by Jennifer Anne Brown, M.S.W. and Pam Provonsha Hopkins, M.S.W.
Anger. Not an emotion you probably want to talk about. It may be normal and it may be necessary, as two Seattle-area counselors insist, but it's also uncomfortable and sometimes destructive.
Yet, say Jennifer Anne Brown and Pam Provonsha Hopkins, authors of the new What Angry Kids Need, angry kids are the ones they prefer to work with.
"Because these are energetic, passionate children who understand that feelings need to be expressed, and that's what they're trying to do—however misguided they are in the methods they choose," says Hopkins.
"Kids who yell, kick, hit, throw things and attack others can be extremely rewarding to work with," agrees Brown.
If you're the parent of an angry child, this perspective may be hard to understand, especially if you remember being told that children are to be seen and not heard and that it's not acceptable to express strong negative feelings such as anger.
Another surprising point: acting angry doesn't necessarily mean you are angry.
That's right, Hopkins and Brown emphasize: you may act angry—in fact, you may believe you're angry—when you're really feeling rejected, frustrated, lonely, hurt or scared.
"These are emotions that make us feel vulnerable. Rather than admit that we're feeling rejected, we may get angry," the authors point out.
Kids often demonstrate anger more quickly than adults because of their limited life experience.
"They may seem to be over-reacting to a situation because they lack understanding of the possible positive outcomes," says Hopkins. For example, a very young child who doesn't understand that parents regularly return from errands or work may feel abandoned when left with a babysitter.
The authors identify four other developmental reasons for children's anger:
Developmental stages aside, some kids seem to be angrier than others. In What Angry Kids Need, Hopkins and Smith provide several possible explanations. These include the child's health, temperament, past life experiences, stressful family, school, child care or social situations and the violence shown in the media.
What Angry Kids Need concludes with practical, realistic advice for parents, teachers and the others who care for angry children. There are many step-by-step exercises and dialogs that adults can use, including "before" and "after" scenarios that illustrate how to avoid no-win situations. The authors make two other points that are vital to the mental health of overwhelmed parents.
"Nothing works every time," they write, "and nothing works overnight."
In fact, say Hopkins and Brown, it may take 50, 75—or more—repetitions of a strategy before you see any change in your child's behavior.
"Solving a problem with anger is more like planting a tree than putting out a fire," reminds Brown. "Almost everyone underestimates how long it takes for change to occur."
The second important concluding point is that parents must take care of themselves. Although some may consider this selfish, the authors insist that, "Taking care of yourself is taking care of your family."
For parents who feel pulled here, there and everywhere by the competing needs of family and friends, Hopkins and Brown are blunt: Set limits with the other adults in your life who are needy, they say. Save your energy for your children.
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