Parenting K-6 Kids/Child Anger
I have two boys ages four and soon to be six.
My question is in regard to my older son and his, what I perceive to be, random bouts of anger.
He is an extremely bright little boy who is in many ways old beyond his years. Since he was an infant he was inordinately independent. His first words were no help and that theme has carried on ever since. As he was my first, I just thought it was normal that at two he could proficiently dress himself including zipping his winter coat, do his own car seat buckles and tighten himself in, and he LOVED doing laundry....by himself. Now, things have evolved to where he cooks himself breakfast several days each week and spends hours out in the garage building things with his tools and the scrap wood pile. This is all fine and dandy, and I'm certainly very proud of him, but I do have some concerns about his behaviour. One aspect, is that part of his independence is a deep seated desire to control. My husband and I both run our own businesses, so I can definitely see where this comes from to an extent. However, when things are not in his control, which at five, they just aren't all the time, it's as though the world is ending. If there are other kids involved, he wants to be the one who decides what they're doing and EXACTLY how they're doing it. For instance, we've had complete meltdowns including hitting his brother and cousin because he'd set up an imaginary store and they didn't take their pretend change after they'd made a purchase. This escalated into a full out fit as then the other kids didn't want to play store anymore and he would destroy any other activity they attempted to do. Which leads me to the other aspect of my concern. When he escalates to this out of control zone, he will hit, scream, and just out and out meanness to all others for a prolonged period of time. Using the store instance as an example, the other two kids went upstairs and were setting up the puzzle train track. He came out of his time out, went straight upstairs, and wrecked their train track and hurt them. He seemed calm when time out was done, but completely lost it as soon as he was back with the other kids. This set the tone for the rest of the day. I thought things had turned around when they started building a fort out of the couch cushions together. All was well, until one of the kids fell on a cushion and toppled it over. Another tantrum, hitting, screaming. We got it reassembled, and it randomly fell down when no one was near it and another tantrum followed including blaming the other kids even though they were nowhere near it.
As a parent (and I'm sure as a child, too) these days are exhausting. They feel like a never ending series of timeouts, talks about what we could do differently, and tantrums, all to no avail. Predominantly (and consistently), I've done timeouts, but I've also tried spanking, and neither seem to work. I want to help him to be able to cope with feeling angry in a healthy way, but am at a loss. When he was younger, I had assumed that if we remained consistent with timeouts and positive reinforcement, he would just grow out of this, but I just don't feel like that's the case and it's just not acceptable for him to be hurting his little brother. Since he's started kindergarten, he's also added name calling to his arsenal which is also very hurtful. Once he's calmed down, he's very remorseful, doesn't want to talk about it, and needs reassurance with physical affection. I do not try to talk to him when he's out of control, as that just intensifies things. However, once he's calmed down, I do insist that we talk about his behaviour which he never wants to do. I would tell him his timeout is over and when he's ready to have a little talk, he can come sit at the table. I really try to talk about his behaviour and never ever say things like "you're bad" or "you're mean", etc as while I do want to modify his behaviour, I certainly don't want him to internalize negative feelings about himself.
Other things that may set him off are teasing or any feeling of embarrassment, losing (games, races, etc), jealousy, inability to master a task, unwanted attention (even to good behaviour) and disruption to routine are what come to mind of the top of my head.
Most people, like his teachers, think he is just the absolute model student. He follows all the rules and does his work to perfection. He also is a little bit more happy to work in a collaborative manner as opposed to a boss/employee type manner. He teachers tell me he socializes well and he loves when they do work with their "buddies" from the older grades as he's always been drawn to those older than himself. This is a big step for him, as his preschool teachers said he really didn't socialize with the other kids except in more of a teacher/student type of way. As in, he like to do activities by himself, but would instruct the other kids how to do things or help them if they were struggling to roll up their mat or do up their coats to go outside. When he's less comfortable in a situation, he seems much more able to keep control of himself. As he becomes more comfortable and feels more safe, they begin to emerge. He went to preschool two mornings/week when he was three and had one or two tantrums toward the end of the school year. At four he went to a different preschool three mornings and week and a doozy when he took something from another child in circle time and was asked to give it back. This would be the unwanted attention/embarrassment. He knew he'd done wrong and that all eyes were on him and he just lost it. His teacher tried talking to him which escalated his behaviour. She phoned me absolutely shocked. In kindergarten, so far, so good, although I have discussed the possibility of a tantrum with his teacher so she is aware. Recently, he (along with my other son), had a sleepover with my mom, who they both adore. She told me that some little thing set him off and that set the tone for the entire day to a degree that she'd never seen before and his anger was even directed at her.
So much of the time, he's a happy little boy. Which makes it difficult to gage, as there are times when he can be so patient with the other kids, can laugh at teasing, and caring. It really brings that little poem about the girl with the curl to mind.
Any advice or tools you could offer would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much for writing. You did an excellent job in describing your concerns. Tantrums and hitting are fairly common with young children, but it is extremely important in this day and age of "zero tolerance" for aggressive behavior that we teach children that violence is not okay to solve problems. (It appears that you have been doing this, and may I add doing a great job):) How does dad handle the situation?
Aimee it seems that you have tried many of the strategies I would have recommended. I do have a few that we might try.
Anger is an emotional and physiological response to frustration. As you stated your son gets angry when he is not in control. He also does not like to be embarrassed.
*Give him a good role model which it appears he has in you and his dad.
*Guide him with words to find more effective forms of expression.
Example: "You have a right to feel the way you do, but in our family we don't scream and we don't hit, we look for solutions"
*Remove yourself from the power struggle
You can acknowledge his anger, but don't allow him to pull you into his behavior. you can withdraw instead. ( He is feeding on your response to his tantrum) This will say to your son" I am not intimidated by your show of temper and I will not give in, but I won't punish or humiliate you either": withdraw instead.( you can go to another room,ignore the behavior The result is that your son will not get a fight or his own way.
*If his tantrum interferes with the rights of others.
(like in public or someone's home) acknowledge your son's feelings remind him of the limits, offer an alternative and follow through with logical consequences.
Example: I know that you are angry because the fort fell down but,you can either calm down or you will not be allowed to play with the others until you do.
If he does not calm down he should not be allowed to rejoin his brother or others.
Children must learn that there are consequences for violent and aggressive behavior.
One other suggestion is to have a family meeting ( you also can just meet with your son alone(Mother/father son time) Where your son will be able to discuss his feelings. Your son will be more likely to share his feeling if he feels and safe like he is an important member of the family.
That will open the door for you to share the 'Active Problem Solving method"
1. Identify the problem
2.Share thoughts and feeling
3. Brainstorm possible solutions
4. Choose a solution, including a logical consequences if needed.
5.Follow up later.
You might want to make up a scenario for your son and allow him to come up with a solution then walk through how he would handle it using the problem solving method.
Aimee I hope this is helpful to you.
If you have any questions please feel free to write again