We have all seen the child or the adult that sees others as the cause of their anger. Someone, or something provokes them, and their anger is the “reasonable response”, from their point of view. Its not their fault if they loss their temper because… This is a way of sidestepping the responsibility for their feelings and reactions and the damage that they may cause.
One of the reasons they take this position is because of feeling out of control over their lives. They may feel like their is very little they can do about a situation and in fact the pain that they are feeling and they are upset at those they they believe caused that pain. They feel like they cannot stop what is happening and so they go into the fight or flight mode – and they choose to fight. This lack of power they are feeling is brought on by not knowing that there may be a solution to the issue. The more they blame others the more they believe it and the more angry they become.
Some of the favorite methods they might use, actually brings more trouble to them and you will probably recognize some of these. They may speak in a sarcastic manner, criticize others, get in your face because of not knowing when to back off, or nag until the other persons patience is gone. Here is what we want to remember though: Even if there is a reason for the reaction and the anger, it does not absolve one of the responsibility. There is a difference from explanation and excuses, but that is hard for a child or an adult to see, especially if they have used these tactics for a period of time.
Even when children or adults continue to find a way of not taking responsibility and blaming others, we must recognize they are still feeling the pain and would very much like to get rid of the pain. One nine year old said, “One part of my brain tells me to stay calm and another part tells me to by angry. I can’t help it if the angry side wins.” What you hear in this is a cry for help, a desire for understanding from others and to feel like they are in control of their feelings. They don’t want to feel powerless.
What can we do to help a child or an adult who feels like this? We must teach them to recognize the causes of the anger and suggest alternative resolutions to the problems. This takes time and patience. My personal example I think is a good one for that. Every year at the beginning of November I became a bear to be around. I was short with everyone and took nothing from nobody. After looking at this deeply I realized that this was the time of the year that my father passed away when I was very young and subconciously I was still reacting to this. I was 32 years old when I figured that out. It takes patience. But please remember that patience is part of the lesson of problem solving.
Like in most things you will not solve problems by using the same thing against the problem. Do not shout, blame or have pointless discussions that the person deserved what they got. It solves nothing. Find a way to suggest that even if someone else is to blame that we need to find a solution to handle this that benefits you. This will be very helpful to the angry child or adult.
The explosion we are all too familiar with. We have felt it, we have seen it and sometimes it is us who has exploded. This is the time when the voices are raised, the insults and name calling begin. It can escalate or even begin with physical violence too. Hitting, pushing, kicking, breaking things that belong or do not belong to the person exploding. It might be done in private or it may be publicly, sometimes on purpose, just to embarrass another person or parent. I might add here too that somtimes anger can be played out in ways that the perpertrator believes will hurt the other person. A student doesn’t do his homework to get back at a teacher, ignoring a parent, hiding the keys to make a parent late. In general at this stage the angry party may just want to be a pain and cause pain to another person.
As a parent we may have tried to see it coming during the build up and we may have tried to defuse the spark, but still the explosion happened and our job either as a parent or as the person the anger is directed at is to stay as calm as we can and contain the damage, keeping both our child and ourselves controlled so that no one gets hurt. If our temper rises and we lose control that may be exactly what the child is looking to get done, as they know then that they are in control of the situation. So what can we do?
I had planned to give solutions to the stages at a later writing, but I feel like we need to address this now to some degree. It is the same advice that we gave our students earlier.
Breathe slowly and deeply. Avoid shouting and stay focused. Do not engage in the debate. Remember who and what you represent.
Do not negotiate with threats. The child may just be looking for a way to manipulate you and control the family. Do not give in. We can be willing to discuss the matter, but do so only when both parties are calm enough to do so. There can be no real teaching when emotions are high.
Allow natural consequences play out. Lets say the shouting matches and the anger is arguments over homework. It may be best at some point just to allow the consequences of not doing homework play out with the teacher. Let them get the bad grade, and the teachers words with them, instead of trying to protect them from bad results. I remember my own kids who would wait till the last moment to tell me they had a project to do and that they needed materials for it, till the night before. After talking about this several times and the behavior not changing we simply told them that they had to tell us about their projects earlier so we could get materials when it was good for all of us. Of course it happened again and we stuck to our word and the project did not get done. The result was a bad grade. The bigger results were that never again did we get a late notice about projects.
There are additional ways of dealing with this stage and things to be careful of that we will discuss at another time. But I do feel it is important to mention at this time though that we must be careful not to allow the child or anyone to play us against another person of authority. So we want to be sure that both parents are on the same page and the child is not playing mom against dad. This is called an argument trap and we will discuss the other type of argument traps later.