DO CHILDREN SHOW SO MUCH ANGER
IN THEIR EARLY YEARS?
It is normal for all children in the per-school
years to go through a phase of bad temper, even small babies
feel rage and cry and make a fuss when their desires are not
met. Most children will grow out of it by the time they are
five years old while others will continue to have angry outbursts
as they get older and even into adulthood.
Anger starts to increase in the second year because toddlers
have no concept of patience and want everything immediately
and because at this time they also become aware:
I am a person with my own needs and wants
can control other people by my actions
too can now say no
parents will be familiar with the full-blown tantrum, which
can include screaming, breath holding,
head banging and pounding fists. Parents will also be familiar
with toddlers who resort to revenge that is directed at the
person they are angry with by hitting or biting.
We all find it difficult to understand what
lies behind all of this and do not realise the important part
played by the child’s feelings, which is often a mixture
of insecurity, fear, frustration and confusion. While we try
our best to manage our angry children we frequently find it
difficult to decide what might be helpful or unhelpful in
this type of situation. Lets look at unhelpful ways of dealing
with anger first.
Rewarding anger. A classic example of this is when a parent
rewards a child for screaming and shouting by giving into
his demands. The result is peace and quiet but the child
learns that an angry outburst works because it was rewarded.
shows a child that hitting is OK. Studies have shown that
smacking does not work. It just changes the behaviour at
the time but it will return again later.
who show a lot of anger towards each other or at their children
in the home e.g. shouting and swearing, show the children
that it is acceptable to behave in this way.
angry with a child who shows anger may teach him to be frightened
of his anger and he may bottle it up inside and never learn
how to express it properly.
What can a parent try instead that might be
more effective? There are no easy answers, every child is
different, what suits one child may not work at all with another.
However the following suggestions may help.
Reflection allows the parent to look at the situations that
lead to anger so that plans can be made to avoid them.
situations that can lead to anger and tantrums can be:
At the time of day when a child is collected from nursery
he/she may be annoyed at leaving friends. Planning an activity
and being prepared to give some extra attention on returning
home may help.
the parent returns having been apart from the child for
a while. In this situation extra attention also helps. One
way to do this is by stopping everything and giving your
child your full attention. Get down to eye level with them
because “eyes are more important than ears for listening”(Michael
Quinn Director Family Caring Trust 2003)
up with friends for a chat and coffee or having guests to
stay can cause the child to feel ignored. Remember to organise
appropriate activities and use praise for playing quietly.
Make sure that he/she gets noticed.
a child is tired or hungry moving the mealtime earlier may
help to prevent an angry outburst
up in the morning earlier can prevent the morning tantrums,
which frequently occur when the child is rushed and made
to hurry up.
younger children distraction at the early stages of an angry
outburst usually works. Draw the child’s attention
to something you can see outside e.g. a dog, bird etc.
the outburst and removing attention can be useful
the child until he/she calms down can also work.
at how you deal with your anger and try not to lose control.
Say why you are angry and what you are going to do to calm
When children are upset they are not able
to discuss the problem so they act out the feeling instead.
The following is a calming deep breathing exercise that can
help everyone including parents to stay calm. It is suitable
for children from the age of three but you can adapt it for
younger children. Being aware of feelings is the first step
and controlling them is the second step. The purpose of the
calming activity is to help children and parents stop and
think before reacting. It can be played as a game with the
child during a play session by practicing it several times
with them before the need has arisen. The child can then be
reminded about it at the beginning of a stressful situation.
It will take several attempts but once learned they are more
likely to use this skill when they really need to.
Start by talking with the child about feelings
when you and they are angry and how to get calm and keep control.
1. Tell yourself “Stop and take a
2. Tell yourself to ‘keep calm’
3. Take a deep breath through your nose
while you count to five, hold it while you count to two,
then breath out through your mouth while you count to five.
4. Repeat these steps until you feel calm.
(M.Elias &J. Clabby, Social Decision Making skills.
Centre for Applied Psychology, Rutgers University, 1989)
with your children how you know when you are stressed to help
them to understand that our bodies tell us when we are about
to lose control e.g. feeling upset. It will help them to recognise
when they are about to lose control and to accept that it’s
OK to feel angry but it is good to deal with it by first calming
down so that feelings causing it can be talked out instead
of acted out.
Frances Byatt-Smith RN RHV BA (Hons) Psychology.
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