Handling Anger When Your Difficult Child Cannot

I believe that if you’re reading this, you care about helping your difficult child. That is one of the biggest steps in the right direction. I’ve seen too many adults that just want their difficult child “fixed”. The reality is that the real work is done at home. This article will address some general causes of anger and one of my important rules to follow if you would like a more pleasant experience when disciplining your difficult child. I hope this article will give you a few tips about managing yourself and your difficult child when you’re both at the end of the same rope.

Causes of anger in kids, as well as adults, comes from different places. Anger itself is just a byproduct of things like fear, embarrassment, frustration, pain, and rejection. One of the tricks for adults as well as kids is really figuring out how to manage the thoughts so you can control the feelings thereby controlling the behavior.

Adults have a hard time doing this so you can imagine how difficult it is for kids to manage such strong emotions.

Yet so many adults insist that children behave, often times better than adults can behave. What’s difficult for adults to do with children, when they're angry, acting out, being defiant, oppositional, and throwing a tantrum is to not be reactive. We're human after all and we get emotional. When a kid is telling you they hate you and everything in eyesight, and they’re throwing a tantrum that includes throwing things and slamming doors, it's very hard to not get upset as an adult and tell that kid they must behave.

This is not appropriate behavior.

difficult child
Children look to you for how to handle their anger.

Of course, this also comes out as anger. Do you remember what I said earlier about what underlies the byproduct anger? Our frustration and embarrassment are possibly underlying that anger when a child is being difficult. Maybe you're in the grocery store when this happens or maybe somewhere else...church. We do need to handle the child's inappropriate behavior.

Not being emotional doesn't mean you should let the child kick, scream, slam doors etc. It simply means that you address the child in a very calm, almost robotic fashion. Think of yourself like Spock from Star Trek. Very logical. He always talked to his human counterparts telling them how illogical, emotional and irrational they were being with their thoughts and feelings. If it helps you to visualize Spock when thinking of dealing with a child having an outburst, please use that imagery. That is how I want you to be.

You don't necessarily have to talk like Spock but don't let yourself get emotional.

Simply state what the consequence is, and depending on the situation you may need to leave out why they earned that consequence. For example, if the child is really off the wall upset, it's appropriate to give them a little wait time. Maybe a time out isn't the right thing at that moment. It's not the right time to pull out the "I'm the parent and you'll do what I say, when I say it" card. Maybe they're so upset that just going to their room or a place that they feel safe is more appropriate. Going to your room for a cool down sounds nicer than going to that time-out place.

Sometimes a choice may be appropriate for younger kids.
You can go to your room for a cool down or you can go sit down for time out." Keep in mind if you give this choice you have entered an unspoken agreement that if the child goes to their room for a cool down (which they will most likely choose) you‘re ok with that decision. I would like to add that sometimes the child just can't get themselves to calm down.

Now what?

I would like to suggest that you go in, using a healthy combination of Spock and loving adult, and reassure the child that you are NOT MAD AT THEM. "I'm not mad at you but, throwing things when we are upset is not ok. You did a GREAT JOB coming in here for a cool down. That was a GOOD CHOICE. Stay here for a few minutes and WHEN YOU’RE READY to come out, let me know." This works for the child on many different levels.

1) You're addressing how you feel toward the child. The child felt punished. Even though they made the decision to go for a cool down versus being sent for a time out, you stopped them from doing what they were doing and possibly made a scene in front siblings or other adults to point out the fact that what they were doing was not ok. To a child this can feel like rejection. You rejected what I am doing therefore you rejected me. It is very important to check in with the child and let them know you are not rejecting them, you love them, you're not angry at them but, the behavior they were displaying is not ok and will not be tolerated.

2) You are addressing the behavior. You check in with them, they know you still love them and you're not mad at them. You let them know about the inappropriate behavior they displayed to get themselves in cool down or time out. Then you reassure them that they made the appropriate choice, in which case either choice, going for cool down or time-out would have been an appropriate choice. Then you might add that you're proud of them.

3) You let them know what's next. "Stay here for a couple of minutes and WHEN YOU’RE READY let me know." Again, you've given the illusion of power and control to the child. They understand: ‘When I'm ready I'LL LET YOU KNOW.’ Now the child has some control back. Something they didn't have before.

It is VERY, VERY difficult for most of us to act in the opposite way, rather to appear that we're not reacting. It's counterintuitive to adults to not react to a child behaving that way.

Above all else I would like to validate your feelings here. If you are angry when your child is acting this way that is normal and OK. However, like anyone I would work with when talking about anger, it's what you do with that anger that makes a difference. Children are very emotional. Sometimes children behave in a way that is oppositional or defiant, being very mean just to get a reaction. They want something to happen. They're upset and they want to make others understand how they’re feeling. Keep in mind; most children that have well developed language and social-emotional regulation skills will not act out in these ways because they have figured out how to communicate their wants, needs and feelings.

I will guarantee that if you can consistently address your difficult child in the way I’ve outlined, you will see results. A word of caution though, you may see an increase in oppositional behaviors before you see these results. That is because your difficult child is starting to lose control over you.

Before, your difficult child was an expert at pulling you into their web of anger and nastiness. Pushing your buttons just for the reactions it produced. Now your difficult child will be confused because you no longer react the same way. Most difficult children then decide (even though it’s not really a conscious decision) to up the ante. This is when you will truly be tested.

Continue using the skills you learned and you will see results. Please realize that you and your difficult child have had several years of the current discipline system and it will take time to get used to the new way of doing things.

If you'd like some resources, I highly recommend the following books: Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries, The Difficult Child: Expanded and Revised Edition, Transforming the Difficult Child Workbook: An Interactive Guide to The Nurtured Heart Approach, and No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind.

I also recommend checking out the following site: www.Kidsinthehouse.com

So don’t put it off! Starting today, decide to be non-reactive, logical, and non-emotional. Be like Spock and go forth and prosper and let me know about your tough moments and your successes. I’d love to hear from you!

To your continued growth,


Author's Bio: 

Jason Magill is a respected Licensed Professional Counselor that focuses on behavior modification to help men, women and children achieve goals. He is a husband and father of three. He specializes in working with children and adolescents but started his career working with adults in Chicago, IL. He co-founded, with his wife, Salus Personal Solutions to offer others a way to find the sound advice they desperately seek without the many barriers that often get in the way. You can visit their website at http://saluspersonalsolutions.com/