This article first appeared in the October 2004 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Carina Sison* is greatly disturbed by the fury she sees on her little boy’s face when something doesn’t go his way. “He transforms into a very angry boy who I don’t quite recognize as my son. He throws things, tells us he hates us, and says he hates his life. He also has a tendency to hit his classmates, siblings and even me,” she laments.
If you’re worried about your inexplicably angry kid, here’s our age-by-age guide to teaching him self-control.
Babies: Temperamental since birth Notice how some babies seem calmer than others? “Many studies have shown that the temperament of babies is affected by their prenatal development,” explains Joy Dionio-Lim, M.D., a pediatrician and family and child development specialist of Health Dynamics clinic in Pasig City.
“Though it is yet to be proven scientifically, there’s reason to believe that a mother’s condition while she’s conceiving is a big factor in her baby’s disposition. If a pregnant mom is stressed, her stress hormones may affect the baby in the womb. This may explain an infant’s behavior once he comes out,” adds Lim.
Calming tactic: Lavish care and attention on your infant. During the first few months, babies who are not showered with attention get irritated easily. “Some may show anger while some show sadness. Even if they are just a couple of months old, babies can already sense if they are being attended to or not,” says Lim.
Preschoolers: Growing pains From two through the preschool years, kids already want some independence. “That’s the time they always say “No!” That seems to be their favorite word,” explains Lim. This is a difficult stage for them because they cannot quite understand their feelings yet and get easily frustrated.
Calming tactic: Parents should not tolerate their youngster’s anger just because he is still immature. “They must have clear rules and practice consistency,” stresses Lim. “For example, if a child is writing on the wall, he is doing so because he still doesn’t know that it is not right to do that. So a parent should tell his child, ‘Next time, do not write on the wall because that is not allowed. Just write on paper. Next time I catch you writing on the wall, you will face a consequence.” This will help your child know that freedom has its limits.
School-age kids: Age of logic “School-age kids are easier to deal with. At age seven, children reach the age of logic wherein they can reason out within themselves what made them angry,” explains Lim. During a child’s elementary years, most parents will find it easier to talk things through with their child.
Calming tactic: When your kid gets frustrated, just explain things well until he can make sense of the situation. For example, upon learning that there’s going to be a new baby in the family, your child may manifest feelings of anger. But actually, he may just be feeling threatened by the baby’s arrival. “If parents would just explain things carefully to their kids and help them sort out their thoughts and emotions, things will turn out smoothly,” assures Lim.
Adolescents: The difficult teen years To see a pleasant, well-behaved child turn into a defiant, disrespectful adolescent is never easy. “Once they hit the age of puberty, children have a tendency to become difficult. ’Yun na kasi ’yung age na feeling nila adult na sila. When reprimanded, they would say, “Hindi na ako bata ‘no!” Biologically, their hormones are surging. There’s really something happening with their brain development that makes them very emotional. They tend to be more impulsive,” explains Lim.
Also consider this: By the time children become teens, their parents are already in their 40’s or 50’s. Thus, they are likely experiencing a midlife crisis. “Parents themselves are going through a personal milestone in their lives, just like their teener. So both parties have issues to deal with, so it’s hard for them to see eye-to-eye,” explains Lim.
Calming tactic:The most important thing is to have an open and loving relationship, says Lim. “It would be easier for a parent to discipline or correct a child if the child knows that you only have his best interests at heart. If they know you love them, they will not resent your guidance.”
In a bad mood Why does a child get hotheaded or ill-tempered? “It all boils down to feelings of frustration,” says Lim. Some children fume over the littlest things, which is very unhealthy. “Parents must get to the root cause of the problem and solve it from there.” Here she lists the most common reasons why kids flare up:
1. Difficulties in school It is good to ask your child’s teachers how he is doing academically and socially. Your child may not be coping well with his lessons and feels frustrated. Or he may not be getting along with his schoolmates so he blows up in school. “If he cannot do this, that may be the reason why he’s bringing his school troubles home. He may let off steam with family members at home because he feels it is the only safe place to do so,” explains Lim.
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2. Frustrations at home Your child’s lashing out on you may also have an emotional meaning. He may have specific complaints about your relationship with your spouse. “Children sometimes act out aggressively to release family tensions that are not being resolved,” explains Lim.
He may also feel pressured by your high expectations. “Some children are sensitive to parental wishes for success,” says Lim. So be careful not to be too imposing on your kids. Consider also the time that you spend with your child. “A child will be happier and have a better disposition if he’s given enough attention at home,” she adds.
3. Self-esteem problems “Problems may arise when a child has either a very high or a very low self-esteem,” relates Lim. “Those who have very high self-esteem tend to be always angry at people who do not think or perform as well as they do. They always ask, ‘Bakit kayo hindi kasing galing ko?’ and feel frustrated about it.”
On the other hand, those with very low self-esteem are angry with themselves because they see themselves as underachievers, adds Lim. “These two kinds of people have to resolve their thoughts and feelings from deep within so they wouldn’t feel so angry all the time.”
Channeling aggression Lim suggests that you give your child tools for expressing his anger and channeling his physicality appropriately. “Be clear that he can be angry, but that violence is not acceptable,” she says. Suggest constructive ways of anger management such as writing a journal, meditating, doing breathing exercises, and engaging in sports or other physical activities to release pent-up energy. Exercise and other vigorous activities release “happy hormones” called endorphins that improve the mood of depressed, fatigued or angered people.
When to seek help “Once it is already a cause of concern to you, go see a counselor,” advises Lim. Outside observers can allow us to see beyond our own blind spots and help us develop coping strategies, even as they can help our angry children manage their emotions. Sometimes, too, parents just need words of encouragement to hang in there as they help their children become better and happier persons.
9 tips to handling kids' aggressive behavior Vince and Janelle Coa, entrepreneurs and parents to 3 children, share these tips:
1. Give appropriate freedom. 2. Set reasonable rules and limits. Follow through with consequences for disobeying them. 3. Be consistent and firm, but gentle. 4. Use your considerable power well (with time-outs and rewards, etc.). Do not use physical punishment because it teaches aggression and fuels children’s anger. 5. Be a model of calm responses, even if you are upset. 6. Be a teacher. Help your children understand the lessons you are trying to teach. 7. Use finesse and humor to encourage positive behavior. 8. Reinforce positive behavior and do not give too much attention to negative behavior. 9. Be patient. Sometimes it takes longer to teach important life lessons.