I was asked to do a phone – in this week on ITV’s flagship TV programme ‘This Morning’ around violent, aggressive and angry children. It was a follow up to a new documentary on Channel 5 about My Violent Child: Tearing Us Apart.
I think it helps for parents and teachers to consider that the primary emotion behind aggression is a feeling of helplessness.
If your child’s aggression is often directed towards you, it is possible that you might be exercising too much control over your child, and your relationship would benefit from you giving your child more power through limited choice.
Lots of parents I work with are rather authoritarian in their style of parenting – which means that they are rather bossy and controlling.
They say things like ‘ because I said so’
They lack flexibility and their child often feels that they have little independence or choice.
I suggest limited choices.
For example you can say to your toddler ‘what jumper would you like to wear – the blue one or the red one?’
What’s implied is that they are going to wear a jumper but that they have a choice in which colour.
With older children it’s the same principle.
‘ When do you want to do your homework, before or after your tea?’
Again what’s implied is that they will be doing their homework but they have a choice about when.
The message is the same. You are in charge but they have some autonomy and choice which lessens their feeling of helplessness.
Look for your child’s triggers this week so you can adapt YOUR behaviour.
When a child is being aggressive towards another child, it is likely that they are unable to express their feelings of helplessness to get what they want – and so they hit/push/kick/shout/ punch or bite. The key then becomes helping them express what they want without them having to do those things.
When children get angry, the first thing I talk and teach parents to do is to press their imaginary Pause Button and to STOP and acknowledge their child’s feelings.
It’s one of the best ways of diffusing negative emotions and it can be as simple as saying, “You look REALLY upset!” or ‘You sound really frustrated !’ ‘ That must feel really annoying.’
I believe children who feel heard – feel understood and their anger dissipates.
The secret is to respond calmly and firmly but WITHOUT ANGER!
The thing that I find freaks parents out, is that it’s important to respond to anger and aggression in a caring, supportive way, instead of with more anger.
Lots of parents find that hard at first.
If you want your children to understand that you love them unconditionally, even when they are so upset and angry that they have lost control over their body, you must approach their aggression in a way that won’t shame or punish them.
This may be a new approach to you, but the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing, and expecting a different result, and lots of studies have proved that this approach works much better with aggressive and angry children than getting angry back.
Just for this week try thinking of yourself in a new way perhaps as a caring coach whose job it is to help your child learn to calm down and learn how to control their angry feelings in a more healthy way through naming their feelings and talking them through.
Parents are coping with staggering levels of anger, aggression, and other behaviour problems. Experts in child development believe the problem is going to get worse, not better, because too many parents are too busy, too stressed, or too poor to invest in the most important time in a child’s life: the first six years.
Don’t be that too stressed out, busy parent – help your child master the skills they need to do well in life, like mastering self-control and self-regulation through talking and listening to them when they feel overwhelmed and out of control.
Watch out for tomorrow’s blog when I’ll be talking about other ways to help and support your angry or aggressive child.