We all get angry from time to time – it is a very normal response to some situations in life. Children are no exception and their anger can take the form of temper tantrums when they are very young and lashing out with words when they're adolescents.
While it is healthy to express your emotions, there are times when, as with adults, children's anger can be a concern. This can include if they:
• Tend to over-react to situations
• Seem to be constantly irritable and annoyed
• Are prone to violent outbursts
• Take a very long time to get over their anger.
It's important to teach all children to deal with the emotions that surface when they get mad. Telling them to "get over it" or "be nice" doesn't help them to learn to deal with the tough moments they are going to face in life.
One of the best ways to do this is to be a good role model. If you or other people in the family have a tendency to lose it, they can see this as a normal response to upsetting or annoying situations.
Showing that it is possible to be upset without losing control is setting a good example. If you get mad about something in front of them, tell them that you are angry, but taking deep breaths or talking about it is helping to deal with that emotion, and then you are going to let the anger go, which is important.
Make sure your children know that there are limits to ways of expressing anger. Be clear about the fact that violence or hurting other people in any way is unacceptable, as is venting their fury by throwing or damaging objects.
Suggest things they can do when they feel themselves getting really mad, such as:
• Slowly counting to 10 and breathing deeply until they feel calmer
• Asking themselves if it is really worth getting so upset over what has happened
• Walking away from a situation so that they can cool down
• Talking to someone about how they feel.
Sometimes anger in children can be a phase – for example, toddlers have tantrums because they are still learning to do things and frustration can get the better of them, while hormones can make teenagers prone to outbursts.
However, if their behaviour seems to be extreme or gets worse, do something about it and talk to an expert. There may be underlying causes you are not aware of that need to be dealt with, and your child may also need to be educated about how best to deal with their inability to control their anger.
The more they get used to losing it whenever they are upset, the harder it will be to rein in their emotions and their anger may continue to escalate until violence becomes their default response.
In some cases, there are medical or neurological reasons why they get so furious, and these need to be diagnosed and treated by a professional. See your GP for a referral to a psychologist if you are worried.