By Andrew Gibson, Ph.D.,
author “ Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child”
On the web at DrAGibson.com
We spend most of our time trying to control anger in children by giving them what they are giving us: Anger for anger. Does it work? Not often. And, not for long either. If your intention is to teach a child that anger is bad, you will never teach him or her with anger. Can’t be done.
“Spike! “ Mom says, “You do that one more time and I’m gonna smack you?”
The only thing you may teach Spike is that you, his parent, shouldn’t be the target of a his anger. That’s different. He still understands that anger is basically okay. Getting the child to respect you and direct his anger elsewhere depends on how angry the child is. You may teach the occasionally angry child that he is best advised to direct angry any place but at you. It means he shouldn’t threaten authority and that you have some. But this can be a problem. His options are to direct his anger either side ways ( those his age) or downward ( those younger). Is this what you really want?
“Momma! Momma! Spike’s hitting me again…make him stop ….PLEASE!!”
If you have a child who is angry all the time and as a result makes you angry all the time, then he is likely to spread his feelings all over the landscape: upwards, downwards and sideways. Now you’ve got problems because he doesn’t care who gets his anger. It is this child who needs a different parental anger strategy. The best one? No anger display from you. Period.
“Well, aren’t you gonna do anything?”
What should she do that will make a difference? If she has Spike, a child who is angry all the time, then she has few or no choices. If Spike or anyone else comes at you snorting steam, will you take it with indifference? Probably not. If that person’s anger with you is intended to get you to change, it is a wasted gesture: all it does it make you angry. So now we have two angry people. Great. Where is all this going to end? It is no different with a kid. For the most part, adult anger, when directed to an angry child, is an adult tantrum, no matter how justified the adult thinks it is. Adult tantrums do not produce the change adults want: respect. Respect is vital in child control. Self-control is how you get it.
“I am so disgusted with you I could SCREAM!!
Sound familiar? Ever observe a dysfunctional family? Did you notice all the anger? Did you notice, too, that kids take anger out on other kids in the family? Older kids beat up younger kids cause they are easy prey. Younger sibs are weak and vulnerable. This is nothing more than the lion looking for the slowest wildebeest. Some parents assume that older kids will always be lions; that somehow it is all a part of a normal childhood for them to eat younger siblings. Those parents are wrong. There is nothing natural about sibling fighting. It is learned.. Things that are learned can be unlearned. There shouldn’t be any of the oldest beating up the youngest in your house. It can all go away. You, the parent, are the key. But you can’t turn the key with anger.
“Momma! DO SOMETHING!”
If Momma could, she would. But the fact of the matter is, there isn’t much of anything that is effective that she can do with Spike. He is beyond the normal redirecting or channeling.
The cure to an angry family lies first in a parent examining the dynamics of anger in their house. Question Number (1): is the anger displayed in your house normal or abnormal? This is hard to answer but if what you see is normal ( no matter of awful it may seem to an outsider) then you aren’t likely to budge. You may need to compare your self with other families. Go find several and observe: How do the Dads talk to the Moms and vice versa? How to either of them talk with their kids? How does your family stack up against what you’ve seen. Does the comparison make you wince?
“You should see those people in the supermarket! You just wouldn’t believe how they let those kids carry on . And the way that they talk to each other? Its disgraceful. Its no wonder…..”
Question Number (two) What is the purpose of your anger? Is it to give your self a soap box and show how badly you’ve been treated or is to create change in someone. You can’t have both.
Since all anger has to go somewhere, the alternative is to have none. That’s right. You have a choice in the matter. Skip the anger entirely.
Many assume anger is this biological thing that simply happens. That’s wrong. If someone gets upset with you, what do you do about it? Just accept it? Probably not. You bat it right back unless the person who gave it to you is bigger, stronger and/ or meaner than you are. All of these are decisions. You make a split second judgment about how and where you are to be angry based on the person in front of you. . In that case it is unlikely that the anger you got delivered to you just goes up in a puff of smoke, although it could. You do something within.
If you have a depression problem, you keep anger to yourself and you corrode from the inside out. If you don’t’ have a depression problem, you find someone to give anger to. Anger is the gift that keeps on giving. Could be your spouse. The clerk in the grocery store. The jerk cutting you off on the highway. Your victim could be someone completely unrelated to the situation.
Alternatively, you can make a decision that you don’t need to react. So you don’t. You channel your feelings with something else more productive, say, working in the garden or making a loaf of bread. You simply make up your mind that there’s nothing the kid (or anyone else, for that matter) can do to you to get you upset. Channeling your feelings into the weeds around a tomato plant is a lot easier than trying to channel your angry kids feelings. You always can control you. You rarely can control someone else.
What are you likely to learn by this exercise: that not only does your anger go away, so does your kids. Turns out he needs you more than either you or he thought. Turns out if you set the model he will follow. This isn’t something you talk about; this is something you do. You can talk later when everything settles down. You just think that because he gets upset at you all the time, says bad things, hits, swears and all the rest that he will always be upset and will always take his upset out on you and or the younger kids in the family. It isn’t true.
But the only way you will find this out if this is true, is to do it. Do you have the courage to drop anger for eight (8) weeks to find out? Eight weeks of the No Anger Display Diet will show you enough change in your child to convince yourself that this diet should be a way of life. The sooner you get started the better.
About The Author
Dr. Andrew Gibson was born in Detroit at the close of WWII. He grew up in the midst of farming country in central Michigan. Both parents were teachers. He keeps a picture of his childhood companion, Wags, to this day (you had to see the tail to appreciate the name). After discharge from the Navy after the Viet Name war, he graduated with a BA and MA from San Diego State University and earned his Ph. D from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Portland State University, n Portland Oregon, at the University of Maine, Presque Isle and at SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Eastern Connecticut, with his wife of 41 years, where he conducts a private practice in parenting seriously difficult children. His book “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child’ is the first of a series examining seriously difficult children at various age and emotional disturbance levels. He invites you to find him on the web at DrAGibson.com.