and outbursts. Others will lash out when frustrated or when things do not go the way that they want them to. Anger in normally developing children tends to lessen as they get older as they get better at controlling their emotions and how they display them.
However, other children struggle with their anger. Parents can recognize various signs that their child’s anger is going beyond what is typical. One sign is that a child’s outbursts happen frequently and most of the time he has difficulty controlling his anger. This lack of control can make the child feel bad about himself after having an outburst.
Another sign that anger is a problem is the child’s tantrums or outbursts continue to occur past the age when most children have stopped having them. Typically children stop having tantrums by time they are seven or eight years old. An additional sign is that the anger can be displayed in a manner where it is dangerous to the child or to others.
In the above situation, the nine year old is having a tantrum over a relatively minor issue which is not typical for normally developing children. He also is putting his health at risk by hitting a concrete wall. In addition, the boy’s problems are having a ripple effect on the rest of the family.
It is quite common for a child with anger problems to disrupt his family’s life and cause a lot of conflict to occur at home. The conflict won’t just come from the child but other family members. For example, a child’s outbursts can create conflict between parents as they debate how best to respond to their child’s behavior. Many times the target of the child’s anger is his siblings which often results in the siblings either getting hurt or fighting back.
The effects of a child’s anger on the family can be subtle over time and parents may not be aware how much the outbursts have changed their family’s dynamic. Fortunately, parents can use a child’s school as a sounding board to find out if their child’s anger issues are problematic. That’s because a child with anger issues at home usually has them at school. Teachers quickly become aware if a child is struggling to control himself at school and will reach out to parents. Many times the schools will have school psychologists or counselors available that can help work with a child who is having anger management problems.
Another sign for parents to look out for is how the child’s peer relationships are affected. When a child has trouble controlling his anger, other children will pick up on it and not want to be around him. This will result in a child becoming isolated on a playground and being excluded from play dates and birthday parties.
If a child is displaying signs of having difficulty controlling his anger, parents need to seek out help. Consulting with a psychologist or mental health counselor can be a good first step in helping the child learn techniques to control his anger. In addition, the psychologist can work with the family to help construct a favorable environment at home that will minimize a child’s outbursts.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on July 29, 2016