Anger is a prompt emotion. It often deploys danger reactions but is also referred to as the child’s way of proclaiming independence and self-expression. There are many reasons that can accelerate the child’s anger, which may sometimes lead to aggression (behaviour that can cause harm to oneself or another). At kindergarten age, aggression usually won’t appear as a result of immediate anger because children have learned to stop themselves from instinctive urges. Eventually, when the children reach school age, parents can expect distinct forms of aggression like sulking, pouting, and whining.
Young children are little, they are not allowed to do everything they want, and they often fail at many things they try, which ultimately causes anger, aggression, or both. The scene is different for older children: they are big and strong and they can manage to do whatever they feel like doing. Toddlers perceive danger, even if it is absent, or sometimes there are chances of overreacting to it. While in this situation, they look for protection by causing someone to be upset or annoyed. With this particular instinct, impulses are difficult to control; the ability to stop and listen to the other side and to reach out on the common platform of compromise and negotiation will barely remain as a dream. This is all known to adults, but a young child should learn that anger is the name given to certain feelings and that the physical sensations of anger include a pounding heart, heavy breathing, and a feeling of getting warm. Acknowledging and naming the emotion of the child can blow away their heat of the moment, for example, by just saying: ‘I can feel your anger’. Help them in identifying the triggers that lead to these feelings such as another child grabbing a toy, threatening to hurt, an adult spoiling their happy moments or punishing them unjustly, or failing to reach the new set goals. As time passes by, with the help of parents, the child learns that these are the various circumstances that make them scream.
Causes of anger in children
Frustration is one of the most common causes of anger in children, which occurs when they cannot get what they asked for or when they are asked to do something they don’t like. Mental health problems can be the triggering factors of anger for children who are experiencing mental disorders like ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactive disorder), autism, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and Tourette’s syndrome. Genetics and other biological factors can also activate anger in children. Parenting styles that are harsh and punishment-oriented, prodding and pressurising children by interfering with their daily life, will obviously lead to anger, aggression, or both. Trauma due to the sudden death of a family member and bullying can be the root causes of anger. Environments like unhealthy social interactions can also be a reason that children will experience anger-related issues.
Anger management in children
- Calming techniques should be taught to children like taking deep breaths, drinking a glass of water, or distracting themselves with a story or song when physical symptoms of anger are shown.
- Self-analysis should be encouraged so that they can ask themselves: ‘What do I want to happen as the result of anger?’ Make them realise that retribution and revenge are not worth acting on.
- Nurture empathy so that they can understand other people’s points of view before acting, just as they want their point of view to be understood. A child can show empathy from three years old; all they need is our help.
- Time break from the situation and person who is responsible for their anger and even better take them out of the room until the emotions come under control.
- Yoga and meditation can help really well if practised every day, which focus on deep breathing and stretching.
- Relaxation strategies should be used like taking them to karate classes or martial arts, as children respond well to discipline classes.
- Encourage healthy communication of their angry feelings by asking them to express their frustration or anger in a non-confrontational manner – let them complete the sentence: ‘I’m feeling angry because …’
When anger turns into aggression
- Retrieve safety by separating the fighters and assure both sides that they will be safe and that they can learn to be in control and protect themselves.
- Teach the consequences. A child must know the consequences of their actions and should learn to stop and think before acting.
- Lay down the law and set limits on their actions and behaviour, and let them know that is who’s in charge when they are out of control.
- Forgive by helping them to take out the guilty feelings that came from knowing their deeds were wrong, and give them hope to change themselves and do better.
Anger is a universal emotion and it seems sound and relevant to conclude that there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. With the context that many adults feel difficulty in controlling anger, it is not shocking that feelings of anger burst out in children. It is absolutely normal if a child feels anger and that how the parents deal, respond, and react with the anger issues is the key to controlling tantrums.
Navya Gedela is an MSc student in Human Development and Family Studies at Punjab Agricultural University.