What is Anger? Something doesn’t go your child’s way and they erupt in what looks like a
nano-second into a mass of, boiling, unfettered anger. “It comes from nowhere, they just
can’t help it,” parents tell me. And of course, every child is very happy to support that myth!
You can’t beat a blame free response from the grown-ups to validate what might simply be
In reality, anger doesn’t “come from nowhere”. Anger is a state in which the brain’s arousal
levels are increased in response to a real or a perceived threat. Through the release of
adrenalin, cortisol and other stress hormones, the body prepares itself to run or to fight. In
this heightened state, the ‘thinking brain’ becomes either highly compromised or switched
off altogether. It is a highly primitive state that can lead to some pretty base, unacceptable
behaviour. Anger, and the ‘power rush’ that usually goes with it, can also become quite
Does it matter if your child is often angry? Yes, is the short answer!
From a purely physiological perspective, chronic periods of high arousal are not good for the
From a psychological perspective, children who tip into angry outbursts are seen to be
unpredictable and even intimidating by their peers. In most situations I deal with in schools,
angry children become socially isolated quite quickly as their peers seek to avoid the
unpleasant situations they create. Children who get their needs met through anger are
often extremely powerful in the home too. Whilst the power is quite addictive, it comes at a
high price and the child’s relationships with siblings and parents are often fragile. This of
course, makes them angry! Again, the child is likely to feel socially isolated. Social isolation is
highly corrosive to emotional well-being: most particularly during adolescence.
What can you do as a parent? Sometimes there is a very understandable cause for the
anger. It is essential to try to find out whether there is a concrete cause such as trauma.
Perhaps there has been a bereavement that the child needs help to deal with; a separation
between parents etc. Consider whether there has been an event for which your child needs
therapy to help them to thrive and ‘get back on track’.
Maybe there is an ongoing situation in the child’s life that they need help to work through
and understand. There may be a situation at school for example, that they have not felt able
to share with you, or maybe they did, and you thought it was sorted but in fact, there is still
a problem. This is often the case when children feel bullied. The grown-ups think everything
is now ok when in fact, the child still feels unhappy at school and under threat. Threat will
naturally trigger anger and the perceived need to defend oneself.
Sometimes, the child had been allowed to get their emotional and physical needs met
through anger for a very long time. The toddler who wants a sweet at the check-out has a
tantrum. Perfectly normal. Learning the hard lesson that we can’t always have what we
want when we want it is a tough one to learn! Often however, for a variety of reasons that
feel ok at the time, parents will say “no”, to the child. Then in the face of continued
tantrum, they may get annoyed (having an adult tantrum!) and when all else seems to fail,
they give in and buy the sweets. From the child’s perspective, they simply learn that “No”
simply means keep the tantrum going, you’ll get there in the end! In time, children demand
and ‘steal’ more and more power until it has become quite addictive to the child and highly
intimidating to those around them. Whatever the cause of chronic anger, there will be ways in which you can help your child to
learn to control their emotional state.
Life style changes A very basic starting point is to help your child to reduce the levels of
emotional arousal in their lives. It is a sad fact that a huge amount of stress is caused by
gaming. There is one game in particular, that was named by four boys in just one week last
month as a reason why they had become so angry. These boys attend different schools in
which I work as a consultant. The boys went as far as to say that they hated the game but
felt compelled to play it and admitted to becoming violent when told to turn off the Xbox.
Our modern lifestyle is not conducive to positive emotional health. Many adults are
struggling so we should not be surprised that the children are struggling too!
Our modern lifestyle has generated an environment in which our children are struggling to
thrive. The adolescent brain is not ‘finished off’ and is going through a prolonged period of
significant change. Your children need to be supported to reduce the constant over-
stimulation that their brains receive on a daily basis and, learn how to relax. (Maybe you
need to too!)
Adolescents often tell me that they relax whilst gaming. No, they don’t! They find it
rewarding and stimulating which is a very different thing. Adolescents are often sleep deprived because they are allowed to take their mobile phones
to bed. Most adolescents play on their phones, spend hours watching YouTube, or text their
friends well into the small hours. Adolescents will think nothing of texting a friend at 4’
O’clock in the morning!
Some Food for Thought
Are you always on your ‘phone texting and checking FaceBook?
Are you stressed and expressing that stress through anger?
Before we can expect any change at all from our children, whatever their age, it is essential
that we model the behaviour we want to see and not the behaviour we are getting!
There has been much discussion in the press and in our schools and in our homes about the
real impact that being wedded to social media might be having on our children. Sally Power,
Chris Taylor and Kim Horton from Cardiff university have undertaken research that shows
that some adolescents are arriving at school too tired to learn; the ability and readiness to
learn being linked to the rigour of routines in place in the home, and the amount of time
being spent on social media at night. The researchers conclude that the “complex social
causes and consequences of sleep deprivation among today’s youth”, requires further
If you would like to read the full article, click here
Would you like to find like-minded parents and the help you need?
I realise of course, that getting your child off the Xbox may be a significant challenge today.
I realise that knowing ways in which you can help your child to calm themselves may be
beyond you at the moment.
I realise that imposing a ‘no ‘phone after 10pm’ rule in your household might feel impossible
to achieve, just now.
I realise that, at the moment you may not realise what the differences between the adult
and the adolescent brain are, and how to structure the way you interact with your child to
accommodate those essential differences.
Come and join me and other good parents striving for positive change in their homes!