As promised, this is the follow up to my ‘Understanding Children’s Anger’ blog. I hope it is helpful.
When your child is angry, it is often helpful to safely externalise this high energy emotion. Because, at this point your child can quickly become flooded with stress hormones, they can become dysregulated (may feel and appear out of control) and therefore need a calm adult to re-regulate them.
Because young children are right ‘emotional brain’ dominant, too many words (left brain) are unhelpful and may heighten their anger/frustration as the child attempts to integrate the two brain hemispheres in a high stress situation.
Firstly, tell your child they are angry in three clear and confident words, “you are angry”. Now your child knows you understand and accept how they feel, and they now know what “angry” feels like. This is the beginning of emotional intelligence.
It can be helpful to give them: egg boxes to squash, newspaper to tear, balloons to hit, pillows/cushions to punch, paper to scribble on. Get them jumping, running, kicking a ball… Your child will tire (as will you!) and the anger will be spent.
Never allow your child to hit/hurt you or anyone else. "NO", "STOP" and "NOT SAFE" are good words to use. Again, use minimum words, “I am not for hitting”. If you cannot keep yourself safe, how can you keep your child safe, so ensure your child hears that you mean it. You are the adult. You are in control and you keep everyone and everything safe.
If your child’s anger is low level but still challenging, and/or they have released their ‘active anger’ you can regulate them by using repetitive and rhythmic movements and actions which mimic the heartbeat of their previously calm, contained and safe ‘womb world’. Ticking clocks / watches / metronome / Newton’s Cradle / gentle back patting can all do this, as can sorting objects, threading beads/buttons etc.
A blanket swing is a lovely way to end a difficult, angry ‘meltdown’ when your child has been active angry - calmed - re-regulated, or just needs a regulating ‘tweak’. This requires two adults, each one holding the end of a blanket on which your child lies. Low, slowly and gently swing your child, perhaps singing quietly or just in silence. Remember, you are calming, not exciting! Ignore any wriggles or squirms, they will stop. This is your child re-regulating themselves. You have done a wonderful job.
Now hold your child on your lap (if they will allow you to). It doesn’t matter how old they are, they need to feel held and contained by a calm, safe, accepting adult. Now meet and hold their gaze and feel the love that connects you. In your eyes your child will see that a) it is ok to be angry b) you will help them with their anger and c) you love them, even when they are angry. Through your eyes you tell them they are ok, you are ok and the world is ok because YOU are their world.
At some point afterwards, tell your child that what they were doing was not safe (physically and/or emotionally) and you always keep (names/things) safe because they are precious. Use the language of safety clearly and regularly.
It can be tempting to distance yourself from your child when they are angry. Try and stay with them. This is the time they need you the most. By staying close you tell them silently “I will never reject you. I accept you just as you are. I will always help you. I love you no matter what.” When your child eventually internalises these messages, they have less need to show you their anger but are moving towards telling you when they feel anger and eventually, why.
I know how challenging it is to ‘journey’ with an angry child. Without doubt, you will share their anger and frustration at times and that is ok. Talk to someone you trust, not your child as this can result in their feelings of guilt and responsibility for the feelings of others. Every human being experiences anger at times, it is how we learn to express it that determines ultimately how that impacts on us and others.
So remember, anger is a high energy/active emotion. It is a natural part of a whole range of feelings that your child will experience, negotiate and manage as they grow. They need you alongside them on their journey as they learn that all their feelings are ok but not always the behaviours that can come with them.
Next time I will look at preparing your child for starting school!