Identify the Potential for Rage
The child’s general demeanor is that of an ‘angry’ child. Their anger is expressed in their facial expressions, attitude, behaviour, stern words, inflexibility and rigidity.
There are two types of rage; protective rage and pressure release rage.
- The child’s perception of a situation will appear extreme considering the actual circumstances.
- A child uses this type of rage to protect himself from feeling lost, confused or disoriented in his environment. It is also used to protect him from demands or interruptions that he can’t cope with. He feels that his inner world has been invaded.
- This may be triggered when his concentration is interrupted, his routine is disturbed, when he is being rushed or during transitions.
- The best response here is to decrease environmental stress and back off from any requirement you are imposing.
Pressure Release Rage
- Sudden and violent discharge of built up frustration. Accumulated frustation can stem from life events, circumstances and developmental tasks.
- Triggered by attempts to gain the child’s compliance with a rule, or enforce some disciplinary action.
- Rages can be momentary and pass quickly or go on for an hour or more.
- The child’s behaviour often resembles that of a severe storm.
- Rage reduction strategies may include, getting to know the signs that pressure is building up in your child and intervening before the rage erupts.
- Respond by initially backing off till the child has cooled down and then restate firmly what you are requiring him to do. Let the child know that you are serious. If the rage cycle begins again, back off until things have cooled down and then calmly but firmly restate your request.
- You can empathize (“It looks like you’re having a rough time” ), offer a glass of water and comfort the child any way you can. Then return to your request and gently but firmly let him know that you mean it.
Attention Seeking Rage
- There is no such thing as anger to achieve attention, but rather it is a message delivered through the behaviour of the child. The challenge of the parent/teacher is to make the right interpretation.
The Anatomy of Rage
- Rage starts with an announcement, you may see the tension in your child’s face or the clenching of fists.
- Next, like a storm, there is a discharge of energy which is displayed in wild behaviour. The child may, kick, swear, threaten, scream, run around or throw things.
- Once the storm subsides the child may express regret or remorse and may feel exhausted.
- Whatever a child says during a rage rarely expresses his true thoughts and feelings.
Establish routine, structure and consistency.
- This provides predictability in the child’s life, which helps to reduce their stress. Try to give your child as much input into his schedule as you can.
Schedule regular weekly ‘dates’ with your child.
- Your child will be able to count on your undivided attention at these times. This time together is on the child’s terms with him/her choosing the activity. Consider having these dates away from home to avoid the usual distractions.
- Understand what day to day ‘triggers’ provoke your child’s rages. Try to avoid these situations.
Understand transitions or change as a cause of rages.
- Realize that transitions can be any shift from one activity to the next. This change can cause instability for the child.
- It helps to anticipate the transitions or changes and prepare your child for them such as a 5 minute warning. Then tell him when the time has passed.
- Build in extra time for shifts between activities or locations. This will avoid rushing such routines as going to school, mealtimes, and bedtime.
Identify the warning signs of your child’s rages.
- Attempt to ward them off with distraction (i.e. talk about that day’s activities, change the scene or activity, food, removal, art activities such as drawing or modeling clay and down time).
- The more agitated the child becomes, the calmer you need to be. Parents and other responsible adults who deal with the child, need to designate a person who handles this situation the best. This person needs to be able to remain calm when faced with intense emotion from the child.
- Speak quietly and in short sentences.
- Take deep breaths with ‘belly breathing’ to help you remain calm. This can also give you time to think before you respond.
Refuse to get angry.
- This is difficult, you need to consciously train yourself to remain composed. Understand that the child will make every effort to get you angry.
- Be aware that your child may mirror your anger.
- If you start to lose control call someone to help out and go somewhere to cool down. It’s OK to cry.
- If you do lose your temper, apologize to your child later and resolve to do things differently in the future.
In public situations act to avoid risk and unsafe conditions.
- If a rage occurs in a situation that is dangerous or embarrassing, such as on the freeway or at a checkout, you need to be quick and decisive in your actions. You may need to get off the highway to avoid high risk and unsafe conditions.
- In the grocery store, leave your groceries in the cart and go home.
- In a car, stop as soon as you can. Wait for the rage to pass or if it is safe and you are close enough let your child walk home.
- If your child is standing get him/her to sit.
- Offer a drink of water or something to eat.
- Take a bath.
- Chew on something.
- Rocking in a chair.
- Taking a walk.
- In the case of younger children, redirect the rage to a punching bag or pillow, ride an exercise bike, jump rope or do push-ups.
- Be aware of your own anger. If you have the impulse to hurt the child, back off and get someone else to help.
- Call 911 or your local emergency room if you need help.
Reviewed by M. Kodsi, M.D., Child and Family Psychiatrist.