The Four stages of anger: the spark

In our last post we talked about Stage one: The buildup.  Now on to Stage two: The spark

The spark is the ‘thing’ that sets off an angry outburst.  There are two varieties of sparks, one is external and one is internal.  Both are difficult to see coming and both are influenced by the buildup.  We have all seen two young children who normally play together just fine and then for some unknown reason one begins to give the other the cold shoulder and then just as quickly they will play together again as if nothing happened.  At the other extreme we may see a child and parent who have a long history of mutual antagonism, have a complete blow up over something as simple as the phone ringing or the type of clothing they are wearing. 

Other external sparks may be as common as a parent asking “go clean your room”, “go to bed”, “turn off the TV”, “I am not buying this today”, or if the child was ignored, teased had a physical accident, or got caught breaking a rule.

On the other hand the spark may not be visible at all and be instead an internal thought, that sparks an angry reaction.  They seem to come out of nowhere when there is an angry action.  Somehow the child has had a thought that they linked to some event in the past, that once they started thinking about it they could not control the angry impulse, and some sort of action was taken.  It could be a sudden outburst or a physical action of hitting someone.  Unfortunately these angry thoughts can be set off when a child has a memory of a bad event, or it can be simply from their imaginations, or some combination of real and distorted memory. 

Let’s look at an example that illustrates how it may happen.  Lets say we have a child that erupts into a fit of anger at being told that it is time to go to bed.  Now this seems hard to explain or understand because it just seems out of proportion to the request.  We want to be sure that we don’t mistake the spark for the problem itself.  Now is the time to look at the buildup and what preceded the spark.  Do they think they are being babied?  Did they homework not completed that they are worried about?  Do they know that if they throw a tantrum that they get to stay up an extra half hour?  Or are they tired from having stayed up the night before?  If we can get beyond what has just happened we may find the way to douse the spark.

In fact, dousing or defusing the spark is our main goal at this time.  Learn to recognize what sparks your child’s anger, or your own for that matter, and act decisively to address the matter before it becomes full blown rage.  Later in our blog we will be talking about “Anger Guards”, that for the moment I will describe as knowing what it is that sets us off, pushes our buttons or gets under our skin.  At this stage we must take the time to recognize this in our children and ourselves. 

At a later date there will be strategies to address the Spark Stage discussed in this blog.

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