Uncovering the Pain Behind Your Child’s Anger

By Shana Schutte
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Learn how to recognize the reasons for anger, and whether it's appropriate or not.

As an elementary public school teacher, I was appalled when one of my first grade students stood on a chair, threw his arms up and screamed, “I hate you!” followed by numerous expletives describing his feelings about me. Because I’d been a compliant child, I didn’t understand why so many of my students were angry and I didn’t know what to do.

Perhaps you’re at the end of your rope like I was. Not because you’re a teacher with angry students, but because the sweet baby you birthed is now an irritated four-to-seven year old who is pitching fits, screaming, yelling and throwing things.

You’re not alone.

Parents everywhere are wringing their hands in desperation because one — or more — of their elementary-aged children are out of control with anger.

Many people believe that kids are like little rubber people — trouble bounces off and nothing bothers them long term. However, anger is a sign that children feel deeply and are not as resilient as we might think. Why? Because anger is a response to pain. It’s like a blinking light on the dashboard of your car that tells you something is wrong under the hood. For this reason, wise parents will not ignore or minimize their child’s anger.

That said, what can you do to help your child manage his anger and develop into a healthy adult the way God desires? Here are some suggestions:

To begin, try to pinpoint why your child is angry

When children visit Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, to learn how to manage anger, she begins by identifying any biological causes behind the anger, such as allergies, learning disabilities or developmental disorders.

One boy who visited Dr. Maudlin was restless, unfocused in class and often irritable. Because the boy’s outbursts only occurred in the spring months and not during winter, Dr. Maudlin suggested allergy testing. Sure enough, he had severe reactions to mold, pollen, ragweed and grass. After he received allergy treatment, his moods returned to normal. No wonder he was angry. Many adults feel that way when they’re sick too.

Begin by asking yourself if there are biological factors that could be contributing to your child’s anger. For additional help, visit a physician and your school’s diagnostician.

After you’ve ruled out biological factors, move on to other life stressors

I recently heard on the radio that one woman’s fourth grader is learning algebra at school. She was shocked. So was I. I wasn’t learning math like that until 7th grade.

As life stressors, including job expectations, have increased for adults, school performance for kids has, too. If a child is expected to perform beyond his capabilities, either in school or at home, he can become angry. Kids can also become angry due to other life stressors such as moving, divorce or losing a loved one, including a family pet or a close friend.

When Joshua, one of my third grade students, started arguing and fighting with classmates, I was surprised because he’d always been exceptionally courteous. The afternoon he stole several pocketfuls of crayons from my classroom and clogged up the school plumbing by flushing them down the toilet, I knew something was seriously wrong. One day, his father visited after school and explained, “Joshua’s mother and I are getting a divorce.” A light went on. Of course! No wonder he’s angry. He’s hurting.

To identify life stressors, ask yourself when your child seems to exhibit anger. Is it during playtime? After he wakes up? When confronted with a particular person? During a particular time of day? Or since a specific family event took place?

Once you’ve identified why your child is becoming angry, there are several other things to keep in mind.

Don’t try to keep your child from getting angry

Anger is a natural human emotion, but many Christians are under the false belief that anger is wrong. However, God never told us not to become angry — He said to be angry and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). This Scripture shows that God knows we’ll get angry because sometimes life hurts. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to let your child know it’s okay to get mad.

Telling a child she is not allowed to become angry will create an emotionally unhealthy adult who suffers from guilt and who does not know how to accept her feelings, or how to work through what’s hurt her.

However, just because it’s okay to get angry, it’s not okay to handle anger inappropriately, and your child needs to know that.

Help your child find alternative ways to handle anger

One of my students who hurt others in moments of rage was given strict boundaries for handling his anger. He was disciplined when he acted inappropriately, but was also taught through counseling how to put himself in time-out when he felt himself getting mad. At these times, he would come to me and say, “Miss Schutte, I’m getting angry. Can I go out into the hallway until I cool off?” Once he felt he was ready, he came back into class calmed down. Sometimes he chose to speak with me about what bothered him.

There are other, healthy ways to deal with anger. One woman I know has placed a punching bag and soft toys in a room for her son to hit. This has proven effective for him to manage his frustrations. Of course, his mother also makes time to talk and pray with him about what he feels without shaming him.

The most important thing to remember while helping your child deal with anger is that he is a person with real emotions — just like you.

If your efforts to help your child seem ineffective and he is still angry, seek out professional intervention from a school or professional counselor.

Copyright © 2008 Shana Schutte. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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About the Author

Shana Schutte
Shana Schutte

Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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