Children get angry when they are frustrated by their lack of ability, or they are overwhelmed by the bombardment of sensations all around them, or their needs are not being met – whether it is a physical need like hunger, or an emotional one, like lack of attention.
Here are some detailed examples to illustrate what I mean:
Lack of ability to fulfill their needs by themselves
Little children get easily frustrated if they cannot do things their own way, especially when their clumsy motor skills get in the way of what they want to. It is a learning process that they will eventually grow out of, by developing better overall skills.
Small children have limited vocabulary to express their thoughts, and more often than not, it annoys them. Sometimes they do not even know what they want to say, due to an overwhelming flood of emotions and short attention span – while the frustration keeps building up inside them.
It can be hard to grasp that anxiety might make someone aggressive, but an overload of worry is one of the big reasons we humans get angry. Anxiety is a warning signal in our system, telling us we should fight or flight, and the anger is in a way our reaction to fight whatever is bothering us inside.
I look at it as Worry -> Anxiety -> Rising Stress Level -> Irritation -> Anger
Children can get easily anxious, since they do not have much life experience to look back on and reassure themselves that they are overreacting, or that the worrisome event is unlikely to ever happen.
Hunger and fatigue
I myself get quite grumpy when I’m hungry, so my thoughts go there first when I see someone on the dark side. Sometimes I have even offered some chocolate or a snack bar to a stranger who is grunting and murmuring irritably – while waiting at the doctor’s office, for example.
Children’s metabolisms are remarkable, how they can eat all day and still feel hungry. Although we parents definitely have to watch the calories our children consume and offer healthier snack options and all that, we also gotta accept that hungry kids are not happy campers. Moreover, most of the time, young kids could not even tell you that they are “hangry”. Why? They just do not detect their hunger, let alone realize that it is causing their crankiness.
What about when they are tired? Yes, again they will not say, “Mother, I’m too tired to play right now. I’d better lay down for a while before lunch.” They’ll just act out for seemingly no reason. Ah, but they do have a reason – too tired and sleepy to process anything around them.
Over or under stimulation
Especially for children with hypersensitivity, a little stimulation accumulates very quickly and overwhelms them in full force.
For example, imagine your hyper-sensitive child has put on a new shirt that has yet to be broken in, and it has a scratchy, rough tag that begins irritating his neck, just as you walk into a store where loud music is blasting and people are talking everywhere, while colourful clothes hang at his eye level all around him.
On the other hand, under-stimulation could be something as small as a perceived lack of attention, or as serious as actual neglect. Children seem to truly grow healthy by consuming our love. Children who experience a lack of attention and love might express their needs with anger. Lack of attention toward our children can hover over them like a cloud and darken their moods.
Behaviour disorder and spectrum
Studies show that children with disorders on the autistic spectrum, or ADHD and certain learning disabilities, can exhibit spurts of anger.
I will not delve further into this topic here since, in my opinion, anger in children is a commonplace emotion as they juggle so many new experiences and developmental milestones, with limited ability to self-regulate their reactions.
Nowadays there is so much information about different disorders and the signs and symptoms to look for in children, but I strongly recommend to first-time moms not to panic and launch into a wild goose chase.
It can be overwhelming when you first get into motherhood, but if you and your child function in spite of some challenges, give your child enough time to grow and develop without letting a fog of concerning possibilities come between you. Do as many things together as you can and learn about each other, to bond and strengthen your teamwork.
How do I stop my child from flying into a rage?
To help an angry child calm down, we should be observant to find out the cause of their anger. Sometimes it can be multiple reasons at once and in that case, we have to tackle them one by one, to help our children out of the frustrating situation.
It can be as simple as tracking their eating times more consciously to be sure that they are not “hangry”. But it can take longer for you to help your child when the episode is caused by more serious issues, like managing anxiety, or certain conditions that might require professional help.
No matter how easy or difficult your child’s particular challenges might be, we all need strategies to calm our children’s anger at times.
Here are a few tips to ease your children’s emotions and help them calm down during an angry explosion.
But first, breathe in and out to control your own spiking emotion, and then approach your child with these methods. Never react to anger with anger.
Read their feelings
When children hear someone saying out loud that they understand their feelings, it gives them instant relief. It might not sound like an effective gesture, but especially when children are accustomed to hearing negative reactions and comments most of the time in response to their anger, a positive affirmation helps them think about why they are doing what they are doing.
“I see you are frustrated about your lego.”
Describe their situation out loud
As obvious as it might seem, spell out for them what is bothering them.
“I see your lego pieces do not fit well together.”
Fulfill their needs
If small children are frustrated by their lack of motor skills, offer them help as well as addressing proper behaviour.
“My ears are too hurt to help you. If you stop screaming, I can help you put those pieces together.”
If you are dealing with older kids, still offer help or ask them if you could join them to find a solution together, instead of simply jumping into helping them. Sometimes older kids want to feel that they are the ones in control, even when they clearly need help.
“I see the app has some glitch. Would you mind if I try a few things to refresh it?” or “Is it okay for me to try a few things with you to figure out the problem?”
Anger is one of the common emotions we observe in our children, and as a negative emotion, it is infectious and causes extra difficulties on our parenting journey. The important thing is, many times we could figure out the cause of our children’s anger – and sometimes even prevent it from triggering them.
And remember, happy parents raise happy kids. So, please take care of yourself to maintain a healthy mood, so you can set a good example for your children.