We all get angry at times, right? So how do we know how to spot signs that a child has anger issues or whether it could be something else? Here at Mable, our team of child therapists have a wealth of information to help parents and schools know what to look out for.
What is normal anger in children?
Just like you and I, a child will become frustrated on occasions where they feel more out of control; they might lash out or even have a temper tantrum. Often this is because they haven’t yet developed the best skills to be able to regulate their emotions or to be able to articulate and identify what is upsetting them. However, over time, children will develop coping skills where their outbursts become less frequent.
When looking at anger issues in children, the tantrums and inability to self-regulate will become more apparent. If this is something that you've become aware of, it might be worth keeping a diary to highlight the frequency of tantrums before reaching out for help. Remember not all anger outbursts are something to be concerned about.
What warning signs do I need to look out for?
How old is too old to have a temper tantrum? Many children experience tantrums until the age of around eight years old. (That isn’t to say if you’re noticing excessive tantrums prior to them turning eight, that you shouldn’t seek help.) After the age of around eight years old, they should have learned various skills to self soothe which don’t involve them becoming a pressure cooker. However, if your child is experiencing issues with anger, some things to consider might be: -
- Could they be copying patterns of behaviour from home?
- Are they getting enough sleep? A sleep-deprived child can present with identical traits to that of someone with ADHD.
- Are they eating and drinking enough throughout the day?
- Is there an issue within the family that could be a factor? (For example, separated parents or issues with their siblings.)
- Maybe they are being bullied at school or indeed over the internet?
- Could they be feeling stressed due to homework pressures or exams?
- Depending on the age of your child, could it be hormone-related?
- Are there any friendship issues that you were not aware of?
The list is exhaustive, but definitely worth exploring before you consider that there is an anger issue.
How to help an angry child?
If you are feeling distressed about a child who is presenting with obvious anger issues, you can bet that they are also feeling out of control and maybe lonely. I mean, haven’t we all experienced times when we don’t understand what is happening to us? Letting the child know that they are not alone and that the anger is the problem and not them, will provide them with a comfort that they didn’t even know they needed. Tackling this issue from a ‘together’ perspective will enhance your relationship with them which will encourage them to open up to you. Your response to what is going on will most likely influence how the child responds. Most importantly, LISTEN to them, really listen…. Make valuable time to hear what they are going through. If you're not sure where to start, here's a great blog on how to start a conversation about mental health with your child.
Work together to identify what seems to be your child’s pattern of behaviour. Keep a diary if you can, so that you can spot repetitive triggers. Find out what strategies your child responds best to. Here are some suggestions of strategies to try:
- Finding somewhere away from others to gain some space before reacting.
- Clenching fists tightly and then releasing, to release tension.
- Find a breathing technique that works for them.
- Avoid telling them to calm down, as this will more than likely exacerbate the situation.
- Teach them grounding techniques to help them to self-regulate their emotions.
- If you can spot the early signs of anger in your child, be open and honest with them. Try doing this in a calm way - e.g. “I am noticing that you feel angry, what would make you feel better right now?”
Encouraging your child to be active, by taking up some form of exercise, will also help your child if they are experiencing angry outbursts. Having somewhere safe to release tension and burn energy will often assist them in being able to regulate their emotions. In addition to this, having a lovely surge of serotonin and dopamine will definitely aid their feel-good transmitters… I know that it definitely works for me!
When should I seek support for me and my child?
This is a question that I'm often asked. If you are noticing repeated angry outbursts that do not appear to have any obvious triggers, this could indicate that your child may have an issue that requires some further exploration from one of our therapists. In particular if your child is becoming physically aggressive during their episode. If this is the case, we have a team of therapists who can help. Often family therapy is a good place to start or alternatively, seeking children’s online counselling could be the answer.
If you suspect that your child might have a neurological condition such as bipolar or ADHD, this of course will need to be diagnosed by a medical professional. Some things to consider before you make this assumption are are they getting enough sleep? As a sleep-deprived child will present with similar traits to a child with ADHD. In fact, here's a blog I wrote on the impact of sleep deprivation. Again, here at Mable, our children's therapists are trained to help your child with a robust sleep routine.
Another neuro-developmental condition that you may be curious about is autism. Our child counsellors have a wealth of experience working with children with autism and will help your child to process their thoughts and feelings about what they are experiencing. It is a known fact that autistic people are more likely to be affected by mental health issues than those who are not of the spectrum, so counselling could be a great way to support with that.
If you're wondering if counselling could be the answer for your child, please get in touch with us and we'd be happy to talk it through.