An angry child

Parenting is the most difficult job you will do in your lifetime. The parenting job you do today affects not just your own children and family but also the whole community. Perhaps the most difficult times to practice Peaceful Parenting© are when your children are upset, angry, throwing a tantrum or having an outburst.  In this article, I hope to help you better understand what is happening to your child when she is angry and give you some strategies so you can handle these situations with peace and love.

My mission is to share with parents the secrets of Peaceful Parenting. Being a peaceful parent does not guarantee that there will be peace and quiet in your home. It also does not mean that you will never face troubles or hard work. Being a peaceful parent means that, in the midst of all of those things, you still will be loving and calm in your heart as you deal with your children no matter how unhappy or disruptive their behavior.

Actions are driven by needs

All people are born with five basic psychological needs: the need for safety and survival, the need for love and belonging, the need for power, the need for fun, and the need for freedom. All behavior from birth until death is purposeful. The purpose is an attempt to meet one or more of these psychological needs.

But not all behavior is effective or responsible.  A person who steals a car may be attempting to meet his need for power or freedom. It may even be effective if he successfully steals the car—until he gets caught. Then this behavior is not very effective because jail time means less power and less freedom.

We are all born with the urge to meet our needs but we are not born knowing how to meet these needs responsibly and respectfully. Parents should help their children learn how to meet their needs for safety, love, power, fun and freedom responsibly and respectfully.

Help your kid learn

Since a child does not know how to meet his needs responsibly and respectfully, parents should expect their children to misbehave. Every time a child misbehaves, a parent has the opportunity to teach the child. There is no reason or need to punish, restrict or
spank a child who is misbehaving. You simply need to teach the child how to get what he wants and needs, in a responsible and respectful way.

When dealing with an angry child or a child who is throwing a tantrum, the ideas are the same. From the child’s perspective, their behavior is not their problem. There is something that they want and need and they don’t know how else to get it besides getting angry, hitting, screaming, biting and through other destructive behaviors.

How to manage your angry child peacefully

Here are some simple strategies that might help you deal with your angry child:

  • First, be sure that your child is in a safe place where the temper tantrum or violence will not hurt the child, property or any other person, including you.
  • Next wait until the child stops thrashing about. Eventually the child will stop as he gets tired. It takes a lot of energy to pitch a fit.
  • Once the child has calmed down enough that you can calmly talk with her and she is ready and willing to talk, ask her: What did you want that you were trying to get by throwing your tantrum? It is essential that you ask the question just this way. This is not a grammatically correct sentence, I know. But remember that all behavior is purposeful. Your child is acting out for a very good reason. You just don’t know what the reason is. When you ask this question just this way your child will tell you what they want. [I call it my magical question.]
  • Once you know what your child wants then ask: If we can figure out a more responsible and respectful way to help you get what you want, are you willing to work it out? Almost always the answer will be yes.

Be persistent with your angry child

Some children do not know what they wanted before they started throwing a tantrum. You should continue asking the magical question. Let your angry child know that when, and if, he figures it out, you are ready and willing to help him. The more consistently you use this magical question, the more he will begin to ask himself this same question. Eventually he will know and then you can teach.

There are two other times when a child may act in an aggressive way that are worth mentioning.

When a child doesn’t feel safe

When a child doesn’t feel safe, perceives a threat of some kind, she may either withdraw or misbehave. If your child is behaving in a violent manner, seemingly unprovoked, it may be that she does not feel safe. Your job is to create that feeling of safety for your child. The child’s perception of danger can be brought on by environmental circumstances, a person, or even an internal perception. What you are witnessing with your child is the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Temper tantrums and violent behavior can result from a child who does not feel safe. Help this child by protecting him, then teaching him how to keep himself safe.

When the child feels frustrated

The other time a child may misbehave is when she is frustrated. She is more likely to behave in an aggressive manner and act out if she has seen others behave similarly. Does anyone in your household lose their temper when the toast is burned? Does anyone else in the family use disrespectful curse words when they’re late for an appointment? Does anyone in your family yell, hit, or angrily punish a child who is misbehaving? This person is frustrated because he is not able to get what he wants and needs. He is dealing with this frustration by losing his cool instead of learning how to get what he wants, in a more respectful way.

Children learn well, even the things we wish they wouldn’t. It may be time for you to ask yourself the magical question: What do I want that I’m trying to get by yelling? Cursing at the dog? Breaking dishes? If I could figure out another way to get what I want without yelling, cursing, or breaking, am I willing to learn? Sometimes it is not only children who need to learn how to get more of what they want and need responsibly and respectfully.

Luckily it is never too late to learn.

This was first published in the March 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine (print edition).

Nancy Buck
Dr Nancy S Buck, PhD, is a developmental psychologist, parenting coach and children’s behaviour expert. As the founder of Peaceful Parenting Inc® and author she gives advice that parents can put into practice immediately. She consults with schools, foster care agencies and organisations concerned with child welfare.