Monday, July 29, 2013

Mad Parenting: Your school-aged child

With little kids, managing anger involved:
  1. Preventing anger when possible
  2. Remaining calm during an outburst
  3. Gaining an understanding of what was upsetting
  4. Responding with consistency.
It can be fairly black and white when considering preschoolers and anger. 

As kids enter elementary school, the shades of grey can emerge.  This is when kids learn that anger can be a defense against feeling the more uncomfortable feelings like sad, disappointed, jealous, or embarrassed.  Much like us grown-up kids, they will learn that mad can hide those softer feelings.

After, all, being mad can feel awesome sometimes! 

When you're mad, you're in control.  People pay attention to you.  They may even hesitate around you.  Anger can give us a sense of power in powerless situations and kids are quick to figure that out.

As kids get older and learn about their anger, the adult's "job" essentially remains the same:
  • Understand what is upsetting your child
  • Validate your child's experience
  • Consistently respond to behaviors that deserve consequences with consequences
  • Offer ways of calming down
  • Guide your child through a process of resolution
Sometimes, though, the behavior and response your child is having is so startling that everything you instinctively know goes out the window.  You get scared that something is seriously wrong with your kid.  You worry that it's all your fault somehow.  You become frozen in the worry place and everything quickly goes to hell in a handcart.

What anger can look like in school-aged kids:                                 
  • "I hate you" or"I wish you were dead", or worse"I wish I was dead".
  • Acting out by throwing something or hitting
  • Isolating by refusing to talk or join activities
  • Irritability and low-frustration tolerance
Nothing makes the phone ring faster in my office than when a parent hears rage-filled words or sees aggressive behaviors like these coming from their child.  It can be paralyzing to hear such anger coming from such a small body. It's scary to see your child act with aggression. In the wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy, parents hear these words and worry that their child could someday be capable of destruction.

What to know:
  • It is normal for kids to feel and experience rage
  • They are feeling powerful emotions and exploring powerful responses to them
  • These are misguided attempts to get control of a situation (just as when a careless driver cuts us off with kids in the car and we suddenly want to run the driver off the road).
  • Kids are usually feeling out of control when they say or do these things
  • They need adults to take control and help them calm down
  • Kids say things they don't mean, too!
  • Kids are sensitive to changes in their environment.  When changes occur that they don't understand, they respond by acting out. This gives them a sense of control they are looking for.
What to do:
  1. Stop freaking out that your child actually means these angry statements and behaviors and stay calm
  2. Talk about and validate the obvious changes to the environment that your child may be responding to: If someone has been sick or if there is conflict in the family, say so and validate that these things can be upsetting. Don't pretend these things away or tell yourself a story that they aren't "kid business" or something that is affecting them.
  3. Ask questions and show curiosity about what they are thinking or feeling
  4. Try to understand the situation
  5. Validate the feeling.  You don't have to validate the behavior.
  6. If you don't think they should feel that way, pipe downValidate anyway How did it go for you the last time someone told you that you shouldn't feel a certain way?
  7. Help your child calm down.
  8. Refrain from the teachable moment until the child is calm. No one learns when they are agitated.
  9. Ask your child what he/she wanted you to hear in their moment of upset vs. what they actually said
  10. Explain to your child, the effect those words have on you and how they make you feel
  11. If you have had this conversation before, now might be the time to deliver a consequence for scaring other people
  12. Offer ways your child could have responded differently by:
    1. Taking space
    2. Punching a pillow
    3. Finding a safe space to jump up and down
    4. Running or exercising
    5. Talking to someone
    6. Reading
    7. Screen time
    8. Drawing and art
    9. Playing with animals (if calm, of course)
  13. Remember that all of these are good options your child can try before an outburst
  14. During an outburst, you will need to be directive in calming your child down and only use options that make sense. Rewarding angry words with screen time, for example, sends a mixed message.
This stuff isn't easy and when your fears get in the way, it only gets harder.

Let me know how I can help.

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